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Amazon supporters in Queens push back on HQ2 opposition

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Four public housing leaders vowed to support Amazon’s HQ2 plans in Long Island City

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Just days after Amazon was said to be reconsidering moving half of its second North American headquarters to Long Island City, frustrated supporters gathered at the Queensbridge North Houses to counter the plan’s vocal opposition.

The Monday rally led by Bishop Mitchell Taylor, a member of the Amazon HQ2 advisory committee, attracted an unlikely mix including U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, President of the Long Island City Partnership Elizabeth Lusskin, and four Queens NYCHA tenant leaders.

“We have a cadre of residents that are standing behind us; all of which understand the potential of development of our communities,” Taylor said among some dozen demonstrators in front of the Long Island City public-housing complex—the largest in the country. “We need to speak to them and not allow people coming from outside of our community to speak for us. You can’t speak for us.”

The plan has faced staunch opposition, in particular from local pols like City Council member Jimmy Van Bramer and State Senator Michael Gianaris, who over the weekend gathered signatures at the Queensbridge Houses for a petition aimed at derailing the deal. The e-commerce giant says it would bring at least 25,000 jobs to the city and $27 billion in tax revenue to the state. But Amazon will receive nearly $3 billion in subsides through a combination of city and state tax incentive programs that has provoked unrelenting ire from locals and elected officials.

Bramer, Gianaris and some 40 advocates gathered 400 signatures during the petitioning blitz, according to Van Bramer’s office. But local tenant leaders were not thrilled with the anti-Amazon action on their doorstep.

“I’m not gonna allow anybody to come into my community and disrupt and deny them the opportunity for a better life,” said April Simpson, president of the Queensbridge Houses Tenant Association. Simpson, who said Amazon has been in touch with her group since
Amazon announced the move in November, believes the online behemoth will hire workers from the NYCHA complex.

“You know why? Because we have a voice,” she said. “We’re at the table. That’s the blessing.”

Elizabeth Lusskin, president of the Long Island City Partnership and another member of Amazon’s HQ2 advisory committee, agreed with Simpson and said Amazon has “really been making an effort to get into the community and get people ready for this.”

“The deal is an opportunity to make a better balance in the neighborhood—a lot of growth has been around residential—we need the jobs as well,” Lusskin told Curbed. “It’s going to take work but the prize is a level of job development that has just never come along before.”

But critics of the deal pushed back on claims that Amazon is meaningfully engaging with locals. On WCNY radio Monday, Gianaris said he has spoken with community groups who believe Amazon’s outreach is a charade.

“I’ve heard from a number of them privately that they can’t get anywhere—that it’s all part of a show,” said Gianaris, who was recently appointed to the Public Authorities Control Board, a little-known state board that must approve the Amazon deal. “They’re not actually engaging with them in a real way and I’m not interested in having that kind of neighbor.”

Other elected officials joined pro-Amazon advocates by touting the deal Monday as an economic windfall.

“We face probably the most important economic decision in generations for our city,” said Maloney, who represents Long Island City and is on the House Financial Services Committee. “What the residents of this community are telling me is that they want jobs, they want training, they want opportunity.”

A recent Siena College poll found that 56 percent of registered voters statewide approve of the Amazon deal, while 36 percent do not. In New York City, some 58 percent of voters support the plan, while 35 percent are opposed.

Mayor de Blasio defended his decision to support the deal during his testimony at the state legislature’s Joint Fiscal Committee meeting Monday—citing the 25,000 up to 40,000 new jobs it could create.

“It was mission critical that this city get those jobs,” he said.