By now the story is widely known—the corporate mega-giant looking for a new spot, asking for some give-backs, and promising to revitalize a neighborhood.
It's the Adventures of Amazon in Long Island City, and it doesn't end well.
Depending on your point of view, this was another soulless conglomerate trying to rape a community, or it was another huge business venture that would have brought concomitant improvements to the area.
Or maybe it was something in between: In-between is a place few of us live anymore.
When I first heard of this deal, I'll admit I was suspicious. Here was Amazon, led by the world's richest man, bleeding New York out of nearly $3 billion in incentives for the "privilege" of building a huge new headquarters in a somewhat tumbledown area of Queens. I wondered why, even with the promise of creating 25,000 new jobs, the company needed such incentives. Of course only later did I do the math—if every job paid family-of-four, poverty-level wages ($25,750), that would mean $643 million pumped back into the economy yearly. In five years, $3 billion. The job market is always fluid, but there seemed hope for a boost in the area.
And local labor would profit—restaurant owners were excited, hopeful—though here's where it got sticky: Amazon has been anti-union, and current employees are becoming testy about that situation. With the anticipated push to unionize, a compromise was needed: 21st century America doesn't do that very well.
Then the politicians stepped in with the the coups de grâce. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic leader in the State Senate, selected State Senator Michael Gianaris, one of Amazon’s most vocal opponents, for a board with the power to block the deal. And none opposed Amazon louder than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose district does not even include the proposed Amazon site. It’s in the district of Rep.Carolyn Maloney who supported it, though two of her district’s three local officials are stridently opposed. Gianaris refused repeatedly to even meet with Amazon representatives despite at least three requests.
Among the residents there was talk of over-gentrification and decreasing in property values. Like every deal—and pretty much every aspect of life—win-win is a pipe dream, but compromises can sometimes work. We'll never know.
Long Island City is growing and will survive. Manhattan-adjacent and filled with tax-abated buildings, it's eminently affordable for people who want to live "in the City." The issue here is not the future of any one community, but the hard-headed unwillingness to give an inch—the thrill of being an ideologue and the hypocrisy of bewailing the fact that Congress can't get things done. Congress represents us, and unfortunately, they're doing that part of it exceedingly well.