‘I was not elected to be a cheerleader for Amazon’: New York officials rail against Amazon’s HQ2 deal amid shouts of protesters in a wild hearing

Protesters clustered outside New York City Hall on Wednesday morning. Business Insider/Jessica Tyler
  • New York’s city council held its first in a series of hearings about Amazon’sHQ2 deal on Wednesday morning.
  • The council invited both New York City’s Economic Development Corporation and representatives from Amazon to answer questions from members and the public.
  • Members including the council’s speaker, Corey Johnson, and its deputy leader, Jimmy Van Bramer, slammed the lack of council oversight on the deal.
  • Protesters also made their presence known before being warned to keep silent.

The New York City Council held its first in a series of planned hearings about Amazon’s HQ2 deal on Wednesday morning.

During his opening remarks, the council’s speaker, Corey Johnson, called the hearing “atypical” in its nature given how little input the council had earlier in the process.

“There’s a reason why the City Council is so involved in land use,” Johnson said in his opening statement. “It’s intended to protect the people.”

The state of New York pursued the deal as a General Project Plan, a state process that circumvents a local approval process that would involve the city council. Use of that program does not need approval from the city council.

Amazon on November 13 announced it would split its second headquarters between the Long Island City neighbourhood of Queens and a region of Northern Virginia that Amazon has named National Landing.

Johnson also noted many questions he wanted to be addressed in the hearing related to how Amazon’s deal with New York state and its promise of 25,000 jobs in Long Island City for its new headquarters would affect the current residents of Queens and of New York City as a whole.

One concern is Long Island City’s public-transportation access, which includes the struggling subway system.

“The only transportation aspect of this project is a helipad,” Johnson said. “This is like something out of The Onion,” the satirical news site.

Johnson also thanked the New York City Economic Development Corporation, which worked on the project with Mayor Bill de Blasio, as well as Amazon for appearing at the hearing. He suggested, however, that he did not consider the company’s appearance a favour.

“We shouldn’t have to beg for a company that’s coming to New York City to come and answer our questions,” he said. “It’s good you’re here. This should not be a two-step tango to come here.”

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Jimmy Van Bramer, the council’s deputy leader and member whose district the new HQ2 project will reside in, gave an opening statement in which he said “we should all be concerned” given Amazon’s sometimes contentious relationship with the city council in Seattle, where its first headquarters resides.

“I was not elected to be a cheerleader for Amazon, and neither was the mayor,” Van Bramer said, adding that Queens “must not become another Amazon company town.”

After Van Bramer’s remarks, a cacophony of jeers erupted from protesters on the top balcony overlooking the council chamber.

“G-T-F-O, Amazon has got to go,” they yelled.

Johnson warned the protesters that if they were not silent, they would be kicked out of the hearing.

“Clearly some of the folks here engaging in civil disobedience are upset,” he said. “We can’t have interruptions. If it happens again, we will clear the entire balcony.”

The council invited both the Economic Development Corporation and Amazon representatives to answer questions from members and the public. Holly Sullivan, the Amazon executive who led the search for HQ2, and Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, were in attendance and responding to questions.

“We are still in the very early stages of this process and intend to be an active participant in the issues facing the community and make community investments that benefit New York City residents,” Huseman said in opening remarks. “Most importantly, we are here to listen and learn. New York is one of the greatest cities in the world and we are grateful for the opportunity to be a contributing part of its fabric.”