New York City Council members unloaded on Amazon and the Economic Development Corporation during a contentious hearing about the tech giant's plan to bring its second headquarters to the Long Island City waterfront.
During the hearing, two Amazon executives were peppered with questions about the deal that will bring at least 25,000 jobs paying an average of $150,000 per year in exchange for tax breaks and perks worth up to $3 billion. The plan for a helipad, which has been criticized by Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, drew particular scorn.
"The only transportation piece of this project I've seen involves a helipad. I'm serious. This is like something out of The Onion," said New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson in his opening remarks. "So yes, Jeff Bezos' commute is all set. What about the rest of the New Yorkers crammed into the subways every day?
Johnson, who plans to have more public hearings in the coming months, also said: "I'm already seeing stories of a real estate boom in Long Island City. Is that a good thing? Not to most New Yorkers who are already struggling to afford their rents here."
“We believe this project will be a positive economic impact for the city and the state,” said Brian Huseman, vice president of public policy for Amazon, according to The New York Times. His remarks were reportedly met by guffaws from the audience, which seemed to be comprised mostly of the project's opponents.
Later in the hearing, which was interrupted by applause and jeers at times, Brian Huseman, Amazon's vice president of public policy, said that Amazon will fund the construction of the helipad and that it was not currently using helicopters to commute to work.
Johnson reportedly responded: "Do you realize how out of touch that seems for the average New Yorker?"
The City Council Speaker, who represents a huge swath of Manhattan neighborhoods in District 3, had a hard time getting the two Amazon executives to agree to more public hearings. Amazon is led by CEO Jeff Bezos.
"You're a trillion dollar company that's coming to New York City, you're avoiding the land use process, you're taking $3 billion in money and you won't agree to come to public hearings?" he asked.
The Amazon executives said they'd be happy to continue a dialogue with the City Council, but Johnson insisted that any dialogue had to be in public.
Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, who has also expressed opposition to the deal, asked the Amazon executives if the company would agree to redirect the $500 million state capital grant to four massive public housing projects in Queens.
“So we’re going to create jobs here in the city,” Huseman said, according to Courthouse News. Later, he explained that about half the jobs would be technical and half nontechnical; Holly Sullivan, Amazon's head of worldwide economic development, said the company would hire 2,000 to 3,000 workers in New York on an annual basis.
At another point in the hearing, James Patchett, president and CEO of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, which had a hand in negotiating the deal, defended the agreement and pointed to a Quinnipiac University poll of New York voters showing 57 percent approve of the planned Long Island City HQ2.
According to Courthouse News, opponents of the deal have said the poll is not representative of Queens residents, nearly half of whom are immigrants and many of whom are undocumented.
The poll also indicated less support for $3 billion in subsidies, with nearly 80 percent of those surveyed saying New York City should be "more involved" with Amazon's plans.
When the Amazon executives and city officials were sworn in, protesters in the chamber's balcony unfurled a blue banner that said “No to Amazon.” Opponents of the deal reportedly shouted, “G-T-F-O, Amazon has got to go!”
A previous version of this story mischaracterized Brian Huseman's response to a question about whether Amazon executives would use the helipad to commute to work. Fox News regrets this error.