City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) have been two of the most vocal opponents of Amazon’s HQ2 plan for Long Island City.
But they were also part of a group of around 70 elected officials who signed an October 2017 letter aimed at persuading the gargantuan online retailer to pick New York City for its second headquarters.
With Amazon expected to receive around $3 billion in incentives of tax breaks and subsidies from New York, the deal’s many critics say it amounts to corporate welfare. Other concerns involve the poor state of the subway system, how the company moving in would impact housing prices and Gov. Cuomo overriding the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.
“I signed a letter over a year ago encouraging job creation in NY,” Gianaris said in a statement to the Chronicle. “That letter never contemplated the massive subsidies that were later agreed to as part of secret negotiations that none of us were told about. I have been among the most outspoken and vociferous critics of this deal since we learned of it and I will do all in my power to oppose it.”
He and Van Bramer were two of the speakers at a rally last Wednesday against the deal between Amazon and New York.
The councilman says he regrets signing the letter.
“I obviously support jobs coming to New York City. However, the subsidy package that has since been offered to Amazon was not known to me at that time, the secretive nature of it all was not known to me at that time,” Van Bramer said in a Monday phone interview. “And the exclusion of community process and the ULURP process was not known to me at that time.”
In the past 10 days, the lawmaker added, he’s learned a lot about Amazon, like its anti-union policies and how it “bullies” the City Council of Seattle, the city where the company’s first headquarters is based.
Other elected officials who signed the letter courting Amazon but denounced its HQ2 deal with New York include City Councilman Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn) and then-City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and City Councilman Antonio Reynoso (D-Brooklyn, Ridgewood).
“Last yr I signed a letter supporting the potential benefits Amazon’s proposed HQ2 could bring to NYC,” Reynoso tweeted. “However, we fully expected local review & approval over any possible deal. I am outraged by & don’t condone a backroom deal that gives away local subsidies & devalues NYC.”
The Queens Anti-Gentrification Project blasted Van Bramer in a post on its website that brought up remarks by the councilman from October 2017. “I think it is clear that Amazon HQ2 would be an ideal fit for Long Island City and for the entire borough of Queens,” he said back then.
The group and the lawmaker were already at odds.
Before the blog post and still today, Van Bramer has had the group blocked on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
The QAGP reached out to the Chronicle last week with a screenshot showing Van Bramer blocking it on Twitter, saying the situation was “apparently a violation of law.”
Earlier this year, a judge ordered President Trump to unblock a group of Twitter users, finding that he was violating their First Amendment rights.
But Van Bramer told the Chronicle he spoke to the City Council’s general counsel about the situation and was told the social media blocking was permissible, given the councilman’s concerns over the QGAP.
He said “three or four” men in the group, whom he declined to name on the record, “have stalked me and threatened me and menaced me and my husband. I do not feel safe around them.”
Van Bramer said it was much different from the ordinary kind of criticism from the public that an elected official gets. He’s been criticized on social media by far more people than he’s blocked.
The men in question from QAGP “repeatedly screamed and cursed at me and my husband including right outside of our home on multiple occasions,” the councilman said.
In June, Van Bramer and his husband led a march in western Queens against the Trump administration’s family separation policy.
While the crowd was moving across Roosevelt Avenue during the demonstration, the councilman said, one of the men approached him. He looked “really angry and really intense.”
Then, the man charged at him like it was a “game of chicken,” Van Bramer added. Stunned, the councilman got out of the way before he could be hit.
“I have been bullied by straight men all of my life. I will protect myself and my husband from the Anti-Gentrification Project and as part of protecting us, we have consulted with the general counsel at the New York City Council,” Van Bramer said. “And the counsel’s office believes that given their menacing and stalking of me that this action is prudent to be safe.”
Pauline Park of the QAGP said the councilman’s comments were baseless. She said no members of the group harassed him outside his home or charged at him or “did anything except constitutionally protected political speech.”
“Van Bramer is trying to smear QAGP because its members are trying to hold him accountable for his role in greasing the skids for the appalling deal with Amazon,” she said, referencing the letter from last year he signed.