A brief note on our representatives after Amazon

There is a narrative that says Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s election victory last year pushed State Senator Michael Gianaris, who endorsed AOC’s opponent before the HQ2 announcement and became the deputy majority leader after he came out against the Amazon deal, to take a more progressive (and possibly more visible) lead when the opportunity arrived. This narrative could extend to Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who also endorsed Rep. Joe Crowley — and thus might have to make up for it.

The New York Times put it this way:

The company’s decision was at least a short-term win for insurgent progressive politicians led by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose upset victory last year occurred in the western corner of Queens where Amazon had planned its site...

Her race galvanized the party’s left flank, which mobilized against the deal, helped swing New York’s Legislature into Democratic hands, and struck fear in the hearts of some local politicians.

Politico New York more or less told the same story:

Gianaris had his own reasons for concern. He witnessed self-described Democratic Socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) topple Queens Democratic party boss and longtime U.S. House member Joseph Crowley in a congressional primary last year, and no doubt took notice of her unabashedcriticism of the deal.

After I expressed confusion about this narrative on Twitter yesterday – it seemed like a way of seeing AOC as the center of the political universe – I wondered if it’s possible this whole Amazon debacle actually traces back to AOC, period. I can’t say for sure that’s not how this equation worked, but this whole time, while I’ve mostly not blogged at all and didn’t attend any Amazon hearings or anything, I’ve taken a less linear view. I’ve seen Gianaris and JVB at rallies before, from near or afar, courting the activist community of LIC. Actually, I saw it on 44th Drive, the ragged strip where Amazon planned to build a campus, when the issue was a smaller scale land-use and real estate debate. And I spent four months working on a story learning about how JVB, not only readily separates himself from the mayor, but can be extremely anti-development, an especially sensitive subject in the area.

Are the local politicians, including one who may be running for borough president, being opportunistic? Could be. But the City Council and our local representatives didn’t become progressive, anti-development, anti-ICE, pro-union and populist when AOC showed up — even if they did write a letter supporting Amazon early on.

It’s not important to me to deconstruct what happened. But obviously the sudden lack of an Amazon HQ in Queens leaves us with a certain self-reflection. Queens is still not Brooklyn. Long Island City has a way of not becoming Williamsburg or Downtown Brooklyn — though it is a downtown. What we learned, I think, is that Western Queens is just as much as other places the epitome of what New York is right now, I think. Politico put it this way:

Some supporters of the deal derided Amazon’s… inability to muster the nerve to move forward in a city that has a reputation for fighting development.

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Bye, Amazon

So, that’s over. The movement against Amazon has had its victory. Long Island City is not going to be the Silicon Alley neighborhood that it was on the verge of being. City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, State Senator Michael Giannaris and the rest successfully scared the giant away. 

JVB: only 11 ppl called to support Amazon since mailers

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer says only 11 people have called his office to support Amazon since the company has sent Queens residents mailers instructing to call him to support it. In a tweet, he said yesterday 21 people have called to oppose the Amazon deal in a total of 32 calls. In a December Quinnipiac poll, Queens residents (identified as “voters”) supported the $3 billion incentive package 55 to 39.

Amazon to come to Anable Basin

The Anable Basin was controversial even before Amazon said it would show up. Less than a year ago, City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, other local pols and various LIC activists were there to protest a plan to turn the strip at 44th Drive at the waterfront into a development that would somehow involve residential and industrial uses altogether. Well — no one cares about that anymore, because Amazon is coming, which is apparently the biggest business story in a while and it’s down the street from my apartment. A memorandum of understanding shows where Amazon plans to set up shop for part of it’s HQ2, and it’s the same area, just south of Con Edison. JVB and Senator Michael Gianaris were initially down with Amazon coming to LIC, but held a protest at the site today saying this was a huge $3 billion giveaway that won’t involve any public review. The mayor says the 25,000 jobs or more promised over a decade is unprecedented and the governor says the return on investment would be nine to one.  Continue reading “Amazon to come to Anable Basin”

Comptroller comes to LIC to take on City Hall

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A great grandfather at the front of the line for the microphone told Comptroller Scott Stringer he’s sick of bridges and streets getting named after politicians. Stringer said he admitted he fantasized of one day telling his son that “Stringerway” was once called “Broadway.” 

Stringer, an almost-2013 candidate for mayor and thought-to-be 2021 mayoral hopeful, had the jokes at his Long Island City town hall at the CUNY School of Law. When one person insisted that City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer has his eyes set on being mayor, Stringer said, don’t you hate people who want to be mayor? 

Stringer wasn’t just here to understand the needs of one region of Queens. He was here to make allies in his fight against City Hall – and probably for it. He knew that many of the complaints would be about housing and development. That’s everywhere, but in LIC, the towers are shooting up around us into the sky and the people are anxious about school space, train space, park space and sewage. Stringer is positioned as a high-level politician with views juxtaposed to the mayor’s housing strategy, setting himself as a more progressive alternative. 

“I don’t believe that this is how we should build our city,” he said in reference to Alicia Glen, deputy mayor for economic development. “We’ve got to change the system. And the way we’re building our city is, we’re doing it backwards.”   Continue reading “Comptroller comes to LIC to take on City Hall”

Speaker Corey Johnson comes to Astoria

Astoria City Councilman Costa Constantinides, middle, Speaker Corey Johnson, right.

The first thing City Council Speaker Corey Johnson wanted the crowd to know was that he is openly HIV positive and has been sober for nine years. The first thing Council Member Costa Constantinides wanted us to know was that the school we were in, P.S. 171, is getting solar panels that he allocated from the city budget.

Unlike the mayor’s town hall I went to in LIC last year, there wasn’t a line outside when I got there. I was only 15 minutes early but the auditorium did fill up eventually. Someone asked if I RSVP’d, and I wondered who actually does that.

Constantinides listed funds he brought to Mount Sainai Hospital and the library and other things which I didn’t write down. He said Johnson is not just a colleague but “really is my friend.” CoJo in return said Constantinides is “a leader who really gets it.” He said his colleague, chair of the environmental committee, brought $26 million to west of 21st Street, including the $2.5 million for the solar panels.

There was one big drama that took up a lot of the outset of the forum, which came from tenants of the Acropolis Gardens, a large condo building up on Ditmars Boulevard and 33rd Street. The 600-plus unit building is facing foreclosure as of last Monday after its board missed a payment. Continue reading “Speaker Corey Johnson comes to Astoria”

State Sen. Gianaris joins in call to abolish ICE

 

State Senator Michael Gianaris (Astoria, LIC, Sunnyside) has joined in the call to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, a position popularized by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ stunning primary victory against Rep. Joe Crowley. Last Friday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on WNYC Radio, “Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is right” and, “We should create something better.” U.S. senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren have also joined in the call. 

Gianaris called for abolishing ICE at a rally for Yeni Maricela Gonzalez Garcia, a Guatemalan mother who crossed the country to reunite with her three children in East Harlem. “This was an agency that was created after 9-11 to combat terrorism,” Gianaris said in Long Island City. “Not to separate women from their children… We should abolish ICE immediately and then we should abolish Donald Trump at the ballot box as soon as we can.” (See video here w/ ICE remarks at 1:05.) State Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas was there too.  Continue reading “State Sen. Gianaris joins in call to abolish ICE”