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What's The [Data] Point? 25,000, The Amazon Deal That Vanished and What It Means

whats the data point

What's The [Data] Point? Episode 66 -- 25,000, the Amazon Deal That Vanished and What It Means, with Vishaan Chakrabarti [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

vc amzn150Amazon was coming to Queens with 25,000 jobs and now it's not -- the mega-deal fell apart and the company backed out amid significant pushback from some local elected officials, community activists, and labor unions. Vishaan Chakrabarti, an architect and urban planner who helped lead the Bloomberg administration's Manhattan planning efforts after 9/11, was a proponent of the Amazon deal and believes New York will rue the day the deal fell apart. He joined the podcast to discuss it all, and what comes next.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Acknowledging Mayoral Run, Diaz Jr. Gives Tenth State of the Borough Address

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Ruben Diaz Jr. (photo: Bronx BP's office)

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. delivered his tenth State of the Borough address on Thursday afternoon, where he informally advanced his inevitable campaign for mayor and outlined his vision of a more progressive New York City, using his work in the Bronx as a blueprint.

As is customary in “state of” speeches, Diaz Jr. outlined what he believes are the top accomplishments of his tenure, highlighting the steadily low crime rate of fewer than 100 murders per year for six consecutive years, environmental projects including the revitalization of Orchard Beach and the reopening of Roberto Clemente Park, and a combined $85 million in capital funds to public housing and 443 school projects. The latter investment, Diaz Jr. said, comprised “nearly a quarter of my total capital allocation.”

Creating a better future for the Bronx’s children emerged as the key theme of Diaz’s speech at the Samuel Gompers campus of H.E.R.O. High School in the South Bronx, as he touched on ideas for addressing climate change, promoting local small businesses, creating affordable housing, and funding anti-violence programs.

The Democratic borough president called for municipal control of the city’s subways and buses, a full 2020 Census count, and a series of public housing reforms under the social media campaign #CleanUpNYCHA, most prominently including new state legislation he supports that proposes a rent reduction for NYCHA tenants when they fail to receive “basic services.”

“If social media shaming is the only way we’re gonna get results, then dammit, we’re gonna shame them,” he said of NYCHA, and the city government that runs it.

At it has been in years past, swiping at Mayor Bill de Blasio was another recurring theme of the address, as Diaz Jr. admonished the mayor’s plan to build a jail in Mott Haven, inaction on NYCHA, and “sweeten[ing] the pot for Amazon.”

On the other hand, he commended Staten Island Borough President James Oddo for his work fighting opioid addiction. Diaz Jr. called for a multiagency effort that “matches compassion with enforcement.”

The borough president spoke to a need to reform all levels of education. He called for an increase in the number of school buses to “protect children from the dangers of the streets,” vocational programs in high schools, and better career opportunities for CUNY graduates, such as in local tech and finance.

A cornerstone of the speech was his introduction of Camp Junior, created in honor of Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz, a 15-year-old Bronxite who was infamously beaten to death by gang members last summer in a case of mistaken identity. The camp, which will be located in Harriman State Park in Rockland and Orange Counties, is open to kids age 9-13 who live in certain Bronx zip codes, including the neighborhoods of Mott Haven, Port Morris, Highbridge, Morris Heights, Morrisania, Tremont, Fordham, Longwood, Van Nest and parts of Parkchester. It introduces campers to an anti-violence curriculum with educational and outdoor recreational activities. After visiting the camp, Diaz Jr. said, “I saw in my mind just how amazing this camp could be, how we could create an oasis for this borough’s youth,” he said. The initiative drew a standing ovation from the attendees.

Diaz Jr. noted that Bronxites under 18 comprise 25 percent of the borough’s population.

On fighting climate change, Diaz Jr. said, “The environment has always been my top priority,” and pointed to his 2008 initiative to provide tax credits to buildings with green roofs. He pledged to only fund future projects with a “green component,” but did not specify what exactly he considers green.

The Trump Administration ran as an undercurrent throughout the speech, as Diaz Jr. sought to offer New York City as its aggravator and antithesis.

Deputy Bronx Borough President Marricka Scott-McFadden, who was introduced by U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, the minority leader, gave a brief speech introducing Diaz Jr. She also played a video promo for a new television show, Desus and Mero, a late night program hosted by the two eponymous Bronx comedians, where they visit Diaz Jr.’s office and ask if he has intentions of running for the White House. “No,” Diaz Jr. said. “But I would like to go to another house, perhaps in the east side of New York City, called Gracie Mansion.”

As it has been for years, the prospect of a Diaz Jr. run for the mayoralty in 2021 -- a race that is in some ways now already underway -- hung over the State of the Borough address. Each year the talk becomes more overt, it seems.

While he said he agreed with closing the Rikers Island jail complex, Diaz Jr. denounced de Blasio’s efforts to build a new jail in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the South Bronx and questioned the city’s priorities, calling the de Blasio administration “entirely misguided,” pointing to schools in the Bronx that struggle to secure funding for items as simple as chairs.

Diaz Jr. also advocated for expunging the records of those with marijuana charges if the state government passes adult use legalization, as is expected this year.

The housing crisis in both the Bronx and citywide comprised a significant portion of Diaz Jr.’s speech. At 20 percent, the Bronx has the lowest rate of home ownership in the city, he said. He decried the city’s Third Party Transfer Program that allows city-selected sponsors to purchase and “improve and preserve,” as the Housing Preservation and Development Department explains, affordable housing. Critics of the program, including Diaz Jr., argue that many of the homes are seized from families of color and turned over to developers.

Diaz Jr. also said there must be real urgency to address the city’s transit crisis. He called for new funding streams for the state-run MTA, like earmarking revenue created from congestion pricing, a contentious issue that has yet to be signed into state law but is supported by Diaz Jr. and Governor Cuomo, among others. The borough president chided the poor relationship between Cuomo and de Blasio as a significant factor behind the MTA’s state of disarray. Diaz Jr. has long been Cuomo’s ally, though he did call for the state to return control of the subways and buses back to the city, something Cuomo has not publicly expressed support for.

Near the end of his remarks, Diaz Jr. spoke to the importance of filling out the 2020 Census to maintain the Bronx’s representation in Washington, D.C. In an attempt to ease concerns over a potential citizenship question that the Trump administration has advocated but is the source of a legal challenge, Diaz Jr. promised, “I will not answer any question about my citizenship status and I encourage all of my fellow citizens to do the same.”

The Census determines congressional representation and federal funding on a number of fronts. With its high poverty rates, a great deal of federal dollars wind up in the Bronx.

Diaz Jr. closed his address by condemning bigotry and pleading to the spirit of equality in an increasing unaffordable New York City. He displayed a photograph of himself at a gay pride event and said, “New York must never ever lose its authenticity and flavor.” (This appeared to also provide a public response from Diaz Jr. to his father’s homophobic comments that have shaken the City Council and beyond in recent weeks, though he has also previously denounced the statement.)

“The challenge of our time,” Diaz said, “is to provide a chance in an equitable city while keeping New York’s soul.”

‘So Poisoned and So Full of Misinformation’: City Economic Development Chief on How the Amazon Deal Fell Apart

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(photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

James Patchett, CEO of New York City’s Economic Development Corporation, spoke to a packed room on Thursday morning about the reasons behind Amazon’s cancellation of its planned Long Island City “HQ2” campus, in what was a joke-laden and rueful conversation of what could have been and what went wrong.

Recounting that he learned of Amazon’s reversal a week ago, on Valentine’s Day, while watching Tom Hanks in “Cast Away” – “the one about a lonely capitalist who gets lost at sea,” he said – Patchett brought the joke home with an image of “Wilson,” the volleyball in the movie, sporting an Amazon-symbol sad face instead of his bloody handprint, eliciting laughter from the room.

Amazon announced its plan for a New York campus in November, a result of stiff competition among cities and states around the country for the economic growth all but guaranteed by the company’s large-scale presence. According to Patchett, Amazon would later tell him the 300-page New York proposal was the best they received during the bidding process. Had the Queens campus opened for business, projections from Amazon, the city, and the state said it would create 25,000 to 40,000 jobs and $30 billion in tax revenue over 10 to 15 years.

Patchett helped negotiate the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreement along with other city officials, state officials, and the company’s representatives. That agreement was announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who appointed Patchett to his job at EDC, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and Amazon’s John Schoettler, among others, on November 13, 2018.

After significant pushback to the deal from several local elected officials, community groups, and labor unions, Amazon decided to abandon the New York plan in a surprising announcement on last week, coinciding with Valentine’s Day. De Blasio immediately blamed the company for jumping ship without further negotiations, while Cuomo took on State Senate Democrats, especially lead Amazon critic Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens.

Preparing New Yorkers and the five boroughs for the jobs and companies of the future was the overarching theme of Patchett’s Crain’s appearance, which had been scheduled before Amazon pulled out of the deal. Patchett should have been reveling in the success of architecting the Amazon deal. But, as one moderator noted, “Instead of a coronation, you had a coronary.”

Patchett said fundamental misunderstanding of the deal between New York and the Seattle-based tech behemoth was to blame. “If you were reading the media, you would have thought that I was having drinks with some of my best friends, and they said ‘Why did you write them a check for $3 billion?’” he said. Many, including members of the media and regular citizens, “believed it was literally a cash transfer from the outset,” said Patchett. Instead, “Nothing was actually promised to the company,” Patchett said, in apparent reference to the roughly $2.5 billion in tax breaks involved, but ignoring the $500 million cash capital grant the company was to receive from the state. “What [the subsidies] were is a representation of existing state law which has long-sought to incentivize outer-borough commercial growth,” he said.

Patchett also cited other reasons he sees for the deal’s demise: Amazon’s lack of preparation to react to opposition to the announced Queens campus, the company’s representatives’ not performing “particularly well at their public hearings” (where they sat next to Patchett for questioning), and Amazon “never hired a single New Yorker to work for them, to talk to New Yorkers, and never really connected with people in the city”-- though the company did hire several city-based lobbyists.

The event, held by Crain’s New York Business, included remarks by Patchett followed by a question-and-answer session moderated by Crain’s assistant managing editor Erik Enquist and Spectrum News’ Michael Herzenberg. They waited only a few minutes to ask about the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez effect on defeating the deal, referring to the Congressional representative from Queens and the Bronx by her nickname and Twitter handle, “AOC.”

“Politics is obviously not my expertise, nor am I going to pretend it is,” said Patchett. “But I think it’s important to talk to local elected leaders. I don’t think the rollout here went as smoothly as it could have, I think that’s clear.” But he added, “I don’t think [the rollout] was a fatal flaw to the project.”

Moving to the larger economic outlook for the city, Patchett used cybersecurity as an example of a growing sector. Although it’s an industry with opportunities, New York is catching up to its growth potential through an EDC initiative, he said. “It has the real potential to be a win by protecting our current employers from cyber threats, and at the same time, growing a whole new crop of businesses,” Patchett explained. Cybersecurity sector growth is a key aspect of the mayor’s jobs plan he announced in June 2017 at a press conference at a cybersecurity firm in Manhattan.

He also stressed the need for expanding job growth outside of the central business district of Manhattan, something that has been a key priority for the city for years, and is at the heart of some of the tax breaks at play in the Amazon deal, which were designed broadly, not specifically for Amazon.

But when it came to “HQ2,” set for Queens, “Not enough people could see themselves in [Amazon’s] jobs,” said Patchett. “People like the idea of jobs, but until you make them real for people, they don’t associate with them. We need to do a better job of making people not just hear about jobs, but believe those would be the jobs that they would get.”

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