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Top City Electeds Skip Letter Wooing Amazon


wtc orange amazon via edc

One World Trade Center lit up orange for Amazon (photo via NYC EDC)


New York is laying out the red carpet to entice online retail giant Amazon to locate its new corporate headquarters in the state. Governor Andrew Cuomo promised a slew of incentives to support four official proposals from different regions that were submitted to the company on Wednesday, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio lit up the city in orange at night as a fawning branding appeal.

New York City’s own bid -- which included four possible business districts -- was backed by about 70 elected officials that represent the city, including members of Congress, state Senators and Assembly members, City Council members, borough presidents, and Public Advocate Letitia James. But at least four notable elected officials were conspicuously absent from the letter of support sent by the mayor’s office to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, of the Bronx, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, and City Council Members Corey Johnson and Donovan Richards, both contenders to become the next Speaker of the City Council, did not sign on to the letter.

“No city embodies the American traditions of innovation and creativity quite like New York City,” the letter reads. “It has transformed from a Dutch settlement, to the nation’s first capital, to a booming industrial center. It became a port of hope for millions of immigrants looking for a better life, and a model for urban revitalization. From Broadway, the Bronx Zoo and the Brooklyn Bridge, to Citi Field and the shores of Staten Island, New York City is a place where history is made every day. Our tradition of reinvention matches yours, and we invite you to join us in writing our next chapters together.”

A spokesperson for Stringer declined to comment. Multiple messages and emails sent to spokespeople for Heastie were not returned.

“We’re excited about the prospect of new businesses coming to New York City,” said Jordan Gibbons, a spokesperson for Council Member Richards, “but before we support the plan, we need more information about job standards and impact on local businesses.”

Council Member Johnson wrote in a text that he “didn’t sign on to [the] letter because I have concerns about Amazon’s labor record but also recognize 50K jobs would be good for the city.”  

As Johnson noted, Amazon’s second headquarters is expected to create 50,000 jobs and bring in roughly $5 billion in investment. One of the proposed areas for Amazon’s headquarters, Midtown West, falls in Johnson’s Manhattan district. City Council members representing other proposed sites for the headquarters signed on to the letter.

Amazon’s announcement and request for proposals triggered a mad dash by dozens of cities across the country to lure the multi-billion-dollar company. To bolster their bids, some cities and states have promised enormous tax breaks while others have pledged infrastructure investments around a potential Amazon campus. Most have hedged their bets on being able to provide the optimum balance of tech talent, affordable and ample real estate, and an appealing quality of life. One municipality in Georgia even went so far as to propose creating an entirely new city named for the online retailer.

Short of naming a new business district after Amazon, New York City’s pitch includes all those aspects. Culled from more than two dozen proposals from across the five boroughs, the New York City Economic Development Corporation, in collaboration with the Empire State Development Corporation, decided on four city areas that met Amazon’s criteria -- Midtown West, Long Island City, Lower Manhattan, and the Brooklyn Tech Triangle. The city is banking on many factors, including its pool of 2.3 million residents who hold a bachelor’s degree and above -- a number higher than the combined comparable workforce of Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington D.C.

The city has 296,000 workers in the tech industry and is growing rapidly in sectors of the economy where Amazon is diversifying, including media, advertising, fashion, and manufacturing.

And the city is already an attractive destination for Amazon, which has a distribution and fulfillment center, corporate offices and retail space in the city with plans to expand in Manhattan. Amazon’s website says it has 1,000 employees in New York, plus seasonal additions around the winter holidays.

An EDC spokesperson said the city cast a wide net seeking support for the proposal. “Considering how hard it is to get New Yorkers to agree on anything, the fact that we got so many signatures in such a short time was pretty impressive and overwhelming,” the spokesperson said, expressing optimism that New York would outmatch other cities with its bid.

Asked at an unrelated Thursday news conference about his pursuit of Amazon when he has been opposed to Walmart opening in the city, de Blasio called it “apples and oranges.” “Amazon, there are some issues that need to be addressed with labor, there’s no two ways about it. But, at the same time, this is a company talking about potentially fundamentally changing the economy in New York City. Adding 50,000 jobs is a game-changer. And it’s something we need and we need more high-quality jobs for the people of New York City. So we can work on those labor issues and I’m happy to work on those labor issues, but no, I’m convinced that Amazon will be a net gain for New York City, unquestionably.”

Responding to Johnson’s concerns, the EDC spokesperson said that Amazon’s presence in New York would afford the city an opportunity to engage directly with the firm and “work with them to advance our shared values.” Pointing out that it was premature to evaluate a deal that hasn’t yet been approved, the spokesperson said the city would be able to negotiate down the line to add guarantees to ensure the number of jobs created, salary levels and that jobs go to New Yorkers. “It’s pretty clear to us that they want to build the headquarters with the community, not in the community,” the spokesperson said.

“It’s puzzling, I don’t know why you’d want to turn down a shot at 50,000 good-paying jobs,” said Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future, when asked why leaders like Stringer, Heastie, and Johnson would not sign on. He conceded that concerns about corporate subsidies are valid, but that the Amazon opportunity is too good to pass up. “It’s a big win for New York City if we can get it.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Former Hillary Clinton Email Director Tells Young Democrats to ‘Run For Something’


amanda litman voted twitter

Amanda Litman (via @amandalitman)


Gripping two drinks, Amanda Litman, co-founder of a political action committee dedicated to helping young people run for office, arrived at a New York University classroom with a kick in her step. The 27-year-old political campaign veteran-turned-author walked in holding an iced coffee with soy milk and three Splendas in one hand and a tiny bottle of San Pellegrino water in the other.

“The quickest way to age is to work on a political campaign,” said Litman, former email director for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. “I kept a box of wine under my desk at all times.”

The 27-year-old Brooklynite’s book, published this month by Simon & Schuster, explains how to run for office, how the government works, how to get a job on a campaign, and basics of voter mobilization and campaign finance. Written in just seven weeks, “Run For Something: A Real-Talk Guide to Fixing the System Yourself,” features an introduction by Hillary Clinton along with sections by Cory Booker, United States Senator from New Jersey; and Jason Kander, founder of Let America Vote.  

The book was a side project to her organization, Run For Something, which she founded after the 2016 election with Ross Rocketto, former management consultant at Deloitte Consulting’s innovation center. The organization, which recruits, supports and endorses first or second-timers under age 35 to run for office, launched Inauguration Day, as Donald Trump was taking the oath of office.

After nine months and with the help of many volunteers, the group claims 11,000 newcomers have signed up to run for office and nearly $500,000 raised from about 5,000 donors.

“My goal is that in 10,15, 20 years you’ll see a presidential candidate who got their start because we told them they could run for office when they were 25 years old,” said Litman.

One of the New York City candidates connected with the program, Marjorie Velazquez, 36, praised the social media promotion Run for Something gave her campaign. A lifetime Bronx native running for City Council in the Bronx, in District 13, Velazquez is a proponent of women’s rights who will appear on the general election ballot under the Working Families Party after losing the Democratic nomination to state Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj by 390 votes.

“It’s important for people to know running for office is acceptable,” said Velazquez, who was significantly outspent by Gjonaj in the Council race and is not actively campaigning in the general. “I have friends in government and politics and I still needed guidance. Having a book that explains how to run for office will change things.”

Christopher Marte, 28, another Run for Something candidate, lost the Democratic primary in Manhattan’s City Council District 1 by only 200 votes in an effort to unseat incumbent Margaret Chin. Marte also said having such a guidebook in the market and an organization that can be so helpful to young candidates is significant. “When I was looking up how to run or get on the ballot, there was no one to answer the most basic questions—how do you get a petition form, how do you get a committee started,” said Marte, who will appear on the ballot in November under the Independence Party. He is actively campaigning in a continued effort to topple Chin.

Along with Velazquez and Marte, Litman’s organization endorsed other City Council candidates running this fall, including Amanda Farias, the only woman who ran for a City Council seat in the Bronx’s District 18; Vanessa Aronson, who ran in Manhattan’s District 4; Ronnie Cho, a former White House director of public engagement during the Obama presidency, who ran in Manhattan’s District 2; and Justin Sanchez, an L.G.B.T candidate who opposed an openly anti-L.G.B.T incumbent in the Bronx’s Council District 14.

All these candidates fit the Run For Something support criteria. Candidates must be under 35, Democratic, pro-choice, L.G.B.T. rights supporters, believe in climate change, and advocate to reduce gun violence. The organization provides guidance on how to run, mentorship from political experts and consultants, partnerships with candidate support programs, and endorsements.

At least thus far in the 2017 cycle, none of Run for Something’s candidates has been successful in New York City. But, first-time candidates winning their elections is not nearly the entire frame of Run for Something.

Litman decided politics was her calling at a young age, spending her high school weekends campaigning for Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tim Kaine, now a Senator and recently Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate, and reproductive rights advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.

The appeal of Litman’s activist enterprise is borne of and extends to her persona, which young people can relate to. She comes across as genuine and relatable; not lecturing, but laughing at herself and cursing in the flow of her conversation. She gushes over her dog, Sadie, who’s “too cute to discipline.” She reads romance novels that she buys on her mother’s credit card. And she says it like it is, never claiming that running for office will be easy; instead, she emphasizes that it will be exhausting and hard, but worth it.

Her book reads like a conversation with her. It explains why it’s OK to be flawed and run. It breaks down technical jargon in easy to understand ways; she defines “grassroots tweeter” as a meaningless and convoluted phrase that just means a person advocating a campaign on the internet. The pages of the step-by-step guide are filled with little pep talks, humor, and rhetorical questions to encourage readers to do their bit for democracy. Her fresh demeanor also translates to her startup’s activities. The organization, which does not yet have office space, is currently touring with a rock band to recruit signups, uses Facebook ads to reach younger audiences, and calls its fundraising events “money parties.”

Even if her new candidates lose, what matters to Litman is young people getting on the ballot in the first place. She believes that as more progressives run for office, voter contact will increase, more volunteers will get involved, more Democratic ideas will be advocated, and eventually, the system will improve.

“It’s very easy to talk about the business you want to start, or the organization you think should exist, or a problem you see in a political system,” she said. “It’s much harder to sit down and try because you might fail.”

“It’s not failure,” she added, catching herself and pausing for a second, then continuing with a chuckle and a smile. “It’s redirection.”

***
Daniela Cobos and Vedika Kumar are journalism students at New York University.

Max & Murphy Podcast: Analyzing the Public Advocate & Comptroller Debates


Jarrett Murphy, left, of City Limits, and Ben Max, right, of Gotham Gazette


October 18, 2017 - Max & Murphy: Analyzing the Public Advocate and Comptroller Debates

brigid at debate nyc votesThe lone public advocate and comptroller debates of the election cycle occurred on Monday and Tuesday, respectively. Brigid Bergin of WNYC radio (pictured, middle) was one of the panelists asking questions at the comptroller debate between incumbent Democrat Scott Stringer and Republican challenger Michel Faulkner, and she joins this episode of Max & Murphy to recap and analyze that debate and the debate between incumbent Democrat Letitia James and Republican challenger J.C. Polanco in the public advocate race.

Bergin, Max, and Murphy also discussed the state of the mayoral race as we are less than three weeks before Election Day, November 7. The second and final mayoral debate is set for November 1.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @jarrettmurphy. You can hear the episode through the embedded audio below or download it wherever you get your podcasts.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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