Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/2346 Thu, 19 Sep 2019 09:17:42 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Replacing Unsuccessful ‘Community Benefits Agreements’ with Neighborhood Stock Ownership Plans https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8737-replacing-unsuccessful-community-benefits-agreements-with-neighborhood-stock-ownership-plans https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8737-replacing-unsuccessful-community-benefits-agreements-with-neighborhood-stock-ownership-plans yankees nycfc stadium

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


When Jeff Bezos, the world’s wealthiest man, and Amazon sought to locate a major campus in New York City, they ran into a buzzsaw of opposition that derailed the project. Despite the promise of tens of thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in local investments, members of the community reacted to the company’s planned arrival with fear and fire. Rallies against the tech giant occurred weekly. Elected officials orchestrated public hearings where they criticized the corporation. Lots of bad press accompanied the news that Bezos would have his own helipad.

Neither Governor Cuomo nor Mayor de Blasio could put this Humpty Dumpty deal together again. After months of disgrace, Amazon withdrew.

Now, the world’s third-wealthiest man, Mansour bin Zayed, owner of the New York City Football Club, wants to build a soccer stadium in The Bronx. And, like Bezos in Queens, he’s likely to run into a storm of opposition from that community. What can be learned from the Amazon issue that can help both the neighborhood and the stadium project?

The collapse of the Amazon move into Long Island City signaled the end of the era of the “Community Benefits Agreement” (CBA). The benefits agreement strategy has been used by neighborhoods for decades to confront gargantuan development projects like sports arenas or corporate expansions. But decades of unfulfilled promises made by corporations and government officials to communities have sullied the reputation of CBAs. New York City neighborhoods have become suspicious of agreements that can be (and have been) ignored by behemoths like Amazon, Forest City Ratner, and politicians.

The Barclays Center was created with a CBA. The new Yankee Stadium came with a CBA. And, the current talk about a Bronx professional soccer stadium includes conversations focused on perks promised to the host neighborhood, like jobs and housing for local residents. But the promise of perks never convinced Queens that the Amazonian tech giant and the world’s wealthiest man were worthy of their support.

Civic groups in Queens like those in the Bronx and Brooklyn have become disillusioned because these benefits agreements lack enforcement. At Yankee Stadium, members of the community board who opposed the new ballpark and its CBAs were removed from the board. In Brooklyn, small businesses feel ripped off by the developer whose community benefits promises lacked the force of law and transparency. In Queens, local elected officials were left out of the negotiations by the mayor and the governor.

New York City neighborhoods need a new strategy to safeguard their integrity and create a partnership among residents, local businesses, nonprofits, government, and developers.

I propose a new approach, a Neighborhood Stock Ownership Plan (NSOP), modelled after employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs).

ESOPs have been around since 1956. Across the country, there are nearly 7,000 ESOP companies covering more than 14 million participants. In ESOPs the workers earn the right to buy shares in the company at a discount rate based on the number of years they have worked there. These worker-shareholders have a seat on the company’s board. Profits are shared with employees through dividends and increases in the stock price. Transparency abounds, and so does workplace satisfaction.

The ESOP model can be modified to reflect and reinforce lots of different stakeholders, not just employees. It can become a mechanism by which residents, local businesses, employees, and civic organizations become partners with, not opponents of, a developer.

This is how a Neighborhood Stock Ownership Plan could work: those who live, work, or own a business in the development area will be given stock options based on the length of time they’ve lived, worked, or operated a business in the project district. Nonprofits in the vicinity would also be gifted shares based on their membership. Instead of agitating, NSOP members will be aggregating money, based on the revenues of the company and its stock price.

This NSOP will protect communities from having to settle for corporate hand-outs. It will tie the community and the corporation together so that revenue for the company automatically means money for the community.

If a soccer stadium were built in the Bronx, for example, an NSOP would mean that broadcast fees, stadium naming rights, and merchandising deals benefit those whose transportation, trash, and tranquility will be impacted by the sports venue. Using an NSOP framework would give neighbors and newcomers a common ground to discuss corporate policies and procedures. With an NSOP, the dynamics of patron and patronage that created hostile environments for Amazon, Barclays, and likely a new soccer stadium could be avoided.

Whatever is good for the community will be good for the corporation and vice versa.

Will the stadium developer, the team owners, the mayor and the governor have the foresight to reject the old “community benefits” strategy and try a new approach? Will they see the soccer stadium project as a chance for social innovation and community support? Seems to me like a good goal (pun intended) for everyone.

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Dr. Cary Goodman is executive director of the 161st Street Business Improvement District at Yankee Stadium.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Replacing Unsuccessful ‘Community Benefits Agreements’ with Neighborhood Stock Ownership Plans Thu, 22 Aug 2019 23:27:03 +0000
Experts Point to Anxiety, Short-Sightedness and Political Climate in Amazon Deal Demise https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8525-experts-point-to-anxiety-short-sightedness-and-political-climate-in-amazon-deal-demise https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8525-experts-point-to-anxiety-short-sightedness-and-political-climate-in-amazon-deal-demise Amazon deal New York announcement

Announcing the Amazon deal that later fell apart (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Current and former city officials and veteran city planners met Monday night to discuss the interplay of politics and policy in the notorious demise of the plan to site an Amazon campus in Long Island City.

A central theme of the panel discussion, hosted by the Urban Land Institute in midtown Manhattan, was the balance the city must strike between articulating and acting on its long-term need for growth and the experiences of people immediately impacted by development.

How the dynamics of those relationships played out in the lifecycle of the Amazon deal was the source of regret and reflection amongst the panel participants, all of whom presented views in support of the tech giant’s migration to New York.

Entitled “Does Amazon Signal the End of a Pro-Growth Political Climate in NYC?,” the discussion occurred before an audience of many urbanists, developers, and architects; and featured James Patchett, president and CEO of the city’s Economic Development Corporation; Carl Weisbrod, former chair of the City Planning Commission; Vishaan Chakrabarti, an architect who oversaw the Manhattan office of the Department of City Planning in the early 2000s; and Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, who served as moderator.

The conversation had an air of familiarity -- the result, for the most part, of decades working at the center of New York City development efforts. While all four participants agreed that continued growth is a necessity and the Amazon campus was a lost opportunity, there were nuanced opinions on whether growth is inevitable in a city as big and diverse as New York, and what the political climate has to do with it.

As they agreed on the need for growth, the panelists also agreed populist opposition to economic development projects around the city has shown that the city needs to do a better job communicating the benefits of those projects to the city as a whole.

“We do have a process problem,” Chakrabarti said. “Process is important and I think that people needed to feel like things weren’t happening in some backroom deal.”

Shortly before Amazon announced its plan to move to Queens last November, Crain’s reported that the state intended to circumvent the city’s land use review process, which gives deference to local City Council members and incorporates a lengthy public process. Days later, Amazon announced it would come to New York, triggering a backlash to the project, expressed largely by a core of progressive politicians and advocates expressing a range of criticisms about Amazon as a company, as well as the deal and the process that led to it.

“I think it's less what we -- we meaning the city and state governments -- did wrong than the times that we are in, in New York,” said Weisbrod, who after decades mostly in city government is now a consultant. “And I do think we all know we're in a period, on one hand, of extraordinary success in New York, and at the same time that success has created a lot of anxiety among a lot of people.”

Patchett, who was intimately involved in wooing Amazon to the city, expanded on the idea of an emerging psychology of anxiety around growth as opposed to stagnation, remarking that the city is experiencing “a moment in time when we're having a lot of growth -- we're not in a recession. So it feels like what we have today, we don't need to be as worried about what we might have tomorrow.”

“We have a youngish population who has experienced brutal housing prices and a congested subway system, who really have no memory or inkling of a time when this city was against the ropes,” added Chakrabarti, who helped lead post-9/11 economic recovery efforts, a bit later in the program. “And it's really hard to explain to people that that could and will happen again, probably at some point for some shock we don't know about sitting here today, and that those 25,000 jobs and the multiplier effects it would have had would help insulate us against that future shock.”

For Weisbrod, who has been a fixture in New York City urban development projects since the 1970s, this represents a “fundamental change” in the conversation. “We've always been a city that has, irrespective of political ideology, sort of implicitly if not explicitly recognized that we have to grow, not only for growth's sake, but because we are a city that provides more in the way of social benefits to our residents than any other city in the country.”

Because of the particularities of New York City -- it’s incorporation of five counties rather than being a part of a single one, its commitment to providing broad social services, and the lack of federal contributions to the tax base -- “we are increasingly dependent on our own ability to generate revenue,” Weisbrod added.

Another shift in the public dialogue, revealed by opposition to Amazon moving to a so-called outer borough, has to do with location.

“For 50 years at least...the city has had an economic development strategy of diversifying and dispersing jobs outside of the Manhattan core,” said Weisbrod. “And the irony is that this resistance to 25,000 jobs, however narrow-minded that resistance was, is the kind of resistance that took place because this was an effort to further the city's economic development policy, not simply in terms of tech, but also in terms of geography.”

Wylde challenged the panel to consider whether the problem had as much to do with the city’s approach to the deal -- especially its ability to engage with community stakeholders -- as the evening’s conversation suggested.

“Do we really think that this would have happened if it wasn't the biggest corporation, run by the richest man in the world, after the 2018 primary election?” she asked, with apparent reference to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s upset victory over Joe Crowley in last year’s congressional primary, representing a Queens and Bronx district.

For Chakrabarti, it is a combination of the political moment’s hostility toward “big corporate” and local anxieties Weisbrod referred to. “It's really hard to extricate that because people were taking advantage of those anxieties in order to make their political point,” he said.

During a question-and-answer session, one audience member disagreed with the thrust of the conversation. The spectator told the panel, “I'm a little disturbed by the attitude that I hear from the EDC and also the Mayor that the primary problems involved in this were around communication, Amazon not being willing to work with the city, the national climate, and not really lending a lot of credence to people's opposition, that either for a large number of people this would negatively impact their lives or at very least they have very few mechanisms for pushing back at the way the city is transforming around them.”

According to Patchett, of the EDC, two-thirds of New Yorkers thought the Amazon deal would be good for the city, including more than 70 percent of Queens residents. “But that is not to undermine the very legitimate concerns that people had about this case” and about growth in general, he told the audience. “That's not just a feeling, that's a reality for a lot of people.”

But for the panel of city planners and economic development experts with pro-growth lenses, the look back at the Amazon deal was more of a post-mortem than an assessment of local concerns.

“I sort of have a sense like I’m at a memorial service here,” Weisbrod said at the outset.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette      

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Experts Point to Anxiety, Short-Sightedness and Political Climate in Amazon Deal Demise Tue, 14 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? 5, with former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8386-what-s-the-data-point-5-with-former-deputy-mayor-alicia-glen https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8386-what-s-the-data-point-5-with-former-deputy-mayor-alicia-glen whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 69 -- 5, with former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

wtdp alica glen deputy mayorAlicia Glen was Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development under Mayor Bill de Blasio for more than five years, until she recently left the administration after being the chief architect of its signature affordable housing plan, a broad variety of economic development initiatives, and more. Glen joined the podcast (for the second time) for an "exit interview" on her legacy as deputy mayor, key issues facing the city and where the city is headed, the city's overall economic competitiveness, the Amazon deal that was undone, NYCHA, whether she would ever run for elected office herself, and other topics.

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!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What's The [Data] Point? 5, with former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen Tue, 26 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Negotiation Lessons from the Amazon Deal Blow-Up https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8343-negotiation-lessons-from-the-amazon-deal-blow-up https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8343-negotiation-lessons-from-the-amazon-deal-blow-up may bill gov cuomo hq

Announcing the Amazon deal (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)


Amazon’s decision to abandon its planned construction of a major campus in Long Island City has revealed deep fissures among New Yorkers. Typical of news coverage and commentary in these highly-polarized times, discussion of the issue has been framed in largely win/lose terms, both from the perspective of politics (progressives versus pragmatics) and the impact on the New York economy and lifestyle (“more jobs is always better” versus “union-busting vulture capitalist billionaires don’t deserve tax breaks”). As with most stories framed in win/lose terms, the narrative unfolds with heroes, villains, victims, and victors.

Governor Cuomo has said he’s trying to revive the deal. In the context of future conversations between New York State and Amazon, as well as other companies, it is worth exploring some of the common and avoidable negotiation errors that were made the first time around.

First, don’t overestimate your leverage. Amazon’s process for selecting a city for its “second headquarters” seemed to be a picture of its leverage. It used something called a “modified auction,” whereby it set up an obnoxious beauty pageant where contestants could come forward with their goods and where the mega-company was at once judge, jury, and rule-maker.  

City and state governments were invited to make their best offer to the behemoth, complete with outrageous tax incentives, promises of infrastructure improvements for Amazon’s benefit, and even pledges to re-name their city. Amazon then sat back, politely said, “Thanks for your entry” and narrowed the playing field to invite a second round of final “bids.” Only then did Amazon actually sit down for a real negotiation with a few finalists urging them to “sweeten the deal” even further before announcing the pageant winners.

On the surface, the process for Amazon sounds great, if you’re Amazon. But Amazon miscalculated the ill-will that the process itself would engender. First, pitting cities against each other, and then, once in New York, bypassing the local City Council’s approval process, had consequences. This was not a one-off auction for the sale of a Picasso at Sotheby’s. Instead, it was a process about who was going to be Amazon’s next-door neighbor, essential to its business, for the next ten, twenty, fifty years. Amazon’s approach galvanized opposition that might not have existed if it had not used such a power/leverage-based approach to the negotiation.  

Second, don’t forget to manage your “behind-the-table” constituency. Many New Yorkers viewed it as nothing short of miraculous that Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, two deeply competitive leaders, came together, joining forces to win Amazon and crush the competing offers. It was equally surprising how these two New York powerbrokers, finally united, could possibly lose the deal. Confident of their ability to deliver and caught-up in the competition between themselves and other bidders, the governor and mayor failed to deliver the “behind-the-table” constituencies on their own side who might seek to block or tank the deal.

Great negotiators are simultaneously negotiating across the table while artfully working to build and maintain supporting coalitions behind the table. They are always seeking to build deals that meet their own interests very well, the interests of the other side at least reasonably well, and the interests of third parties who may not be at the negotiating table but who may have interests in the outcome and power to tank the deal at least well enough to ensure the deal would be durable.

Despite its flaws, the city’s formal and cumbersome land use procedure -- which Amazon sought to avoid -- tends to afford that level of engagement to various groups, and to give them a space to challenge and refine a project rather than to tank it. It’s unclear whether the governor and mayor underestimated the organizing power or will of those who might be upset with the deal, or simply forgot this basic negotiation principle. But in failing to work constructively with various stakeholders who might not have had a seat at the negotiation table but who, when organized, had considerable power to stop the deal’s implementation, the negotiating parties unwittingly turned skeptics into spoilers.

Finally, define “success” based on your away-from-the-table alternative. On the one hand, Amazon’s sudden decision to pull out of the New York deal could be seen as victory for local Queens leaders who opposed it. And certainly, they celebrated its defeat and cheered the power of the people to “take their city back.”

At least in the short term, the leaders may have protected themselves among the most reliable Democratic primary electorate. But in negotiation, it’s important to measure “success” not based on the ephemeral, emotional feel of a “win” in the heat-of-battle, but rather based on whether what you are getting is better than what you are leaving behind. If a deal on the table advances your interests (broadly construed) better than no deal at all, then walking away from the deal is not a good outcome, even if it makes you feel good in the moment or if you believe it may help you in the next election.

In this case, the deal was far from perfect for New York or its workers. The city and state had offered $3 billion in tax and other incentives, plus a helipad, to a huge company whose owner is one of the richest men in the world and bypassed the City Council’s entire land use process while doing so. The company refused to provide guarantees around not opposing union organizing, and would have created a significant burden on local transportation, schooling, and other infrastructure.

Could a better deal have possibly been negotiated? Yes. However, it is also the case that the deal that was negotiated would have likely brought in $27.5 billion in tax revenue to New York over 25 years and approximately 25,000 new jobs in the first ten years alone. Of course, these are estimates, but even if they are remotely accurate, the upsides of this deal seem to outweigh no deal by a wide margin, especially since there is no immediate back-up plan to generate revenue or jobs at anywhere near this scale.

While it is clear that individual elected officials believed there was significant political upside to derailing the deal, it’s hard to see how Amazon’s abrupt withdrawal is a win for the people of New York, at least vis-à-vis the no-deal alternative. And yet, parties often reject deals that are better than their no-deal alternative because they allow emotions to escalate, and do not measure success in relation to what no deal would get them.

Not all negotiation errors are avoidable. But these were. When leaders focus on leverage, ignore the creation of possible blocking coalitions, and let emotions get the best of them, even seasoned and sophisticated negotiators will end up with less-than-optimal outcomes. Because the entities in play are one of the world’s greatest cities and one of the most prosperous and growing companies in the world, all involved will survive, even thrive, over time. But from a negotiation perspective, it’s hard for us to look at the outcome as anything but a loss and a missed opportunity for all.

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Robert C. Bordone is the Thaddeus R. Beal Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, and Daniel R. Garodnick is a former New York City Council member, where he chaired the Economic Development Committee. On Twitter @bobbordone & @DanGarodnick.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Negotiation Lessons from the Amazon Deal Blow-Up Fri, 08 Mar 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Amazon Was Never Going to Create 25,000 Jobs in Queens https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8327-amazon-was-never-going-to-create-25-000-jobs-in-queens https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8327-amazon-was-never-going-to-create-25-000-jobs-in-queens gov mayor lic

(photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)


Now that Governor Amazon Cuomo is grovelling for Amazon to come back to New York, it’s important to remember that the original sin of the “HQ2” deal is still true: Amazon was never going to bring 25,000 jobs to Long Island City.

That might surprise people, particularly since that number and its related economic activity have been the central arguments used to defend the deal. But to be clear, Amazon never actually promised to bring 25,000 jobs. Period. Go look for it.

Supporters point out that Amazon would get the full package of tax incentives, which are available to any company, only if it created the 25,000 jobs. That's absolutely true, but it proves the point. It shows that Amazon didn't need or really want the job incentives. Instead, it played off our failed economic development policies to get what it actually wanted.

What Amazon did care about, what it wanted more than anything, and what it would have gotten in the deal was a shiny new East River campus quickly, quietly, and cheaply.

First, Amazon didn't want to engage with the community or be a good neighbor. All of this would have taken a lot of time, but the real issue was that it would have involved making promises to the community that Amazon had no intention of ever making. The minimal promises it did make were entirely on its terms (and changed only slightly after pushback before Amazon finally walked).

Second, Amazon didn't want to pay the full cost of acquiring the choice land that it wanted to build its campus or go through the city’s land use review process (ULURP). That would have involved stringing together multiple lots at fair market value and convincing the city to sell public land. That would have meant more engagement with the public (and the City Council) and more commitments.

Third, Amazon knew it had to hire union labor for constructing and servicing the campus, but didn’t want to pay for it. More importantly, it didn’t want that to be a backdoor to unionizing its own larger workforce, especially in distribution centers. As much as some supporters have pointed to the construction and building-service jobs as evidence that Amazon was willing to work with unions, it was a political necessity to do so and had the added bonus of splitting the labor movement in New York. Amazon was never going to allow unionization in its Staten Island or other distribution centers as part of the deal.

By “promising” 25,000 jobs, Amazon got everything it wanted in the Memorandum of Understanding with the city and the state. It bypassed the City Council and real public review when the governor deemed “HQ2” a General Project Plan. It got its riverside campus when the mayor effectively turned over public land on a sweetheart lease (unquestionably saving Amazon hundreds of millions of dollars that weren’t and haven’t been included in the cost of incentives) while also killing a private development that included affordable housing and was going through the proper land-use channels. And Amazon got a flat out cash transfer of $325 million (with a possibility of up to $500 million) to cover costs of using union labor on construction.

Still, Amazon never had to deliver the jobs. To be sure, it was going to have a large workforce in Long Island City by consolidating several thousand employees already in New York and transferring more from Seattle. There is also no doubt that it would have hired some new employees locally. But there were no real promises of how many, at what salary, or from what communities. That just means we were going to give a competitive edge to Amazon by subsidizing an abstract total of jobs at a time when job growth is fine in the city.

As we've seen with Foxconn in Wisconsin, General Electric in Massachusetts, and just about every development project Governor Cuomo has produced (and his Economic Development Corporation has justified), the promised jobs and economic activity from these incentives rarely materialize, whether the companies get all of them or not. However, the public is always on the hook and companies almost never are.

Amazon exploits these policies all the time with its distribution centers (see Florida, Texas, California). They promise direct and indirect job creation that never happens. Amazon knew it wasn’t going to deliver 25,000 jobs and would never be held accountable for failing to. Amazon wanted its New York campus and simply took the flawed logic of our economic development policies to their extreme to get it.

Let’s not forget the bad faith Amazon showed when it originally announced the "contest" in September 2017. Remember, back then it wasn’t for 25,000 jobs -- it was for 50,000 jobs. Amazon and the media moved on quickly from that bait and switch, but we shouldn’t.

Amazon prides itself on being data-driven and strategic (yet: counterpoint), which means it’s safe to assume that the D.C. area and New York City had already been selected - making the whole idea of a “second headquarters” bogus from the beginning.

But why not announce a “contest” saying you’re going to create 50,000 jobs and have every city and state fall over themselves to compete for it? Amazon got a year’s worth of free advertising. It got reams of data from cities for future expansion and whatever else it may attempt. It forced New York and Virginia to offer billions for something it was already going to do and could easily afford.

Most importantly, Amazon got New York and Virgina to turn over land for campuses quickly and with no public review.

Back in December, I wrote about how I thought the Amazon deal was in trouble. Then, as now, it was clear that the deal was negotiated in bad faith from the beginning, that it would not actually do what the mayor, the governor, and Amazon said it would do, and it would not hold Amazon accountable for when it inevitably failed to live up to its vague end of the bargain. That is all still true.

Amazon is incapable of being a good partner. Everybody knows that now. Everybody knows how it treats its workers, its home city, and who it does business for. If it really needed a home for 25,000 jobs in New York City, it would have negotiated in good faith and worked through the concerns of the community it was moving into.

Instead, it wanted an insulated campus apart from the community paid for by the community, and bailed when it wasn’t served on a platter. Activists and a few steadfast local politicians accomplished a great public service by showing the real face of Amazon.  

More importantly, the “HQ2” ordeal shows the fatal flaws in our economic development policies that Amazon so cleverly exploited. Taxpayers spend $90 billion a year pitting cities against each other for unsubstantiated job numbers, which only works out for corporations and their shareholders.

This is done instead of solving the cities’ actual problems like the lack of affordable housing, overcrowded schools, a crumbling transportation system, and skyrocketing child- and health-care costs. It goes without saying that investing in this public infrastructure would also lead to new, bottom-up job creation -- many more than 25,000 -- for all kinds of New Yorkers, new residents, and new businesses.

As his recent grovelling has proven, Governor Amazon Cuomo has been guilty of this more than anyone. He values the optics of a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the East River with Jeff Bezos over the hard work that it takes to create actual jobs. Let’s hope Amazon’s bad faith trumps the governor’s and they stay gone.

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Peter Harrison is a member of NYC-DSA and CEO/Co-founder of homeBody, a public benefit startup. On Twitter @PeteHarrisonNYC.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Amazon Was Never Going to Create 25,000 Jobs in Queens Tue, 05 Mar 2019 05:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? 25,000, The Amazon Deal That Vanished and What It Means https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8298-what-s-the-data-point-25-000-the-amazon-deal-that-vanished https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8298-what-s-the-data-point-25-000-the-amazon-deal-that-vanished 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!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What's The [Data] Point? 25,000, The Amazon Deal That Vanished and What It Means Thu, 21 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
After Amazon: Establishing Our Local Pipeline for Future Opportunities https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8301-after-amazon-establishing-our-local-pipeline-for-future-opportunities https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8301-after-amazon-establishing-our-local-pipeline-for-future-opportunities general lagcc 600

(photo: LaGuardia Community College, CUNY)


With Amazon’s pronouncement to put the brakes on its plan to bring part of its new headquarters to Long Island City, it’s time to make lemonade out of the many lemons left in the wake.

Amazon’s decision to locate here centered on our city’s ability to get the company the talent it needs to grow. It’s what every company, large and small, needs to thrive.

When Amazon first announced it was coming, one of the first questions raised was: who will benefit? Would the 25,000 jobs help our local community, including the residents of Queensbridge Houses, the nation’s largest public housing complex, and LaGuardia Community College, where more than 70% of students come from households with incomes of less than $30,000? What kinds of jobs would be open to someone with just a high school diploma, an associate’s, a bachelor’s? Would it be New Yorkers who benefitted, or people recruited from elsewhere in the country and the world?

In my engagement with City, State, and Amazon representatives, it became clear to me that New York (and conceivably many localities) needs a stronger, integrated system that links private and public spheres to educate future employees. Amazon’s proposed campus in Long Island City highlighted the need for that more robust, sustained development of talent pipelines in the fundamental field of tech, especially for people in low-income communities.

The first step is more employers willing to establish long-term partnerships with local colleges and universities so there’s clear understanding of the technical, intellectual, and practical skills needed for job-openings. Without strong employer partnerships, we can’t be certain that our students will be job-ready upon graduation.

We need more companies, especially tech companies, willing to invest in developing local talent by providing paid internships and mentorship opportunities for nontraditional and traditional students alike. We need more collaborations to create job-specific training programs, like one we have with Google to provide training in IT support.

Without far-reaching programs that connect students who are older, poor, or speak English less than well, tech employers will continue relying on the same private and elite-college networks for hiring.

Fledgling progress was being made with Amazon to create pathways to jobs. At the end of January, Amazon announced a collaboration with LaGuardia Community College, CUNY, and SUNY to create a program to train people (with at least a high school diploma) for jobs in cloud computing.

But more than programs, public officials, employers, and educators must convene and nurture the building of an ecosystem that connects the many assets a community can use to establish a collaborative approach. If a community can encircle a potential employee with support and education, and companies can create bona fide paths to employment, there is no limit to the amount of social mobility and community vibrancy that can be created.

LaGuardia Community College knows how well employer-education partnerships can work when it all comes together. Queens resident Matt O’Connor was working full-time packing boxes at a nearby delivery service when he came to LaGuardia to channel his passion for coding. He was offered internship opportunities that grounded his classroom work. Matt first interned at the tech accelerator Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator, where he worked with small tech start-ups. His next paid software development internship was at Place Pixel, a company that creates next-generation mapping experiences. It went so well that he was offered a full-time job with an equity share in the company. Matt said it felt miraculous when he was able to quit the package delivery company. Today, he’s a full-time software engineer at the company SevenFifty.

But with better and more targeted resources, we can do even more. We need elected officials to step up and increase the investment in our public colleges: to give us the resources to re-imagine what and how we teach. We need to be able to hire and support full-time faculty who can effectively teach complex material, particularly to a diverse student body. We need the funding to support the collaboration across organizational silos. It’s not just the funding for expanding holistic support like child care, and philanthropy to support transportation, emergency funds, and an on-campus food pantry. It’s also dedicated funding to link the path from the housing projects to training, and from training to college.

Over the coming weeks and months, there will be much analysis of what went right or wrong with the Amazon deal. No matter who declares victory, what Long Island City is left with does little for the low-income and aspiring New Yorkers who remain on the sidelines. Let’s not lose a moment in getting our talent prepared for whatever happens next, whether it’s the next Amazon wanting to locate here or the start-up just beginning to get launched.

Whether you are cheering or bemoaning the crumbling of the agreement, we can all agree those who’ve been historically locked out of job opportunities in the fastest growing industries need more pathways to these good, steady jobs that enable them to provide for themselves and their families.

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Gail O. Mellow is President of LaGuardia Community College. On Twitter @LaGuardiaCC.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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After Amazon: Establishing Our Local Pipeline for Future Opportunities Thu, 21 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
‘So Poisoned and So Full of Misinformation’: City Economic Development Chief on How the Amazon Deal Fell Apart https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8303-so-poisoned-and-so-full-of-misinformation-city-economic-development-chief-on-how-the-amazon-deal-fell-apart https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8303-so-poisoned-and-so-full-of-misinformation-city-economic-development-chief-on-how-the-amazon-deal-fell-apart mabdblasio gov and cuomo qus

(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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‘So Poisoned and So Full of Misinformation’: City Economic Development Chief on How the Amazon Deal Fell Apart Thu, 21 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
In Second Debate, Public Advocate Candidates Argue Over Amazon, Insult De Blasio & Make Closing Cases https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8297-in-second-debate-public-advocate-candidates-make-closing-arguments https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8297-in-second-debate-public-advocate-candidates-make-closing-arguments poolnytdebate 002

Candidates at debate #1 (photo: Holly Pickett for The New York Times (pool))


While there were disagreements over the Amazon deal that fell apart and contentious exchanges over their records, the seven candidates for public advocate who debated Wednesday night agreed on a lot, including that Mayor Bill de Blasio should not run for president and instead focus on major challenges in New York City.

With less than a week until the Tuesday, February 26 special election vote, seven of the 17 candidates who will be on the ballot took the stage at Borough of Manhattan Community College for the second of two official, televised debates, broadcast by NY1. The seven candidates -- Nomiki Konst, Michael Blake, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Dawn Smalls, Rafael Espinal, Jumaane Williams, and Ron Kim -- met the financial and endorsement thresholds set by the city’s Campaign Finance Board.

The previous debate, two weeks prior, featured those seven candidates as well as Danny O’Donnell, Ydanis Rodriguez, and Eric Ulrich, the lone Republican and only ardent supporter of Amazon creating a massive campus in Queens among the ten candidates.

After opening statements where candidates reiterated their pitches from prior debates, interviews, and local forums, the first question from moderator Errol Louis had the participants weigh in on the collapse of the Amazon deal, which spurred a lengthy conversation, including prolonged cross-talk at one point, and some of the clearest differentiation of the night among seven mostly left-wing Democrats.

Konst, Espinal, and Kim continued to argue that a deal to bring Amazon’s “HQ2” to the city should not have been pursued, while the other candidates said it should have been done with both better process and outcomes, in some cases talking about the opportunity in more positive terms than they had before the deal fell apart.

There were several tense back-and-forths throughout the hour-and-a-half debate, especially during the “cross-examination” round where candidates each had the chance to ask one opponent a question. That portion repeatedly turned into arguing and, at times, saw the candidate asking a question give a series of attacks before posing their query and the candidate being asked a question deflect by throwing criticism back at the interrogator.

By all measures, Jumaane Williams was treated like the frontrunner that he is widely perceived to be -- several of the other candidates used their questions to target him. Like in the first debate, Mark-Viverito was also the subject of questions and criticism, especially from Konst.

Overall, the candidates largely agreed that Airbnb needs to be strongly regulated but that homeowners should be able to rent out a room here and there, and perhaps even their entire apartments; that the mayor’s housing plan needs to do more for low-income New Yorkers; and that homeless shelters need to be equitably distributed throughout the city. They also mostly agreed that undocumented immigrants should be allowed driver’s licenses and municipal voting rights. On the latter, Mark-Viverito said she almost moved a bill as Council speaker, but that given Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency and anti-immigrant policies, advocates asked her not to move forward.

Asked about whether Mayor de Blasio is qualified to run for president and should do so, all seven candidates took shots at the mayor, some more harsh than others, and said he needs to focus on problems in the city. Kim said de Blasio is “delusional” if he thinks he’s going to be president. "No, he is not qualified to run for president, he should not run for president," said Blake, who worked for President Barack Obama and is a vice chair with the Democratic National Committee.

Like others, Mark-Viverito, a long-time ally of de Blasio who has separated herself from him in recent years, said the mayor needs to focus on running the city, but also said that de Blasio does not really execute unless he’s working on a “pet project” of his own.

Several of the candidates were more shy when asked if they had voted for Williams last year when he ran for lieutenant governor. Four didn’t answer: Konst, Mark-Viverito, Blake, and Smalls. Kim and Espinal said they did vote for Williams, who challenged Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul in the Democratic primary.

The debate provided candidates a near-final opportunity to pitch themselves directly to voters and to media that might amplify their message. The public advocate is one of three citywide elected positions, responsible for being a watchdog over city government and an ombudsperson, with the power to introduce legislation to the City Council, and some influence over the public pension system. The public advocate is first in line of succession to the mayor if the mayor is unable to finish his or her term.

Konst, an activist and journalist, targeted the city’s wealth gap and called for higher taxes on the wealthy, and said in her opening that New Yorkers should “elect the next progressive millennial woman.” Blake, a member of the state Assembly, mentioned his “jobs and justice” platform and said it’s essential the next public advocate is “independent of the mayor.”

Mark-Viverito touted her career in activism and record as City Council speaker, including her successful pushes toward closing the Rikers Island jails and reforming how low-level offenses are policed and prosecuted in the city. Against attacks from Konst she defended her record on housing, including by citing the “right to counsel” in housing court law that was passed while she was speaker and has helped reduce evictions significantly.

Smalls, an attorney with experience at high levels of the federal government, differentiated herself as the only mother and attorney on the stage. She cited her campaign focus on helping homeless families get into housing. “I have experience breaking through bureaucracy to get results and that’s what I want to do for New York,” she said.

Espinal, a Brooklyn City Council member who previously served in the state Assembly, cited his experience at two levels of government, and ran through a variety of areas where he believes New York is not “livable” enough and he wants to address, including affordable housing and running small businesses.

Williams cited his combination of activism and legislative accomplishments. He touted his work on affordable housing and said the mayor and other elected officials had not fought hard enough to make housing affordable enough for the people who really need it. He attempted to defend himself against attacks from other candidates, particularly as Mark-Viverito again went after him for having staff members and endorsements from several men who have mistreated women.

Kim reiterated that he is against “corporate giveaways” and said that while the Amazon deal may have been stopped by strong activism, there is more work to do to address the larger pattern. He called for passage of his new legislation that would stop New York from engaging in interstate bidding for companies, and said the answer is to build economic development capacity in communities.

In taking a different approach, Williams said he had been in favor of “engaging” Amazon and wanted “to use the power of the city to see if we can change the worst of their behavior” while attaining jobs for New Yorkers. He, Blake, Smalls, and Mark-Viverito all argued there should have been better leadership by the mayor and the governor.

“My criticism of the Amazon deal was always on the process,” said Smalls.

Mark-Viverito said the Amazon deal was deeply flawed because it did not address the city’s two major crises: affordable housing and transit.

“This is not just about process,” Konst argued. “It’s about an exploitative company with a history and track record for decades of increasing homelessness, not being honest in their deals. They should’ve never been welcomed here.”

“Amazon is a super monopoly,” Kim said, “they are an abusive company and the more we engage them, they’re gonna be emboldened. We need to hold them accountable from the beginning and not court them.”

The election is Tuesday and open to all voters across the city. Also on the ballot beyond the ten candidates mentioned earlier are David Eisenbach, Benjamin Yee, Jared Rich, Tony Herbert, Manny Alicandro, Helal Sheikh, and Latrice Walker, though she has dropped from the race.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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In Second Debate, Public Advocate Candidates Argue Over Amazon, Insult De Blasio & Make Closing Cases Wed, 20 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Anti-Union Amazon is Not Welcome Here https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8264-anti-union-amazon-is-not-welcome-here https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8264-anti-union-amazon-is-not-welcome-here teamstersjc16 jvb

Jimmy Van Bramer, the author, at a rally (photo: @TeamstersJC16)


Let me be clear: if Amazon is anti-union, it is not welcome in New York City.

This is a union town. It is wrong to subsidize Amazon’s arrival after the company has proudly proclaimed to the world that it is anti-union and will fight any effort on the part of Amazon employees to unionize.

Our city and state would be contributing to economic inequality by allowing Amazon to increase the pool of New York City workers who are not in a union.

Unions have always been the great equalizer, a vital tool for working people to come together and bargain collectively against corporate power and greed.

Amazon’s refusal to agree to labor neutrality is shameful. All workers have the right to be in a union, including those who work at Amazon's fulfillment center on Staten Island and those who would work at a new campus in Long Island City.

Growing up in Astoria, my family didn’t have much money. My stepfather was a janitor. Mom worked at supermarkets. Dad was a pressman. All were fortunate to join unions. Being in a union allowed them to pay the rent and provide for me and my siblings.

Without unions, I would not have had health care, dental care, or the ability to go to college. As is the case for so many working families, unions were the lifeline that my family needed to succeed. How dare Amazon come to our city, to the sum of $3 billion in tax breaks and subsidies, and declare war on workers’ rights to organize?

Last month when I attended Mayor de Blasio’s State of the City speech, I braced for the moment that he would laud the “HQ2” Amazon deal. The deal, after all, had been touted as the largest economic development deal in the history of our state and a major victory for the city. Would it lead off the speech? I wondered how the mayor would talk about being the “fairest big city” while also defending the largest act of corporate welfare in New York.

It came and went in the blink of an eye. One sentence! As the mayor moved quickly from his bad deal, those who’ve critiqued it were vindicated.

By avoiding Amazon in his speech (as the governor did in his State of the State), the mayor tacitly acknowledged that this deal is a loser in progressive, Democratic circles. You cannot align yourself with Amazon — as it remains mum on its cooperation with ICE and steadfastly anti-union — and then appoint yourself as a spokesperson to “spread the gospel” of progressive values all over the country.

The Amazon giveaway is not only bad, it’s immoral. And it should force us all to rethink the race to the bottom approach to economic development incentives. We cannot afford to give $3 billion to Amazon in subsidies and grants when so many people who already live here are struggling to pay rent and stay in their neighborhoods.

With the arrival of “HQ2” in Long Island City, we would see gentrification on steroids in Queens. The influx of high-paid Amazon workers would price out long-time residents and drive away family-owned small businesses, proving particularly detrimental to immigrants and communities of color.

The governor and the mayor have bungled this from day one, and despite what they say, we all know the “HQ2” jobs will be largely inaccessible to communities like Queensbridge that are among the most unemployed and underemployed in New York City.

This Amazon debacle must be an inflection point for our society, where we reign in corporate welfare and the billionaire class and give more power to the people who have the least among us.

We should be encouraging workers’ efforts to unionize, protecting small businesses, and investing in our local community, not trillion-dollar corporations owned by the richest man on Earth.

Those of us who care about ending economic inequality must reject so-called “progressives” who in practice recite Republican talking points that espouse the lies of trickle-down economics and right-to-work, anti-union nonsense.

The mayor can cancel this deal right now. If he is actually concerned about Amazon abetting ICE and busting unions, he should do so immediately.

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Jimmy Van Bramer is a New York City Council member representing Long Island City and other parts of Queens. On Twitter @JimmyVanBramer.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Anti-Union Amazon is Not Welcome Here Wed, 06 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000