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NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio Defends Amazon Deal at Sanders Event

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio ride a New York City subway together in October 2017. (Richard Drew / AP)

Days after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio got booed at the city’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony, an audience member at the Sanders Institute Gathering in Burlington, Vt., wanted to know how the plan to allow Amazon to build a headquarters in Long Island City, Queens, in exchange for nearly $3 billion in tax breaks and subsidies fits with progressive ideals.

“How does this Amazon deal reconcile with our values?” filmmaker Josh Fox asked Saturday, the last day of a three-day event organized by the think tank founded by Jane Sanders, wife of Vermont senator and possible 2020 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

De Blasio—who received a round of applause from the audience for New York City’s end of stop-and-frisk and repeatedly referred to himself as a progressive—said the agreement with Amazon will create new jobs for New Yorkers and generate revenue. Among a heavyweight progressive attendee list, including former New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, actor John Cusack and nurses who helped bring “Medicare for all” to the forefront of Sanders’ agenda, de Blasio appeared much more willing to compromise than other conference speakers desperate for a change of the status quo.

“Look, I want to say on Amazon, I think everyone in this room could easily mount a critique of corporate America writ large, Amazon in specific—I sure could, too,” de Blasio said.

Amazon reported New York would see 25,000 new jobs with an average wage of over $150,000 annually, but some people are skeptical at the overall outcome, given the city’s affordable housing crisis.

Watch the de Blasio discussion here: 

Amazon will receive incentives including a $1.2 billion tax cut and a $505 million grant from the state of New York. Protesters in New York City raised the issue of the company’s relationship with Immigration and Customs Enforcement; Amazon officials pitched ICE on real-time facial recognition surveillance technology. Affordable housing advocates said neighborhoods—often low-income communities of color—are being displaced and tenant harassment is more common than ever. Public housing in the city is already in a state of dire disrepair.

De Blasio said at the Sanders Institute event that the Amazon headquarters would help the city. “We have to generate the tax revenue to pay for public housing, to pay for affordable housing programs, to pay for things like pre-K and 3-K. There’s always a balance point,” he said. “We need the revenue to make progressive change, and sometimes we do see an opportunity to get that from our interaction with the private sector, not always on rules that we agree with, by the way.”

Already, about 1,500 units of affordable housing in Long Island City have been turned over to Amazon.

Ari Paul wrote at Jacobin: “The city’s working class and poor continue to suffer blow after blow as de Blasio’s administration hypes the Amazon deal—a deal with no requirements for Amazon to hire locally or become more union-friendly.”

“The fact that massive public subsidies are helping eliminate affordable housing units is just the latest reason this bad deal needs to be torn up and thrown away,” said Michael Gianaris, a state senator whose district includes Long Island City.

“I expected this mayor to be a stalwart of deeply income-targeted affordable housing,” Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams told The New York Times. “Every day it’s something else. This Amazon deal took the cake for me. … You give away $3 billion? $3 billion? To the richest man in America? For a company that will most likely come here anyway?”

Later on Saturday, an audience member asked Sanders about de Blasio and the tax deal New York offered Amazon. Sanders said he has “dealt with Amazon,” in reference to his campaign to push Amazon to raise its minimum wage to $15. Then, he responded broadly: “You’ve got communities all over this country that are being blackmailed. Mayors want to do the right thing. But all over this city, all over this country, you’ve got communities that are being blackmailed by a handful of multinational corporations,” he said, but he did not mention de Blasio directly.

Naomi LaChance
Naomi LaChance has written for local newspapers such as the Berkshire Eagle and the Poughkeepsie Journal as well as national outlets including NPR, the Intercept, TYT Network and the Huffington Post. Her…
Naomi LaChance

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