NYC council members and Amazon executives got into a heated debate over the $3 billion in incentives offered for HQ2

Key Points
  • Amazon executives and the head of New York City's Economic Development Corporation were questioned by city council members on Wednesday over the nearly $3 billion in incentives the company received from the city and state governments. 
  • The council members were frustrated by the closed door process of the negotiations with Amazon.
  • One of the Amazon executives initially dodged a question about whether he would return for future hearings, before eventually agreeing to show up.
Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive officer of Inc., listens during an Economic Club of Washington discussion in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Amazon executives and the head of New York City's Economic Development Corporation were grilled over the nearly $3 billion in city and state performance-based incentives the company was offered to bring half of its "second headquarters" to Long Island City, Queens.

Council members expressed frustration over the stealthy nature of the deal between the city and state governments with Amazon and pressed the officials on how they would ensure the local Queens community is not negatively impacted by the deal. NYCEDC President and CEO James Patchett answered questions alongside Amazon's Brian Huseman, vice president of public policy, and Holly Sullivan, who led Amazon's search for HQ2.

Amazon 'scammed' NYC into incentivizing new headquarters, says NY state senator

"I don't know who I'm more angry at," said Councilman Jumaane Williams, referring to Amazon and the government. Later in the session, Williams, who represents Brooklyn's 45th District, decided "I'm more angry at the administration because we could have used the power of NYC to force them to change."

The hearing erupted at several points and ended on a tense note after Huseman initially dodged a question from Council Speaker Corey Johnson about whether Amazon would be willing to show up at future hearings. Huseman first said he "cannot commit today" to appearing at future hearings, before eventually conceding after Johnson said the council will plan around his schedule to make sure he could be there.

"It's insulting. It's unacceptable. It's not how you be a good neighbor," Johnson said to Huseman after pointing out Amazon's memorandum of understanding says they will attend the hearings. "And I don't understand the level of tone deafness in trying to give an acute, evasive answer on this." Huseman said he did not mean to offend and was simply saying he could not yet commit to a specific date. Johnson said they will plan for hearings in January and February.

Representatives also questioned why the city needed to offer such hefty incentives if Amazon itself said the talent pool in New York City was the primary incentive for them to choose this location. Sullivan said that incentives were an important consideration for the company, even though the primary driver was talent.

Williams called Amazon's testimony "flowery."

"It doesn't mention anything about the helipad. It doesn't mention much about the land use … but it makes it seem like that was not the reason you came," he said, referring to the incentives offered to Amazon. "So if that is not the reason you came it does not seem like we needed to offer it to you."

Throughout the hearing, council members asked the Amazon executives about how they would ensure that diverse members of the local community could get jobs at the tech giant. Huseman said they plan to hire New Yorkers and also want to work with the city council and community leaders to develop a pipeline for both technical and non-technical workers.

Patchett said he has already begun working with local community college leaders to create a straightforward path to jobs at Amazon, but Councilman Donovan Richards, representing District 31 in Queens, said the work needs to go beyond community colleges to reach people of color, since "a lot of times we are locked out" of higher education.

Several members were frustrated over the process of Amazon's dealings above all.

"I see this as Walmart 2.0 and we're going to continue to fight because we object to the process that has brought us to [this] point," said Inez Barron, who represents District 42 in Brooklyn. "You're in for a battle. You're in for a fight."

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Amazon 'scammed' NYC into incentivizing new headquarters, says NY state senator