Brent O’Leary

Back in August Brent O’Leary, a long time community advocate and President of the Hunters Point Civic Association, announced he was running for City Council in 2021.  Thus I was somewhat surprised not to hear or read anything from him on Amazon HQ2.  As it turns out the announcement occurred just as he was in the midst of the annual food drive he oversees for Thanksgiving.  Then between end of year activities and publishing schedules here we are in early January with nary a word.

Nevertheless Brent has an opinion on Amazon coming to Long Island City, and though we don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye on this subject, he is a man who’s thoughts I value highly, so here is his statement:

As a long-time Long Island City resident and community organizer, I have
always stood up for the interests of this neighborhood and its most
vulnerable population. That is why when the Amazon deal was struck – behind
closed doors, NDAs and without the community’s knowledge – I knew it would
have a tremendous impact on the future and character of Long Island City
and western Queens for generations to come. Since then, I have studied this
matter and spoken to community members and experts on this deal’s potential
impacts, and I’ve come to the same conclusion that many of them have: The
Amazon deal is not in the best interest of Long Island City or western
Queens, and I hope to explain why in the break down below.

First and foremost, I join renters, commercial lease-holders, mass transit
riders, and advocacy groups in acknowledging that Amazon’s landing will
lead to massive displacement, homelessness and rising costs of living for
our neighborhood as it did in Seattle. It will also put a potentially
dangerous stress on our aging infrastructure, and provide billions of
dollars in tax subsidies to the world’s richest company at a time when tax
revenue is sorely needed.

Before the Amazon deal was announced, rising rents were already forcing
residents and small businesses out of the neighborhood at a record rate.
Many renters, local artists, and business owners were struggling to keep up
with this pace so that they could remain in the community that they hoped
to call home. Since the Amazon deal was announced, real estate speculation
started hitting feverish levels and could be the final nail in the coffin
for our neighbors who fear of being priced out of western Queens. Those who
can afford to stay will have to face or pass a heavier financial burden
onto themselves or onto their residential and commercial tenants in the
immediate future. This is a lose-lose situation for all those who choose
not to cash out of our community and why our neighborhood as we know it is
in immediate danger.

As we all know, our infrastructure is currently stretched thin and struggling
to support the city & REBNY-planned population boom in Long Island City
that our government is only now playing catch up with. The 7 and E lines
are already operating at or above capacity, and the MTA plan to allow a few
more trains per hour will do little to permanently fix the situation. This
past summer, the Department of Education planned to bus our children out of
the neighborhood due to an immediate lack of school seats, and that was
just for our existing community. We should not be horse-trading with the
likes of Amazon or carrot-and-stick developers to get the schools and
community resources that the city owes us for allowing the unhindered
over development of Long Island City.

The sewer systems that serve as the arteries of Long Island City are right
now overflowing and crumbling before our tenants and school children’s
eyes. This is due to an antiquated sewer system that delivers rainwater and
soiled toilet water through the same pipes, so when it overflows, it is
used toilet water that floods out onto our streets and polluting the East
River. Even as little as an inch of rain has caused this overflow, so one
can only imagine what 25,000 more toilet flushes a day will do to our
sewers.  It is irresponsible for the city to allow Amazon or any other
mega-development to add this burden to our community before this appropriate
infrastructure is already in place.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the city and state would like to
argue that jobs and investments such as those proposed by Amazon could only
be possible if billions of our tax dollars are used to subsidize their
venture. Meanwhile, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, and Twitter have
altogether opened over a dozen retail centers, headquarters, and office
spaces, providing tens of thousands of jobs in New York City without us
handing over billions in tax subsidies in one swoop. That money can and
should be reallocated in the state budget to fund schools, healthcare,
public transportation, job training, wipe out student debt and/or rebuild
our city’s aging infrastructure. Long Island City has already attracted
dozens of corporations and hundreds of jobs, from JetBlue, WeWork, Boyce
Technologies and more, and by the city’s own accounts, was already on the
path to gross tens of thousands of jobs from on-boarding and future
businesses. Amazon is not the answer to anyone’s prayers, and Jeff Bezos is
not the savior that our community ever needed or wanted.

Worst of all, our increasingly valuable public land at 44th Dr. was
haphazardly thrown into the Amazon deal as though our community wouldn’t
notice. The massive Department of Education building, a smaller Department
of Transportation facility and public waterfront green space were all given
to Amazon with no binding public approval process. LIC community members
like myself and advocacy organizations like LIC Coalition were already
negotiating with the city to use this public land for a youth recreation
center, schools, art space, and added waterfront green space. It appears
that once again the needs and wants of our community have become second to
what a few elected officials and real estate interests have in mind.

Given all this, I am calling for an immediate moratorium on the
Amazon deal, that all the details currently hiding behind NDA’s between the
Empire State Development, the NYC Economic Development Corporation, and Services Inc. be released to the public, and that all RFPs that
have been submitted to the city over the past three years for the public
and private lots related to this deal be released so that we the people can
determine which plan is in the best interest of our community, and the best
use of our public land.



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3 thoughts on “BRENT O’LEARY ON AMAZON HQ2

  1. Ed says:

    Good point Brent about JetBlue and we work coming to lic without any city handouts. While I’m not against amazon coming to nyc, I don’t think lic needs them and certainly the city didn’t need to give them handouts to come to an already amazing area.

  2. dan says:

    I think it’s important to remember that the city and the state aren’t handing over a big bag of cash to amazon. They’re offering a tax discount of $3 billion or so, in exchange for a projected $27 billion of new tax revenue (to say nothing of the additional direct and indirect jobs).

    What’s Brent’s plan to obtain $24B in tax revenues if amazon doesn’t come to LIC? That’s $24B to fund city and state infrastructure that isn’t coming out of taxpayers’ pockets.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I received mailers from local politicians who also vow to “fight” Amazon. Never thought I’d see the day where elected officials came out against jobs! We’re certainly living in interesting times.

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