Last week, for the first time, Amazon was the subject of serious public questioning at a city council meeting. It just didn't happen in Seattle.
The first public hearing on Amazon locating a so-called HQ2 in Long Island City quickly became a display of frustration and venting from New York City Council members, who blasted the city's Economic Development Corporation for negotiating such a deal that included about $3 billion in government subsidies behind closed doors and without their input.
Amazon representatives appeared in front of a committee and answered questions—alongside New York's Economic Development Corporation president James Patchett—for three hours on Wednesday about its plans to mitigate for massive growth. They didn't have many answers.
Council members condemned the retail giant's lack of contribution to the public infrastructure in their plans, while anti-Amazon protesters in the back chanted, at times interrupting the hearing.
The retail giant expects to bring in 25,000 jobs in Queens—up to 40,000 in 15 years—and faced scrutiny over how they could guarantee that those jobs go to locals and not an imported work force; how its presence would impact housing prices and rents; how small businesses would be affected; and how they plan to accommodate for the strain on transit and infrastructure.
All questions that were a direct nod to the challenges Seattle faces today. Despite Amazon's influence in building the city's reputation as a tech hub, Seattle still became the caution sign of a city New York didn't want to become.
Council deputy leader Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents Long Island City, said he spoke to Seattle council members about Amazon's influence and used its fight against Seattle's head tax as a direct example of how the company gets in the way of progress.
"Amazon flexed their corporate muscle to build enough support to defeat the tax, pressuring the council to eventually repeal the legislation less than a month later," Van Bramer said. "Queens must not become another Amazon company town."
New York City Council speaker Corey Johnson said that while the state's analysis predicts the deal would bring an additional 131,000 New York City residents, he had heard nothing of Amazon's plans to construct infrastructure beyond a helipad.
"I'm serious," Johnson quipped. "This is like something out of The Onion."
Ultimately the public hearings aren't much beyond political grandstanding, since the negotiations between Amazon and the city are a done deal. (Van Bramer, for one, supported the city's bid earlier. He now said he regrets it.)
But the hearing put the company in the hot seat, and challenged its representatives to come to grips with its impact on cities. It had been too late for Seattle.