Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who was staggered by Amazon’s decision to pull out of its plans to come to New York City, is working intensely behind the scenes to lure the company back, even connecting with Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, to make a personal pitch.
The governor has had multiple phone conversations with Amazon executives, including Mr. Bezos, over the past two weeks, according to two people with knowledge of the efforts. In those calls, Mr. Cuomo said he would navigate the company through the byzantine governmental process.
Mr. Cuomo did not offer a new location but rather guarantees of support for the project, one person said. Amazon executives gave no sense the company would reconsider.
The executives also learned of an open letter being arranged for publication in The New York Times on Friday, also urging Mr. Bezos, the company’s chief executive, to reverse course again and build the campus in Long Island City, Queens.
The letter was signed by more than 70 supportive unions including the AFL-CIO, local businesses and business leaders, community groups and elected officials including Representatives Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn, a top Democrat, Max Rose, a first-term Democrat from Staten Island, and Carolyn Maloney, whose district encompasses the Amazon site, and the former mayor David N. Dinkins.
The letter said that Mr. Cuomo “will take personal responsibility for the project’s state approval,” and Mayor Bill de Blasio “will work together with the governor to manage the community development process.”
So far at least, the company has shown no sign of reconsidering its decision to abandon the deal, in which Amazon promised to create up to 40,000 jobs in Long Island City in exchange for a state grant of $500 million and state and city tax breaks that would have eventually totaled more than $2 billion.
“I’ve had many conversations with Amazon. I hope that they reconsider,” Mr. Cuomo told reporters at an unrelated event Thursday on Long Island. “It would be helpful if the State Senate said that they would approve it; that would be helpful. But in the meantime I haven’t heard any changes.”
Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic majority leader of the State Senate, said in a statement that she had indicated her “willingness to work” with Amazon. “I have always been clear that I support job creation and was disappointed with Amazon’s decision and hoped they would reconsider,” she said.
An Amazon spokeswoman declined a request for comment.
The conversation between Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Bezos appeared to have been the first time the two had spoken at any point about Amazon’s plans for Queens, or about the company’s abrupt decision earlier in February to cancel the project amid noisy opposition.
Since the deal fell through, Mr. Cuomo has been arguing in public and in private that support for the project was and remains far more widespread than it may have seemed.
“I do believe Amazon should have stayed and fought the opposition,” said Mr. Cuomo in a radio interview on Tuesday. “It was a vocal minority opposition. Seventy percent of the people support Amazon.”
He reiterated that message to Amazon executives during calls, according to one of the people with knowledge of the exchanges, both of whom requested anonymity in order to discuss the private conversations.
The campus was meant to be one half of what had been called a second headquarters for the company; the other half, with roughly the same number of jobs, is still planned for a Virginia suburb of Washington.
But Amazon faced vociferous opponents — including local groups, some unions and political activists animated by the surprise victory of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — from the moment it announced its plans for Queens in November. Three months later, with no end in sight for the sustained political pressure and negative attention, executives decided to pull the plug.
Those familiar with the company’s thinking have insisted that the decision to abandon the New York City plan had been based on a confluence of factors, including the loud opposition and the lack of any sign it would abate.
“We think we could have gotten New York done, but you have to say, ‘At what cost?’” Holly Sullivan, Amazon’s director of global economic development, said at an event in Virginia on Thursday. “We made a prudent decision that gives us the opportunity to hyperfocus on D.C.”
The advertisement, an open letter to Mr. Bezos that was set to appear on a full page in Friday’s newspaper, is aimed at combating the notion that the opposition to Amazon was widespread, arguing that a “clear majority” of New Yorkers support the company.
“We know the public debate that followed the announcement of the Long Island City project was rough and not very welcoming,” reads the letter, paid for by the Partnership for New York City, a prominent business group. “But when we commit to a project as important as this, we figure out how to get it done in a way that works for everyone.”
Kathryn S. Wylde, the president of the partnership, said the letter had been aimed not just at Amazon but at assuring technology companies generally that New York City welcomed their businesses: “Yes, it’s directed to Amazon in hopes they will reconsider. Equally, it is a message to the broader industry.”
“The governor’s office was working with the business community on how to send this message,” Ms. Wylde added, and the result was the letter.
The letter included new supporters as well as many — such as public housing leaders, local small businesses and unions like Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union and the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York — who backed the deal all along. A spokesman for Mr. de Blasio, whose initial support of the Amazon deal has turned into vigorous criticism after the company pulled out, said the mayor was aware that the letter was being prepared.
The most vocal opponents, like Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, were not among the signatories.
“Our concerns remain the same,” Mr. Appelbaum said in response to Mr. Cuomo’s efforts. “If Amazon wants to come to New York, it must respect all workers and communities.”
One thing that has changed in the last two weeks: Ms. Stewart-Cousins, the State Senate majority leader, withdrew her nomination of Senator Michael Gianaris to the obscure Public Authorities Control Board. The position would have given Mr. Gianaris, who represents Long Island City, the ability to vote down the development project for Amazon when it came before the board in about a year’s time.
But Mr. Cuomo refused to appoint Mr. Gianaris, who declined to comment on the governor’s efforts, or to formally reject him. And so last week, Ms. Stewart-Cousins selected another Queens representative, Leroy Comrie, to sit on the board, a person who would be more likely to get the governor’s approval.
Mr. Comrie did not respond to a request for comment.
“The State Senate made a terrible blunder; everyone, including their members, knows it,” said Dani Lever, the governor’s communications director. “The governor will take over the process and can comfortably assure Amazon the approval will get done.”
Michael Cohen as plaintiff: Trump’s ex-fixer sues couple over $6M condo-backed loan
President Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, is suing two Chicago taxi medallion moguls over a $6 million loan the couple allegedly failed to repay, and in which their luxury Sunny Isles Beach condo was used as collateral.
In 2012, Cohen loaned Semyon and Yasya Shtayner $2 million, with the loan backed by the couple’s penthouse at Acqualina Ocean Residences, according to the lawsuit. Cohen kept loaning them millions more and by 2015, the total debt was up to $6 million. Cohen, who was sentenced to three years in prison for lying to Congress and has been disbarred by the state of New York, is suing for the full amount owed, plus interest, default interest and collection expenses.
Cohen filed the lawsuit against the couple and the Acqualina condo association in early February. Attempts to reach the Shtayners and the association were unsuccessful.
According to a schedule included in the suit, the Shtayners were supposed to make monthly payments to Cohen of $61,250 beginning in May 2015, with the full principal due in April 2019. Those payments were never made, according to the suit.
“People who borrow money should pay it back,” said Cohen’s attorney, David Haber of Miami-based Haber Law.
That wasn’t the first time the Shtayners received millions of dollars in loans from a member of Cohen’s family. Cohen’s father-in-law, Fima Shusterman, has provided at least $20 million in loans to Yasya Shtayner, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Semyon Shtayner, who is now in the marijuana industry, acknowledged Cohen and his family had loaned him money in the past to finance taxi medallions, but told the Wall Street Journal last year that Cohen has not been involved in his marijuana growing business.
Semyon and Yasya Shtayner were also identified by name in the FBI warrant used to raid Cohen’s law office and home in April, CNN reported at the time. The FBI was searching for documents tied to Cohen’s businesses, including in the taxi industry.
Property records show the Shtayners paid $4.7 million for the Acqualina unit condo in 2009. Penthouse 4506 is four bedrooms and 6,419 square feet. The couple financed the purchase with $2.35 million in seller financing from developer Eddie Trump — no relation to the president. Fima Shusterman also owns a unit in the luxury tower, on the 40th floor. Cohen’s father-in-law paid about $1.5 million for his condo in 2006, the year the building was completed.
The Shtayners and Shusterman immigrated to New York City in the 1970s from Ukraine. Yasya Shtayner’s family owns Chicago Medallion Management Corp., which manages 368 taxicabs through five companies in the city, including some that Cohen own. Nearly 100 of their taxi medallions were in foreclosure as of April 2018.
Last February, The Real Deal reported that much of Michael Cohen’s wealth had been tied up in New York City taxi medallions. At the time, Cohen owned at least 34 medallions through 17 LLCs, according to a TRD analysis. In 2013, when medallion values were at their peak, those plates could sell for $1 million each. That figure has plummeted with the rise of Uber and other ride-hailing apps.
Cohen will begin serving his prison sentence in May for lying to Congress and making cover up payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, who allege they had affairs with Trump.
Corey Johnson: Give NYC Control Of The Subways, Ban Cars On Bedford Avenue
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson wants New York City to take control of the subway system, ban automobiles from a slew of busy streets (including Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg), build more bus and bike lanes, and seriously consider removing a chunk of the crumbling Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
Johnson outlined his aggressive proposal to remake New York’s transportation infrastructure in his first State of the City speech on Tuesday, which was accompanied by a 104-page report that attempts to wrestle with problems that have bedeviled governors, mayors, and legislators for decades.
Some of the Speaker’s proposals require state approval, like passing congestion pricing and a millionaire’s tax, and giving the city the authority to raise and lower certain kinds of taxes to meet the subway’s revenue needs. The report sometimes gives simple-sounding solutions to politically fraught, complicated issues—to lower MTA labor costs, the report suggests consolidation, improved procurement processes, and that labor and management should “work together” to find savings.
But where Albany fails on issues like congestion pricing, Johnson thinks the City can use “home rule authority” to pass it anyway. And the report acknowledges what many safe streets advocates have said throughout Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first term: the city can and should be doing significantly more to make streets safer and less congested.
“DOT has full control over our streets and has both the power and the resources to radically transform our streetscapes for increased and improved accessibility, safety, connectivity, and resilience,” the report states.
Last month, Mayor de Blasio pledged to put in 10 to 15 miles of bus lanes each year, up from 7 miles a year. Johnson wants 30 miles, and he wants to give buses transit signal priority in 1,000 more intersections.
At a City Council hearing last month, Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg was skeptical that the city could build 50 miles of protected bike lanes each year. Johnson’s goal is 50 miles, with “minimum design standards” for what constitutes a protected bike lane, and the ultimate goal of making 14 percent of all trips taken by New Yorkers bicycle rides by 2050 (as of 2017 it was 3 percent).
Johnson’s report also suggests using existing zoning laws to install more elevators into subway stations to increase accessibility, and addresses the fight over the DOT’s BQE repairs in Brooklyn Heights, which would close down the Promenade for at least six years. The DOT “should study alternatives to the reconstruction of this Robert Moses-era six lane highway, including the removal of the BQE in its entirety,” the report suggests. (The environmental review process for the BQE project begins later in 2019 and is expected to take two years. In meantime, the DOT says it’s looking at “a range of options.”)
Citing the success of Summer Streets, Johnson’s report says that areas in the Financial District, Chinatown, Brooklyn Heights, Bushwick, and Sunset Park should be pedestrianized or turned into shared streets. Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg is “ripe for permanent pedestrianization,” the report notes. “Critical pedestrianization efforts in New York City have taken a backseat to small-scale and incremental Vision Zero interventions, despite their success and popularity.”
Councilmember Antonio Reynoso, whose district includes portions of Bedford Avenue, told Gothamist he supported the Speaker’s proposal.
“My district currently ranks forty-sixth out of fifty-one council districts in terms of park and playground acreage. We could change this if so much space weren’t dedicated to roadways and the storage of vehicles,” Reynoso said in a statement. “Speaker Johnson’s proposal to permanently pedestrianize Bedford Avenue would reclaim open space for residents and would help bring health and wellness benefits to my community for generations to come. Furthermore, the pedestrianization would serve as a precedent in the fight to break car culture and truly prioritize pedestrians in New York City.”
Johnson’s most audacious proposal is the creation of Big Apple Transit, an entity that would control the subway and bus systems, the Staten Island Railroad, and the bridges and tunnels, and would be answerable to the mayor. (Johnson has all but announced he is running for mayor in 2021.). The MTA would retain control of the LIRR, Metro-North, suburban buses, and capital projects. The portion of the MTA that still has to service decades-old debt would be spun off into an entity that only exists to eliminate that debt.
Asked for a comment on Johnson’s proposal, Dani Lever, a spokesperson for Governor Andrew Cuomo, who controls the MTA, released this statement: “The City already owns the New York City transit system.”
While this is technically true, it is deeply disingenuous: the City leases the subways to the State, and the MTA, an agent of the state, is controlled by Governor Cuomo, who recently proved his dominance over the authority by bypassing the MTA board to scrap the L train shutdown and replace it with a different plan created by his own handpicked experts.
Former MTA Chairman Joe Lhota, a Cuomo appointee who also repeated the governor’s assertion that the MTA actually did not control the subway system, told reporters after Johnson’s speech that he supported the Speaker’s proposal.
“I proposed mayoral control of the NYC Subway in 2013 when I was a candidate for mayor,” Lhota said. “I applaud the Speaker and his vision for the City.”
Lhota said Johnson was starting what would be a long conversation but likened it to similar ones started when the city took control of schools and when the housing police were merged with the NYPD.
Richard Ravitch, a former MTA CEO and chairman, called the Speaker’s plan “a very thoughtful proposal, I just don’t agree with it.”
“He should use his growing political stature to get the governor and legislature to appoint a board to the MTA that will follow 2009 statue in respect to the governance of the MTA,” Ravitch said. “I would not suggest he look to impose more financial responsibility on the city as distinct from the region.”
Seth Stein, a spokesperson for the mayor, defended de Blasio’s record on safe streets. “The mayor has dramatically increased the installation of protected bike lanes – over 20 miles a year along major corridors – and installed 37 miles of bus lanes,” Stein said. “We appreciate the Speaker’s support of this effort, and look forward to doing even more to help New Yorkers get around our great city.”
Danny Pearlstein, the policy and communications director from the Riders Alliance, pointed to Mayor de Blasio’s announcement of bus improvements last month and told Gothamist it was a “great day for bus riders—the two million riders that are stuck right now, every day, in miserable traffic.”
“Today Corey is resoundingly seconding [the mayor’s announcement], he’s promising the bus riders they deserve much better. We’re excited to work with the mayor and council going forward to make sure these improvements are happening,” Pearlstein said.
As for City control of the subways, Pearlstein said that passing congestion pricing in Albany should be the first priority.
“Once that’s been implemented, there will be ample time for conversations to make sure that the subway never falls apart again.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hits back at New York Post’s report on her Green New Deal ‘hypocrisy’
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez clapped back after the New York Post accused her of “hypocrisy” for promoting the Green New Deal initiative while continuing to travel in cars and planes.
“Pack it up folks, the Pulitzer’s been decided.” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Sunday morning alongside a picture of the Post’s front page. “No one can rival this kind of hard-hitting journalism.”
The Green New Deal resolution introduced by Ocasio-Cortez aims to, among other things, “achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions” within 10 years, make existing infrastructure and buildings more sustainable and energy efficient, and ensure universal access to clean, air, water and food.
A “frequently asked questions” summary of the plan that was put together by Ocasio-Cortez’s office calls for the nation to “overhaul transportation by massively expanding electric vehicle manufacturing, build charging stations everywhere, build out highspeed rail at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary, create affordable public transit available to all, with goal to replace every combustion-engine vehicle.”
The New York Post’s report suggests this goal is hypocritical given that Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign “heavily relied on those combustible-engine cars” despite being in close proximity to a subway station.
The campaign listed 1,049 transactions for Uber, Lyft, Juno and other car services, costing a total of $29,365.70 on federal filings, according to the New York Post.
The report also notes that the campaign spent $8,335.41 on 52 MetroCard transactions.
“I also fly and use AC,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Saturday night. “Living in the world as it is isn’t an argument against working towards a better future.”
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