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45-Member Amazon Community Advisory Committee Announced, Gianaris and Van Bramer Continue to Refuse Participation

An aerial view of Anable basin, where Amazon is planning on building new headquarters. (Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

Dec. 12, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez

The city and state have at last announced the formation of a Community Advisory Committee—a group of 45 members largely comprised of Long Island City figures—put together as part of Amazon’s planned headquarters project.

The committee, formally announced on Tuesday, has been set up to help gather and provide input on Amazon’s upcoming waterfront campus, and makes up one component of the state-run approvals process the tech giant’s development will be moving through.

Members of the group include community and civic leaders, non-profit heads, area business owners and union representatives. The committee, furthermore, is broken up into three subgroups focusing on items like neighborhood infrastructure and workforce.

The “project plan” subcommittee, which will advise on the state’s plan that aims to rezone the Anable Basin area for Amazon’s campus along with issues related to the headquarter’s construction, will be co-chaired by Denise Keehan-Smith and Elizabeth Lusskin.

Keehan-Smith currently chairs Community Board 2, while Lusskin serves as president of the Long Island City Partnership.

The “Neighborhood Infrastructure” subcommittee, meanwhile, is chaired by both Robert Basch, president of the Hunters Point Park Conservancy, and Melva Miller, executive vice president for the Association for a Better New York.

This committee will advise on, as the name suggests, infrastructure priorities through the neighborhood, and will also build on the $180 million the city recently announced toward its Long Island City Investment Strategy.

The “workforce development” subcommittee will be tasked with developing an “education-to-career” strategy to ensure that more New Yorkers can access the thousands of jobs at Amazon’s future campus.

It will be led by Gail Mellow, president of LaGuardia Community College, Bishop Mitchell G. Taylor, CEO of Urban Upbound, and Jean Woods-Powell, principal of Information and Technology High School.

The city’s five borough presidents, additionally, will serve on the workforce development subcommittee in ex-officio roles.

The seven committee co-chairs will also take part in a separate steering committee, set to be staffed with city and state officials from respective economic development agencies, as part of the months-long headquarters planning process.

All elected officials representing Long Island City have been invited to join this steering committee as ex-officio members, the city and state said.

The CAC will meet quarterly beginning in January, with its three subcommittees to meet about once a month during the course of the estimated 14-month state planning process.

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer (center) and State Senator Michael Gianaris at an anti-Amazon rally last week. (Photo: Nathaly Pesantez)

While the committee, announced just one day before the first city council oversight hearing on the Amazon deal, features a variety of local leaders across the board, it is noticeably missing two elected officials outspoken in their criticism against the project—Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and State Senator Michael Gianaris.

Both announced last month that they would not participate in the CAC, feeling that it would validate a process whose underpinnings they are opposed to, and said once more after Tuesday’s announcement that they will not play a role in these talks.

“I did not have input into any decisions related to the Amazon Community Advisory Council, including recommendations for membership, because I refuse to participate in a process meant to accommodate Amazon’s arrival in our community, which I do not accept as a done deal,” Gianaris said in a statement.

Despite heavy backlash against Amazon’s plans for Queens in the weeks since official plans were announced, and which have taken on the form of protests, calls-to-action, petitions and more, some have questioned the effectiveness of Van Bramer and Gianaris refusing to join the CAC.

The topic came up at the Dec. 6 Community Board 2 meeting, for instance, when two board members speaking to a member of Van Bramer’s staff worried that his reasoning for not joining the committee would make for a less democratic process.

“If you don’t join it, you don’t know what’s going on in that committee,” said Bessie Cassaro to Matt Wallace, Van Bramer’s chief of staff. “At least you’ll have eyes and you can see, so I question that decision.”

Pat O’Brien, meanwhile, said the choice by representatives to withhold from participating can be seen as an “abdication” of responsibilities, and questioned whether there was more to the decision.

“I don’t think the people want to get caught in a political pissing match between politicians who are upset that they were excluded,” O’Brien said.

The board member also said that elected officials can be the voice of the opposition while serving in the committee.

Van Bramer, in response, said in a statement on Monday that he stands by his decision.

“I’ve worked with and respect many of the members who have chosen to serve on the CAC,” he said. “And as I’ve said before, whether or not I am on it, my voice will be heard. I will continue to represent the community and advocate for it as we fight against this bad deal.”

A full list of the CAC members is below:
Project Plan Co-Chairs:      
Denise Keehan-Smith, Chair, Queens Community Board 2
Elizabeth Lusskin, President, the Long Island City Partnership
Neighborhood Infrastructure Co-Chairs:
Robert Basch, President, Hunters Point Park Conservancy  
Melva Miller, Executive Vice President, Association for a Better New York
Workforce Co-Chairs:
Gail Mellow, President, LaGuardia Community College      
Bishop Mitchell G. Taylor, CEO and President, Urban Upbound
Jean Woods-Powell, Principal, Information Technology High School
CAC Members:
Plinio Ayala, President and CEO, Per Scholas          
Antonios Benetatos, President-elect, Dutch Kills Civic Association            
Kyle Bragg, Secretary-Treasurer, 32BJ SEIU           
Paul Camilierri, LIC Resident
Gianna Cerbone, Owner, Manducatis Restaurant     
Meghan Cirrito, Board Chair, Gantry Parents Association
Claudia Coger, President, Astoria Houses Tenant Association         
Lisa Ann Deller, Land Use Chair, Queens Community Board 2
Paul Finnegan, Executive Director, New York Irish Center 
Angie Kamath, University Dean for Continuing Education and Workforce Development, CUNY
Sister Tesa Fitzgerald, Executive Director, Hour Children   
Debra-Ellen Glickstein, Executive Director, NYC Kids RISE         
Tom Grech, President and CEO, Queens Chamber of Commerce    
Kenny Greenberg, Neon Artist and CB2 Member
Chris Hanway, Executive Director,    Jacob A. Riis Settlement House        
Jukay Hsu, Founder and CEO, Pursuit         
Richard Khuzami, President, Old Astoria Neighborhood Association         
Debby King, Former Director, 1199 Training Fund Director and LIC resident       
Sheila Lewandowski, Executive Director, The Chocolate Factory Theater  
Reverend Corwin Mason, Community Church of Astoria
Annie Cotton Morris, President, Woodside Houses Tenant Association                  
Joey Ortiz, Executive Director, NYC Employment and Training Coalition 
Tom Paino, Chair, Hunters Point Community Coalition       
Santos Rodriguez, Director of Community Affairs & Strategic Initiatives, NYC Building Trades Council           
Julie Samuels, Executive Director, TechNYC           
Carlo Scissura, President and CEO of New York Building Congress          
Seema Shah, Director of Technology and Innovation Initiatives, LaGuardia Community College 
April Simpson, President, Queensbridge Houses Tenant Association          
Alvarez Symonette, Chief of Staff, Lady M Confections    
Marie Torniali, Chair, Queens Community Board 1  
Matthew Troy, Executive Director of Variety Boys & Girls Club, Queens
Andre Ward, Associate Vice President of Employment Services and Education, The Fortune Society
Carol Wilkins, President, Ravenswood Houses Tenant Association 
Tom Wright, President and CEO, Regional Plan Association          
Frank Wu, Transportation and Safety Committee Chair, Court Square Civic Association  
Kathryn S. Wylde, President and CEO, Partnership for New York City     
Judith Zangwill, Executive Director, Sunnyside Community Services         
A CUNY student representative

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Click for Comments 
Kamala Cusamano

Who cares about our champagne socialist twerps, and their babbling entourage of idiots.

Patricia Dorfman

Too many who will benefit on the committee…sorry to be rude but illegitimate. Since ULURP bypassed, everyone should refuse to serve, as jvb and gianaris did. don’t bring us any closer to this obliteration of queens

43% of all online sales are through amazon. this will become the amazone

Deborah Alexander

Despite the continuing education crisis in LIC, not one Community Education Council member (elected official) for this district was included. Goes to show how schools and education remain an afterthought.


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