Amid a heated debate among New Yorkers over Amazon’s plans to build its next headquarters in Queens, the company is accelerating its push to win over its new neighbors. Earlier this week, Amazon sent a memo to all of its New York employees that encouraged them to “come to the next hearing at City Hall to show your support of our new headquarters in Queens.” The email shared the time and place of the hearing and included a link to a fact sheet about the newly announced deal.
The memo was short and to the point, and the fact sheet highlighted some talking points that illustrate how the company is approaching its upcoming PR offensive. The fact sheet is brightly colored and organized somewhat like a New York City subway map, with the title “Amazon <3 NY." It points out "some details of how Amazon's investment will benefit New Yorkers," including $27 billion in tax revenue it claims will go to help the city and state with transportation and public housing needs, as well as new schools. In the memo, the Amazonians are asked to brush up on the talking points before going to the hearing, and are informed that they can submit questions to the City Council by email or Twitter if they're unable to attend.
Here's the text of the email:
Subject: You’re Invited | City Hall Hearing for New Amazon Headquarters in Queens
To All New York Amazonians,
You are invited to come to the next hearing at City Hall to show your support for our new Headquarters in Queens.
City Hall is accessible by the N, R, W downtown subway lines.
Attend the New York City Council Hearings on January 30
The City Council is hosting a series of hearings with Amazon representatives. The hearing is on Wednesday, January 30, at City Hall. The hearing starts at 10 a.m.–however, you’ll need to arrive about an hour earlier to check in.
If you’re interested in the hearings but cannot commit the time to attend, you can submit a question to the Council via an email form or Twitter. Please click here for details. you can download this fact sheet on Amazon’s partnership with New York, and find out ways you can get involved. Click here for details.
It’s just the latest initiative in Amazon’s ongoing PR blitz, which includes mailing flyers to residents of Queens and hiring some of the city’s most well-connected lobbyists. But asking their employees to join the front lines of this battle, while legal, could be perceived as pressure, and some employees seemed put off by the memo. A rep for Amazon has not yet replied to a request for comment.
Two weeks ago, Queens residents found pamphlets on their doorsteps from the e-commerce giant wishing them a happy new year, as well as outlining all the wonderful things Amazon is going to provide to the city once the headquarters opens. “The announcement of our new headquarters in Long Island City was the beginning of what we hope will be a long and mutually beneficial partnership between New Yorkers and Amazon,” it said.
Ever since the HQ2 plans were announced, Amazon has been met with heated local resistance. The city is already facing budget woes and infrastructural headaches–many of which are likely to be exacerbated by the partnership. And despite the fact that Amazon is touting all the money it will bring in to New York City, it’s neglecting to mention the enormous tax breaks the city has offered in return for being selected for the company’s new headquarters.
In addition, as the New York Times reports, the company has also been sending executives and lobbyists to various municipal events to garner support and build goodwill. Amazon representatives over the last few weeks have held dinners with local businesses, as well as private sit-downs with elected officials. In a statement to the Times, Amazon VP of public policy Brian Huseman said, “We have been meeting with small business owners, educators, and community leaders. We’re excited by what we’re hearing from them and the work we’re planning together.”
And the push is only beginning. Politico New York reports that the company has been busy snapping up New York’s most powerful lobbyists, spending $80,000 a month to advance their interests. That includes a “$60,000-a-year, $5,000-a-month yearlong lobbying contract” with the lobbying firm Featherstonhaugh, Wiley, and Clyne, among others.
Amazon is also paying the firm Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver and Jacobson, LLP an estimated $120,000 for a year’s worth of lobbying. Their hourly rates? $1,180-$1,550 an hour for work from its partners, $1,075-$1,140 an hour for special counsel, $575-$1,000 an hour for associates, and $295-$420 an hour for paralegals. Amazon’s also hired Greenberg Traurig at a rate of $30,000 a month, Whiteman Osterman and Hanna for $15,000 a month, and Yoswein New York at a rate of $20,000 a month. The firm SKDKnickerbocker is working for Amazon pro bono, a lobbying registration filed with JCOPE shows.
But the question remains: Will New Yorkers be won over? Of course, since the deal is done, does it even matter?
If you know anything else about Amazon’s HQ2 plans, please contact me.