Some of the pro-Amazon protesters who rallied against the company's decision to cancel its move to Long Island City last week were secretly paid to be there, possibly by a landlord miffed over his inability to raise rents, according to a report published Friday by Patch.
Two participants in the rally told the outlet that they'd responded to a Craigslist ad promising to pay $30/hour if they held signs decrying Amazon's departure outside the company's retail location on 34th Street. The rally was organized by Sammy Musovic, a landlord who owns several Queens buildings, as well as Manhattan restaurants Sojourn, Vero and Selena Rosa Mexicana.
(Musovic is also something of a media hound: His bid to buy Carnegie Deli for $5 million was widely covered, as was his claim that he was selling the country's most expensive margarita for charity; he was recently quoted in CNBC about his decision not to move to Florida, and has appeared on Fox News alongside his son to praise President Trump's impact on small businesses.)
At the protest, Musovic said that he'd spent $1 million renovating his Long Island City buildings in anticipation of the company's arrival. He previously told Bloomberg that he'd added new kitchens, flooring and other amenities to the apartments, with the expectation that he'd be able to hike rents by at least 25 percent. Several developers also said they'd bet big on the neighborhood, and many were devastated by Amazon's announcement last Thursday.
Musovic denied any involvement in the astroturfing campaign. A video obtained by Patch shows an unidentified man handing out cash to multiple protesters. Asked about that video, Musovic reportedly repeated his denial then hung up. (Gothamist's calls to the landlord were not returned.)
A PR representative associated with the rally, whose number was listed on the Craigslist post, also said he had no knowledge of protesters being paid. But text messages obtained by Patch show the same phone number responding to someone who'd inquired about the Craigslist ad, urging him to come to the rally.
Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director of the labor and community group ALIGN, which helped lead the anti-Amazon movement, said she was unsurprised by reports of the mercenary protesters. "It shows that all of this talk of support for Amazon was largely a made-up story," she told Gothamist. "We were the ones who spoke up [against Amazon]."
Meanwhile, Governor Andrew Cuomo said earlier today that Amazon's backing out of the deal was the "greatest tragedy that I have seen since I have been in government." His office later backpedaled, claiming he was referring to government failures, not human tragedies. Asked where the ongoing crises at NYCHA and the MTA, as well as the abuses in the state prison system and rampant corruption in Albany would rank on Cuomo's list of government failures, a spokesperson further clarified that the governor actually meant to say Amazon's departure was the greatest economic development opportunity ever lost.