Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on February 8. The headline has been updated to reflect Amazon’s February 14 announcement that it is canceling plans for a New York headquarters amid an ongoing political backlash.
Landing Amazon HQ2 was supposed to be a big win for Democrats who run New York, but instead it’s turned into a monstrous headache that’s exposing deep political fissures inside the party.
One one side is Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who joked he’d change his name to ‘Amazon’ to win the company’s business, and Mayor Bill de Blasio.
On the other is freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who on Friday declared victory amid reports that the company might be having second thoughts – and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who suggested that Amazon doesn’t really need any more tax breaks.
The Amazon deal is the odd issue in US politics that can tie de Blasio and Cuomo together on one side, and Bloomberg and Ocasio-Cortez on the other.
It turns out that what some Democrats call economic improvement, others see as corporate charity.
To recap, the Internet behemoth promised billions of dollars in new tax base, tens of thousands of high-paying jobs and the honor of being home to HQ2.
Policymakers nationwide were eating from the Internet giant’s hands and falling over each other to sweeten Amazon’s pot with tax breaks and infrastructure improvements, all but begging Jeff Bezos to pick them and move in.
It was like a nationwide real-life season of “The Bachelor,” with rounds of courtship and periodic cuts. The rose was ultimately split between Queens, New York, and Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia. A smaller campus is also planned for Nashville.
Virginia consummated things Tuesday when embattled Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam signed into law a $750 million incentive package.
But at least part of the resulting three-way marriage feels about as sturdy as a match made on TV.
New York is supposed to grant $1.5 billion in incentives contingent on the company creating 25,000 jobs with an average salary of $150,000.
“We can’t find two nickels to rub together to make the subways run on time or to build affordable housing or to build enough schools for our kids – in this very neighborhood, mind you – and yet we’re showering Jeff Bezos with all this money that he clearly doesn’t need,” said Michael Gianaris on CNN. He’s the deputy majority leader of the New York State Senate, represents Queens and has emerged as a top critic of the deal.
He was appointed by the Democrats who took control of the state Senate after elections in November to be on the Public Authorities Control Board, and he could ultimately have the power to essentially veto the deal, according to reports.
It was Democrats de Blasio and Cuomo who cheered the deal when it was announced. It’s Democrats like Gianaris who could kill it.
The Washington Post, citing unnamed sources, reported Friday that Amazon was considering ditching Queens and putting the 25,000 promised jobs elsewhere.
The key line, anonymously sourced, in the Post report about Amazon’s thinking:
“The question is whether it’s worth it if the politicians in New York don’t want the project, especially with how people in Virginia have been so welcoming.”
Ocasio-Cortez hailed the Washington Post report on Friday as a victory of the citizen over the corporation, when she tweeted a link to the Post article and added:
“Can everyday people come together and effectively organize against creeping overreach of one of the world’s biggest corporations? Yes, they can.”
Amazon subsequently denied it might pull out of the deal and has said it would try to win over New Yorkers, as it did with a recent ad campaign.
Criticism from the opponents is based not only on the tax incentives, which many say the company doesn’t need, but also on the secretive way the deal was negotiated, outside of public view.
“Amazon dares to dictate to us whether our government can even talk to us about what these deals are as they are unfolding. They made the state sign a secrecy agreement. Lo and behold, when the agreement becomes known it’s horrible,” said Gianaris.
Cuomo lashed out at the state Senate on Friday, worried the deal could be in trouble.
“It’s a very small group of politicians who are pandering to the local politics,” he said, according to the New York Post. “I’ve never heard such an absurd situation where political pandering defeated a bona fide, sound economic development project.”
He didn’t acknowledge the very real concerns of local anti-development activists, who don’t want to see their neighborhoods taken over and their property values explode out from under them.
Opposition to the deal was clear late last month when New York City Council members had tough questions for Amazon officials at a public hearing, suggesting the company had misled about the economic benefits its new campus would bring. The council issued its own report suggesting the data on the benefits pushed by the governor and mayor was overblown.
It’s not just the local politicians and strong progressives who are questioning the deal.
The former mayor, the billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who might run for President as a Democrat, had this to say, according to Politico:
“But the reason they came here was not the tax breaks they got, which I didn’t think they needed.”