It was a rocky relationship from the start, one forged in secret between the largest company in the world and two of New York’s most powerful politicians, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Amazon’s HQ2 would have meant 25,000 white-collar jobs for Queens but at a cost to taxpayers of $48,000 per employee — part of a $3 billion subsidy and tax incentive package pounded-out in seclusion by the ménage à trois.
The dowry proved too high for many New Yorkers to stomach. Protests ensued. The company’s feelings were hurt.
But it’s not like our star-crossed lovers didn’t try to work things out. As recently as Monday, Cuomo and de Blasio rendezvoused together in Albany. They sensed Amazon was thinking of leaving them and couldn’t bear to see it go. Amazon assured them everything was fine. Cuomo arranged a date between company executives and their union opponents on Wednesday.
“Amazon and the governor and everybody agreed yesterday on a way to move forward” with talks, Stuart Appelbaum of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store union told the New York Times. But on Thursday, Amazon announced it was calling the whole thing off. It would not be moving to New York after all.
The company wanted New York to change but it wasn’t willing to make changes of its own. Should it have moved into Long Island City it would have reshaped the Queens waterfront in its image. Taxpayers would have gifted Jeff Bezos with a helipad. Yet the Amazon chief executive, who makes $9 million an hour, couldn’t find it in his heart to hire union workers.
“Shame on them,” Appelbaum said. “The arrogance of saying ‘do it my way or not at all.’’’
All strong relationships are built on consent and the Cuomo-de Blasio-Amazon affair proved no different. By bypassing the city’s democratic land use procedures, the trio left out the City Council and, more importantly, left out residents of Queens who rallied furiously against the backroom deal.
Gentrification and the strain the company would put on the city’s already-overburdened infrastructure were among objections raised, not to mention the $3 billion taxpayer valentine coming the company’s way. New York is an attractive place for businesses, why should the city have to pay for it? they wanted to know.
With Amazon, it was “love us or we’re leaving” and on Thursday it announced it was doing just that.
Cuomo blamed a “small group of politicians” who “put their own narrow political interests above their community” for the breakup. De Blasio tried to make it seem like he was never all that into Amazon to begin with.
“We gave Amazon the opportunity to be a good neighbor and do business in the greatest city in the world,’’ the mayor said. “Instead of working with the community, Amazon threw away that opportunity.”
Leading opponents of the deal, who fought de Blasio and Cuomo tooth and nail to divorce Amazon, couldn’t have agreed more.
“Today’s behavior by Amazon shows why they would have been a bad partner for New York in any event,” Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris, who represents Long Island City, said in a statement. “Rather than seriously engage with the community they proposed to profoundly change, Amazon continued its effort to shakedown governments to get its way.”
“[W]e have seen the power of grassroots community organizing,” State Sen. Jessica Ramos, whose district neighbors Long Island City, said. “Together, we are fighting for a New York that prioritizes affordable housing, small businesses and union jobs.
“What we, the people, did in Queens was finally draw the line in the sand,” she added.
Crystal City, VA, also slated to house an HQ2, has proven a much more submissive partner. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and the state’s legislature have already approved a $750 million Amazon subsidy package.
Photo credit: Erin Sheridan.