New York leaders who spent a year courting Amazon HQ2 are suddenly grappling with the possibility that the project they celebrated as a done deal could fall apart.
On Monday, the New York State Senate appointed Sen. Michael Gianaris to a little-known oversight board, one where each member has the ability to torpedo economic development deals with a single vote. Gianaris is a key opponent to the Amazon deal and said he has no interest in negotiating during an interview with Cheddar TV Tuesday.
“This deal is so bad that I don’t want to use this deal as the subject of a negotiation that we can tweak or amend and end up with a final product,” he said.
Amazon declined to comment for this story.
It’s far from over: Gianaris represents the biggest threat to the Amazon deal yet but his appointment still needs approval from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was instrumental in landing the Amazon project. Members of the governor’s administration have also hinted that the deal may bypass oversight from the board.
Cuomo hasn’t said if he’ll approve the nomination but he did criticize Gianaris’s position in an interview with WNYC: “What I do reject is the triumph of politics over government.” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, another Amazon suitor, said, “I don’t think, in the end, there’s a lot of public servants want to be responsible for losing 25,000 to 40,000 jobs.”
Gianaris is sticking to his guns: “Amazon doesn’t care about locals who live in Long Island City,” he said of the neighborhood where Amazon plans to open a 25,000-person office. “All they care about is how much they can squeeze out of the public till in New York.”
Amazon is eligible for up to $3 billion in government incentives in exchange for job creation and community development projects associated with the Queens campus. Gianaris, who represents Queens, challenged Cuomo to reject his nomination to the oversight board: “If he wants to deny someone a voice over this project who actually represents the community that would be on him to explain. But he should stop acting like a petulant child casting aspersions on people. It’s not playing politics simply because someone disagrees with Andrew Cuomo.”
What if the deal falls apart? Amazon’s only option would be to scrap the New York deal and start over from the beginning if Gianaris is appointed to the board and votes against the project, the senator said.
“If they want to take the agreement that’s been reached and say, ‘We are going to say that this agreement no longer binds us. We’re going to throw it in the garbage and we want to come to your great city and talk about what we can do to be a helpful corporate neighbor,’ then we can have a conversation,” Gianaris said. “But if they intend to try to buy off the community by throwing a couple nickels around and still taking $3 billion from us, that’s not going to work.”
New York is watching Seattle: Gianaris and other officials are paying close attention to how Amazon has grown and behaved in its hometown. Last month, two Seattle City Councilmembers visited New York with words of warning about what its like to have Amazon as a neighbor.
When it comes to corporate citizenship, Gianaris suggested Amazon take a cue from another Seattle area tech giant: Microsoft. The Redmond, Wash., software giant announced a $500 million fund to spark affordable housing development in the Seattle area last month.
“Big Tech is starting to get it,” he said in the Cheddar interview Tuesday. “Amazon’s not there but Microsoft is now spending hundreds of millions of dollars to establish affordable housing in Seattle because of what Amazon [and other tech companies have] done to the city.”