The day after Amazon announced its intention to build a 25,000-person office in New York City, State Sen. Michael Gianaris convened a protest on the company’s proposed stomping grounds.
It was the start of a crusade against the project in which Gianaris has repeatedly criticized secrecy in the bidding process and up to $3 billion in government subsidies promised to Amazon. He spearheaded a growing opposition movement to the deal, which includes other elected officials, labor leaders, and community activists. But despite the staunch opposition, the Amazon project appeared to be a done deal — until Monday.
Gianaris has been appointed to the Public Authorities Control Board, a little-known but powerful body that reviews economic development deals like the one reached with Amazon. The New York State Senate selected Gianaris as its representative on the three-person board. Each member has the ability to block a project.
“New York needs responsible fiscal stewardship now more than ever and ensuring our economic development dollars are well spent is a responsibility I take very seriously,” Gianaris said in a statement Monday.
Amazon did not respond to GeekWire’s request to comment on Gianaris’s appointment.
The selection of Gianaris is a victory for opponents of the Amazon deal but their battle is far from over. His appointment needs approval from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a key advocate for the Amazon project.
It also isn’t entirely clear whether the Public Authorities Control Board will review the deal. The Cuomo administration has said that some of the incentives promised to Amazon may not need to be reviewed by the board.
But Gianaris is the best chance opponents of the Amazon deal have. In addition to leading the opposition effort, Gianaris has introduced legislation that would ban non-disclosure agreements in economic development deals in New York going forward. Amazon required government officials to sign NDAs during its year-long selection process.
“As we work to improve our laws going forward, we must keep working to stop this deal in its tracks, and I rededicate myself to that cause today,” Gianaris said in a statement when he introduced the legislation.
Last November, Amazon announced it would split its “HQ2” project between two cities: New York and Arlington, Va. The company plans to hire 25,000 workers at each location. Amazon employs about 50,000 people at its Seattle headquarters, where the company’s rapid growth has become a lightning rod.
Last month, two Seattle City Councilmembers visited New York with words of warning about what its like to have Amazon as a neighbor.
In New York, Amazon selected the Long Island City neighborhood in Queens, which Gianaris represents.
Amazon is enjoying a warm welcome in the Washington D.C. area, where officials approved $750 million in subsidies after just nine minutes of deliberation. But in New York, Amazon executives have faced resistance and tough questions. The appointment of Gianaris represents Amazon’s biggest hurdle yet.