N.Y. Mayor Says Amazon HQ2 Will Prevail as City Needs Tech

February 5, 2019, 6:54 PM UTC

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said he thinks Amazon will prevail in building its huge new campus in the city — despite an opponent being recommended to serve on a board with veto power over the transaction.

De Blasio said he didn’t think any elected official wanted to be the one who cost the city as many as 40,000 well-paid jobs. New York needs the tech industry, de Blasio said, because it can no longer rely upon Wall Street as an economic growth generator.

“I don’t think anyone would want to take the blame for losing the biggest jobs deal in the history of New York City and that’s why I think it will go through,” de Blasio said in response to a question at an unrelated press conference Tuesday in Brooklyn.

New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Monday chose a leading opponent of the $2.5 billion deal as one of three members of a board with veto power over the transaction. Senator Michael Gianaris, a Democrat who represents Long Island City, Queens, where Amazon intends to build a new office, has criticized the $3 billion in government incentives as a giveaway to corporate interests. The state Public Authorities Control Board must unanimously approve projects financed through debt-raising state agencies. Governor Andrew Cuomo must approve all picks for the board.

Gianaris said he couldn’t imagine any changes to the Amazon agreement that would sway his view and win his support. Cuomo initially said the board lacked jurisdiction over the transaction, but recently changed his mind and said he believed that the board would have to approve it.

“The deal as presented is so historically bad it can’t form the basis of a reasonable negotiation, and the typical horse-trading that occurs to obtain community approval is not going to work here,” Gianaris said in an interview.

Amazon expected it would face the biggest public backlash to a new headquarters in New York City, according to a person familiar with its decision-making process. Amazon chose the location anyway, since the city offered a large skilled-labor pool, and ample opportunities for spouses and partners of recruited hires to find employment to further their own careers, the person said. It’s building a similar project in Arlington, Virginia.

At a city council meeting last week, Amazon’s public policy director Brian Huseman said the project would generate $186 billion in economic activity over the next 25 years, including $14 billion in additional tax payments and 25,000 jobs.

“We believe this project will be a positive economic impact for the city and the state,” he said. “We’re here to create jobs.” He also said that Amazon wants to invest in a “community that wants us” and where “our employees and our company are welcome.”

Almost immediately after Seattle-based Amazon announced last year that it chose New York, there has been a backlash from lawmakers and community organizers in the Empire State. They fear the influx could push out existing residents and add to congestion on the already overcrowded subway.

Dani Lever, director of communications for Cuomo, criticized Gianaris’s appointment, saying it would put the state in further economic peril just hours after the governor reported income tax collections came in $2.3 billion below expectations for December and January, and that the state may be entering an economic slowdown.

Gianaris’s recommendation “puts the self-interest of a flip-flopping opponent of the Amazon project above the state’s economic growth and is a clear sign that the Senate Democrats oppose the 25,000 to 40,000 new technology jobs that would diversify our state’s economy,” Lever said.

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Asked whether he would reject Gianaris’s appointment to the board, Cuomo sidestepped the question Tuesday, saying “we’re not there yet,” during an interview on WNYC radio. The governor said he didn’t know whether the board would have jurisdiction over the deal, saying the issue depends on the exact design of the transaction. “What I do reject is the triumph of politics over government.”

Cuomo said Amazon hasn’t done a great job of communicating its intent.

“Everybody loves to hate Jeff Bezos,” Amazon’s chief executive officer, the governor said. “I think if Amazon pulled out you would see all these political voices, who are arguing symbolism, all of a sudden understand what they did. And it would be a dramatic blow to, not just the economy, but also the reputation” of New York.

The board has killed large-scale projects in the past, such as a combined stadium and convention center proposed in 2005 by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg for Manhattan’s west side, when then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, vetoed the plan. The former mayor is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.