NY Gov Raps Critics Amazon Amid Report of Headquarters Move

February 9, 2019 Updated: February 9, 2019

NEW YORK—Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned on Friday, Feb. 8, about what he called “political pandering” to critics of Amazon’s proposed secondary headquarters amid a report that the company is reconsidering its planned New York City headquarters.

But opponents said they’d keep fighting a project they consider corporate welfare.

The back-and-forth came after The Washington Post reported that Amazon is having second thoughts because of some local politicians’ opposition to the nearly $3 billion incentive package. The report cited two unnamed people familiar with the company’s thinking.

Ron Kim speaks at rally
State Assemblyman Ron Kim, center, as he speaks at a rally opposing New York’s deal with Amazon, on the steps of New York’s City Hall, on Dec. 12, 2018. (Karen Matthews/AP Photo)

In response, Amazon would say only that it’s engaging with small business owners, community leaders, and educators, pointing to its pledges to fund high school computer science classes and contribute to job training.

“We are working hard to demonstrate what kind of neighbor we will be,” the Seattle-based company said in a statement.

Noting the Post’s report, Cuomo accused the state Senate—whose leader recently tapped an Amazon critic for a board that might have sway over the project’s subsidies—of “governmental malpractice” and siding with those who are “pandering to the local politics.”

“And that’s what could stop Amazon,” he said at an unrelated event on Long Island. “I’ve never seen a more absurd situation where political pandering, and obvious pandering, so defeats a bona fide economic development project.”

long island amazon
A seagull flying while holding fish scraps near a former dock facility, with “Long Island” painted on old transfer bridges at Gantry State Park in the Long Island City section of the Queens Borough of New York, on Nov. 13, 2018. (Bebeto Matthews/AP Photo)

“It is irresponsible to allow political opposition to overcome sound government policy,” he said.

Cuomo and the Senate leadership are Democrats, as are many of the deal’s critics.

Cuomo and Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio say Amazon will transform Queens’ Long Island City area into a high-tech hub and spur economic growth that will pay for the $2.8 billion in state and city incentives many times over.

“The mayor fully expects Amazon to deliver on its promise to New Yorkers,” spokesman Eric Phillips said in response to the Post’s report.

Amazon boxes are seen stacked for delivery in the Manhattan borough of New York City
Amazon boxes are seen stacked for delivery in the Manhattan borough of New York City, on Jan. 29, 2016. (Reuters/Mike Segar)

Construction-industry groups urged the public and officials to get behind a plan projected to create at least 25,000 jobs in a decade: “It’s time to stop the showboating,” declared Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, a group of unions.

Critics see the project as an extravagant giveaway to one of the world’s biggest companies and argue it won’t provide much direct benefit to most New Yorkers. Several welcomed the news that Amazon might be rethinking the plan.

“We rose up and held the line. … It’s not over, but I’m proud of the values we fought for,” Democratic City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents Long Island City, said in a statement.

“I don’t know if they’re serious or not, and frankly, I don’t care,” said Sen. Michael Gianaris, a Democrat who represents Long Island City and calls the agreement bad policy. “If their view is ‘we’re going to extort New York or we’re going to leave,’ then they should leave.”

Michael Gianaris speaks with reporters
Sen. Deputy Majority Leader, Michael Gianaris, D-Astoria, speaks with reporters after listening to New York Gov, on Jan. 19, 2015. (Hans Pennink/AP Photo)

State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins nominated Gianaris earlier this week to a little-known state panel that could ultimately be asked to approve the subsidies. Cuomo has the final say over appointments.

After Cuomo’s remarks Friday, a spokesman for Stewart-Cousins said it was “unfortunate that the governor is trying to divide the Democratic Party at this crucial and historic time.”

A Quinnipiac University poll released in December found New York City voters support having an Amazon headquarters, by 57-26 percent. But they were divided on the incentives: 46 percent in favor, 44 percent against.

The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

By Jennifer Peltz and David Klepper

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