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Amazon’s opponents think the company is bluffing about killing its HQ2 plan in NYC

According to a new report from the Washington Post, the company is reconsidering its development plans for New York. But it could be a political tactic to get Amazon’s opponents in line.

Protesters hold signs reading “Amazon lies” at a New York city council hearing about HQ2.
Anti-Amazon protesters holding signs at a New York city council hearing about HQ2 in January.
Drew Angerer / Getty Images
Shirin Ghaffary is a senior Vox correspondent covering the social media industry. Previously, Ghaffary worked at BuzzFeed News, the San Francisco Chronicle, and TechCrunch.

Amazon is reportedly reconsidering its contentious move to New York City, according to a report from the Washington Post, but some opponents are questioning if the talk is a serious threat. It could be an attempt to scare critics who wanted to block Amazon’s planned development of a second headquarters in the city.

Since Amazon announced back in November that one of its new HQ2 locations would be in New York City, the company has faced a mounting tide of fierce opposition from the city council, community organizations, and labor unions that were left out of the decision-making process.

Critics have taken issue with the nearly $3 billion in state- and city-funded tax subsidies Amazon is receiving for the deal, along with the company’s alleged ties to ICE and anti-union efforts within its workforce. Now Amazon is said to be considering dropping its New York City plans altogether, according to the Washington Post report, which cited two sources as being “familiar with the company’s thinking” on the matter.

But many are questioning the reality of this threat. Several politicians and community leaders who oppose the deal say they’re skeptical that Amazon and its political supporters — chiefly, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio — are floating the threat of Amazon leaving as a tactic to pressure opponents into backing down. The news comes at a time when it’s looking more likely that the New York State government may be able to block funding for the deal. Earlier this week, the New York Senate appointed a leading anti-Amazon politician, state Sen. Michael Gianiaris, to a board position where he could have veto power to derail the deal.

At a news conference today in Long Island, Cuomo warned Amazon’s opponents that if the deal gets shut down, they will have to answer to the people of New York. But overall, two polls — one conducted by Quinnipac University and another commissioned by Amazon — show that a majority of residents in New York and Queens support the deal.

“There is a story today that says Amazon may not come to New York. If Amazon does not come to New York, it’s because of the political opposition,” Cuomo said at the press conference, shortly after the report of Amazon leaving came out, according to reporting from CNBC. Cuomo earlier told the New York Times that it’s often “the small minority negative” that can stop a deal such as Amazon HQ2, and at the press conference today, Cuomo warned that if the deal falls through, the opposition will “have the people of New York state to explain to.”

While Cuomo’s message seemed to be intended to strike fear, the leaders of the grassroots organizations that have helped organize protests against Amazon remained firm in their plans to block the deal.

“I hope it’s a serious threat, and I hope they leave,” said Jonathan Westin, director of New York Communities for Change, one of the leading community organizations opposing the deal. “But I also could completely believe this is just a ploy by Amazon to try and put pressure on elected officials and try to tamp down activists and momentum against this deal.”

Amazon has not confirmed if it is planning to drop its planned expansion in New York City. A representative for Amazon emailed the following statement:

“We’re focused on engaging with our new neighbors — small business owners, educators, and community leaders. Whether it’s building a pipeline of local jobs through workforce training or funding computer science classes for thousands of New York City students, we are working hard to demonstrate what kind of neighbor we will be.”

Will Luckman, an organizer with New York Democratic Socialists of America, another group that has been organizing a grassroots campaign against Amazon’s New York HQ2 location, expressed similar doubts about the news that Amazon might pull out of the city.

“How seriously we can take this announcement — or whether it is just a threat to keep dissenting politicians in line, akin to those they used in Seattle to get City Council to repeal a tax Amazon didn’t want to pay — remains to be seen.”

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