Some New Yorkers rejoiced after Amazon announced it would no longer be building a massive, 25,000-employee corporate campus in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens. But others — including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who helped broker the deal with the tech giant — were less pleased. And now a group of them are begging Amazon to come back.
Led by Cuomo, a disparate coalition of politicians, business owners, and community activists have signed on to an open letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, urging him to reconsider backing out of the deal, the New York Times reported on Thursday. Signatories include representatives Hakeem Jeffries and Carolyn Maloney, the presidents of four public housing tenant associations, and the CEOs of Goldman Sachs and JetBlue. (Cuomo did not sign the letter.)
“We understand that becoming home to the world’s industry leader in e-commerce, logistics and web services would be a tremendous boost for our state’s technology industry, which is our fastest growing generator of new jobs,” the letter reads. “We know the public debate that followed the announcement of the Long Island City project was rough and not very welcoming. Opinions are strong in New York — sometimes strident. We consider it part of the New York charm! But when we commit to a project as important as this, we figure out a way to get it done in a way that works for everyone.”
The letter also states that Cuomo will “take personal responsibility for the project’s state approval,” and Mayor de Blasio “will work together with the governor to manage the community development process.”
Cuomo, the Times reports, has been “furiously working behind the scenes to lure the company back,” and has repeatedly spoken to Amazon executives, including Bezos, by phone over the past two weeks.
But Cuomo’s efforts may not be enough to get the company back. Public opposition to the idea of an Amazon campus in New York City began brewing long before the company announced where its so-called second headquarters, which it dubbed HQ2, would be.
Some critics speculated that Amazon’s search for a home for its new office park, which it framed as a national competition, was a way of wresting as many incentives as possible from whichever city it ended up choosing. The company ended up deciding to divide its second headquarters between two cities: New York and Arlington, Virginia. (Amazon got approximately $3 billion in tax subsidies, grants, and other financial incentives from New York’s city and state governments, plus $573 million from Virginia and $23 million from Arlington, the company disclosed in November.)
While Virginians initially celebrated the deal, Amazon’s impending presence in New York City was met with staunch resistance by a coalition of grassroots organizations, labor unions, and local politicians who were opposed to the tax breaks the company, which was founded by the richest man in the world, was receiving.
HQ2 critics also expressed concerns that Amazon’s presence would exacerbate gentrification in Long Island City and the surrounding neighborhoods, and claimed that its Amazon’s labor practices, anti-union stance, and the fact that the company once pitched its facial recognition system to Immigration and Customs Enforcement made the company a bad fit for a city like New York, which prides itself on progressive values.
According to Times reporter J. David Goodman, who broke the news about Cuomo’s recent attempts to woo Amazon back, activists’ opposition to Amazon’s “practices far beyond the five boroughs” — namely its attempts to work with ICE and its stance on unions — was of the major factors that caused Amazon to pull out of the deal in the first place.
If that’s the case, Cuomo’s efforts to get Amazon to reconsider may not be enough. New York’s governor may try to quell local opposition to tax breaks and grants, but getting activists and Amazon to see eye-to-eye on larger issues is a much weightier task.
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