New York governor raps Amazon critics amid report company's rethinking

New York governor raps Amazon critics amid report company's rethinking

February 8th, 2019 by Associated Press in Business Around the Region

FILE - In this Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019 file photo, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo meets with gun safety advocates in the Red Room during a news conference at the state Capitol in Albany, N.Y. Cuomo is shrugging off criticism from Roman Catholic leaders over his support of a new state abortion law. Speaking on public radio Tuesday, Cuomo said he is duty bound to separate his religious views from his work as governor.(AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned Friday that what he calls "political pandering" to critics of Amazon's proposed secondary headquarters could sink New York's biggest-ever economic development deal. But opponents say they'll keep fighting about a project they consider corporate welfare.

The back-and-forth came after The Washington Post reported that Amazon is reconsidering its planned New York City headquarters 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.

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 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.

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.

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.

Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose district includes some nearby neighborhoods, suggested on Twitter that the report showed people can "come together and effectively organize against creeping overreach of one of the world's biggest corporations."

The Post said no firm decision had been made about whether Amazon would pull out of the deal.

"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 is a leading critic of the agreement. "If their view is 'we're going to extort New York or we're going to leave,' then they should leave."

A Quinnipiac University poll released in December found New York City voters favor bringing Amazon's campus to the city, by 57-26 percent. But they were divided on the incentives, with 46 percent supporting the package while 44 percent opposed it.

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

Amazon is building a similar-sized facility in Crystal City, a section of Arlington, Virginia, just south of Washington where it also will hire more than 25,000 employees, and Amazons plans to open a $230 million "Operations Center of Excellence" in Nashville that will include more than 5,000 jobs.

Collectively, Amazon estimated the incentives for all three of the sites could hit $2.2 billion.