In 2017, a long list of local politicians signed a love letter to Amazon, urging the company to come to New York City – but some of them had a change of heart when a secretive deal was reached to attract one of the world’s most valuable companies by offering billions of dollars in tax incentives.
On Thursday, in a move that shocked observers, the company penned its own letter, officially breaking up with New York and abandoning its plans to build a new “HQ2” headquarters in Long Island City, citing the vehement opposition from state and local politicians. The company said its commitment to a new headquarters required long-term positive, collaborative relationships with elected officials.
“While polls show that 70% of New Yorkers support our plans and investment, a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project we and many others envisioned in Long Island City,” the company wrote in the letter.
Here’s how New York’s elected officials and other key players are responding to the bombshell announcement.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo
The governor, who led the effort to recruit Amazon and negotiated the state subsidies offered to the company, critized local officials for opposing the deal, singling out the state Senate for the “tremendous damage” it had done – undoubtedly referring to the nomination of state Sen. Michael Gianaris to an obscure state board that could have blocked the deal.
"Amazon chose to come to New York because we are the capital of the world and the best place to do business,” the governor said in a lengthy statement. “We competed in and won the most hotly contested national economic development competition in the United States, resulting in at least 25,000-40,000 good paying jobs for our state and nearly $30 billion dollars in new revenue to fund transit improvements, new housing, schools and countless other quality of life improvements. Bringing Amazon to New York diversified our economy away from real estate and Wall Street, further cementing our status as an emerging center for tech and was an extraordinary economic win not just for Queens and New York City, but for the entire region, from Long Island to Albany's nanotech center.
“However, a small group politicians put their own narrow political interests above their community -- which poll after poll showed overwhelmingly supported bringing Amazon to Long Island City -- the state's economic future and the best interests of the people of this state. The New York State Senate has done tremendous damage. They should be held accountable for this lost economic opportunity.
“The fundamentals of New York's business climate and community that attracted amazon to be here - our talent pool, world-class education system, commitment to diversity and progressivism - remain and we won't be deterred as we continue to attract world class business to communities across New York State."
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio
The mayor, who worked behind the scenes with Gov. Andrew Cuomo to secure the deal, took a jab at Amazon in a statement he issued on Thursday.
“You have to be tough to make it in New York City. We gave Amazon the opportunity to be a good neighbor and do business in the greatest city in the world. Instead of working with the community, Amazon threw away that opportunity. We have the best talent in the world and every day we are growing a stronger and fairer economy for everyone. If Amazon can’t recognize what that’s worth, its competitors will.”
IN THE MIDDLE
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins
The Senate majority leader nominated Gianaris to serve on the Public Authorities Control Board, which could have blocked the Amazon deal, but she also has members of her conference who supported Amazon – including some Long Island Democrats who feared killing Amazon’s HQ2 would brand them as anti-business.
“This is proof of why it is so important to have an inclusive and transparent process from the beginning. It is unfortunate that rather than engage in productive discussions about a major development, Amazon has decided to leave New York,” Stewart-Cousins said in a statement. “This process was clearly flawed and did not include the affected community nor their legislative representatives until after the deal was signed. This was not the same process that was followed in other areas including Virginia and that is clearly why this deal failed.”
LEADING THE OPPOSITION
Several Queens elected officials emerged as the most high-profile opponents of the plan once it was announced: first-term Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a democratic socialist who has quickly become a progressive icon since her stunning primary win last year; New York City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who would have had significant sway over the project had Amazon not bypassed the standard land use process; and state Sen. Michael Gianaris, who was recently nominated to a state board that might have blocked the Amazon deal. New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson also had blasted the mayor for cutting the council out of the process.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
“Anything is possible: today was the day a group of dedicated, everyday New Yorkers & their neighbors defeated Amazon’s corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world,” the congresswoman said in a Twitter post.
Anything is possible: today was the day a group of dedicated, everyday New Yorkers & their neighbors defeated Amazon’s corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world. https://t.co/nyvm5vtH9k— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) February 14, 2019
State Sen. Michael Gianaris
The Queens lawmaker, a vocal critic who might have gained the power to veto the deal, said the decision revealed Amazon’s unwillingness to work with the Queens community. Gianaris, a Democrat, represents the state Senate district where Amazon would have built its second headquarters.
“Like a petulant child, Amazon insists on getting its way or takes its ball and leaves,” Gianaris told The New York Times. Gianaris, gesturing to the company’s statement questioned, “Even by their own words, Amazon admits they will grow their presence in New York without their promised subsidies. So what was all this really about?”
New York City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer
“When our community fights together, anything is possible, even when we’re up against the biggest corporation in the world,” Van Bramer tweeted. “I am proud that we fought for our values, which is a fight for working families, immigrants, & organized labor.”
New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson
“I look forward to working with companies that understand that if you’re willing to engage with New Yorkers and worth through challenging issues New York City is the world’s best place to do business,” Johnson said in a statement. “I hope this is the start of a conversation about vulture capitalism and where our tax dollars are best spent. I know I’d choose mass transit over helipads any day.”
Johnson is one of the early frontrunners for mayor in 2021 – along with New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who both weighed in. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams did not immediately issue a statement about Amazon.
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer
In a tweet to Mayor de Blasio, Stringer said, “@NYCMayor with all due respect, you made this deal in secret with no community input from LIC residents. While Amazon is no angel, they played by your rules. The early takeaway from this: don't be afraid of transparency and community inclusion.
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.
“It's unfortunate that @amazon was unwilling to grasp the concept that massive taxpayer subsidies require equivalent concessions to the people providing them. This is a simple aphorism: if you want charity, you have to be charitable,” tweeted Díaz.
PUBLIC ADVOCATE CANDIDATES
With a special election looming this month to fill a vacancy in the New York City public advocate’s office, the issue of Amazon had frequently come up on the campaign trail. Here’s how the candidates reacted – including Assemblyman Ron Kim, who is running on the “No Amazon” line.
Assemblyman Ron Kim
“This is a huge victory for the grassroots activists and community leaders who spoke with one collective voice to say no to Amazon. I was the first elected official to stand against the HQ2 deal because it ignored the needs of everyday people and prioritized one of the world’s wealthiest corporations instead,” Kim said in a statement.
“Na na na na...na na na na...Hey hey hey... GOODBYE,” tweeted Konst. “Now that we’ve taken on (and won) blocking Amazon corporate welfare, can we do the same with real estate developers who have starved NYC of the resources to sustain itself?” questioned the candidate.
Former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito
“The Amazon deal was a mess. $3 billion in subsidies for a trillion dollar company, pushed through by 2 men who think community engagement is a joke,” tweeted Mark Viverito. “This is why you bring local residents and stakeholders to the table *before* claiming victory.”
New York City Councilman Rafael Espinal
"Amazon's decision shows the company isn't ready to make the commitments that a pro-union city like New York deserves. I have been against Amazon's plans from the start, and especially against subsidizing one of the world's wealthiest businessmen,” said Espinal in a statement. Their latest anti-union statements confirmed that Amazon is not the right type of company to be rolling out a red carpet for ... We have seen today that people power beats corporate power.”
New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams
"Two weeks ago when asked, 'Let's assume that Amazon is here ...' I was one of the only ones to refuse to allow that assumption,” Williams said in a statement. “After countless activists, grassroots organizers and everyday New Yorkers fought back against Amazon's secret bargain with the mayor and governor, we're proud that our message was clear: We won't be bulldozed by the world's richest man, who denied honest discussions and open negotiations about jobs and benefits to everyday New Yorkers.”
Assemblyman Michael Blake
“It is very disappointing that Amazon is canceling their proposed plan to move to Long Island City. A collaborative deal would have brought jobs and justice to New Yorkers,” Blake said in a statement. “It is a shame that Amazon walked away from the deal and a shame we don’t have more of a strategy as a city around what to do now. As a signatory of the original letter to start the conversation for Amazon to come to New York City, I was excited about the opportunity to work with New Yorkers and Amazon to develop a tech hub in Queens that benefits the entire city, while also preserving necessary labor protections.”
New York City Councilman Eric Ulrich
“It never ceases to amaze me how the loud voices of a few, could destroy the chance at a better life for so many. @amazon had big plans in store for the borough of Queens, and we blew it!” tweeted the councilman.
OTHER PRO-AMAZON POLITICIANS
Rep. Carolyn Maloney
In a series of tweets, the representative expressed her disappointment over her home district’s loss of prospective jobs, but the long-term supporter said that the deal could’ve been improved. “Disappointed that NYC won’t be home to 25K+ new jobs from HQ2 & that LIC will lose out on infrastructure improvements that would have accompanied this project. This is not the Valentine that NY needed,” tweeted Maloney. “The deal could have been improved. There were legitimate concerns raised and aspects that I wanted changed. I was ready to work for those changes. But now, we won’t have a chance to do that and we are out 25K+ new jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in new investments,” she said.
Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, whose district overlaps with the proposed Amazon site, did not immediately comment.
New York City Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr.
NY1 reporter Gloria Pazmino confirmed Rev. Ruben Diaz Sr., a member of the New York City Council and a supporter of the deal (who recently lost his committee chairmanship after making anti-gay comments), reportedly railed against Van Bramer, who he says organized opposition againstAmazon. Diaz blamed Van Bramer for the loss of 25,000 jobs. “You’re telling me that’s not power? That’s power,” said Diaz, according to Pazmino’s tweet.
OTHER ANTI-AMAZON POLITICIANS
State Sen. Julia Salazar
A long-time opponent of the plan - and, like Ocasio-Cortez, a self-described democratic socialist - Salazar once said that New Yorkers deserve better than a deal that sells workers & communities short.” Today she tweeted, “Never underestimate the power of organized people.”
New York City Councilman Costa Constantinides
“From the beginning, the process of luring Amazon to western Queens ignored the community and proposed a giveaway of $3 billion to a multi-billionaire dollar corporation,” the Queens councilman said in a statement. “It is no shock to anyone that this was a disaster from the start and bad policy. New York City has long-standing processes in place to ensure that any project — from a sidewalk cafe to a corporate headquarters — considers the community’s needs. Our objections were never answered and we rightfully opposed this bad deal. Today is the natural result of plugging your ears to the legitimate concerns of the people and bypassing them in favor of corporations."
Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City
“How can anyone be surprised? We competed successfully, made a deal and spent the last three months trashing our new partner. The reception Amazon received sent a terrible message to the job creators of the city and the world.”
Tech:NYC Executive Director Julie Samuels
“Amazon’s decision to withdraw from New York is no doubt a blow to our local economy and the tens of thousands of people the company would’ve employed here,” said Samuels in a statement. “New York City is today one of the most dynamic tech hubs in the world, but there is no guarantee we will maintain this status in the future, which makes this news so disappointing. It’s especially disappointing given the overwhelming local support for the deal and there can be no doubt that bad politics got in the way of good policy here.”
Long Island Association President and CEO Kevin Law
“Amazon’s decision to withdraw its plans for our region will go down as one of the biggest debacles in New York State history, and the elected officials who are responsible for this epic disaster should be ashamed of themselves for jeopardizing thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in tax revenue and should also consider resigning.”
New York Communities for Change Executive Director Jonathan Westin
“#ByeJeff and good riddance! Make no mistake: strong, effective community organizing is what defeated Amazon’s $3 billion backroom deal. Many low-income New Yorkers of color and immigrant New Yorkers came together to build a movement against the HQ2 deal for Long Island City, Queens. From day one, Amazon, Governor Cuomo, and Mayor de Blasio completely underestimated the diversity and intensity of the opposition to this awful deal,” said Westin in a statement. "Countless New Yorkers saw what Bezos, Cuomo and de Blasio refused to see: Amazon’s expanded corporate presence here would do far more harm than good."
New York Working Families Party State Director Bill Lipton
"This is a good day, but if our victory on Long Island City is to have lasting impact, it must be the beginning of a nationwide movement to challenge an economic and political system where corporations call all the shots,” Lipton said in a statement. “Today's victory wouldn't have been possible without the fierce advocacy and leadership of union workers at RWDSU and community groups like Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change. Now we need to build on it, and continue to work towards an economic and political system that works for the many, instead of the privileged and powerful few.”
Amazon’s original plan had divided the city’s unions, with 32BJ SEIU and the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York getting deals to work with Amazon – while other unions - especially the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union - raising concerns.
32BJ SEIU President Hector Figueroa
“The news that Amazon has decided to cancel its plans to build its second headquarters in New York City is a disappointing development for working people in our city. This is a lost opportunity for Queens and New York on many levels. Of course, the loss of 25,000 direct jobs and many more indirect ones as well as the billions in revenue that the project was expected to bring into our city is unfortunate,” said Figueroa in a statement. “For labor however, this is also a missed opportunity to engage one of the largest companies in the world and to create a pathway to union representation for one of the largest groups of predominantly non-union workers in our country.”
Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York
“We are stunned by today’s unfortunate news. Politics and pandering have won out over a once-in-a-generation investment in New York City’s economy, bringing with it tens of thousands of solid middle class jobs. This sends the wrong message to businesses all over the world looking to call New York home. Who will want to come now? We will remember which legislators forgot about us and this opportunity.”
Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union
“Rather than addressing the legitimate concerns that have been raised by many New Yorkers Amazon says you do it our way or not at all, we will not even consider the concerns of New Yorkers — that’s not what a responsible business would do,” tweeted Chelsea Connor, RWDSU’s director of communications.
Teamsters President George Miranda
"New Yorkers made it clear that Amazon wasn't welcome in our city if it would not respect our workers and our communities. Apparently, the company decided that was too much to ask. We are committed to fighting for the rights of workers throughout the Amazon supply chain and supporting their demand for a voice on the job,” said Miranda in a statement.
JOURNALISTS AND PUNDITS
Nick Reisman, State of Politics
Siren https://t.co/ieoBUBada2— Nick Reisman (@NickReisman) February 14, 2019
This year in New York politics somehow keeps topping itself.— Nick Reisman (@NickReisman) February 14, 2019
Amazon did very little to turn elected officials to their side in this. In the end it was mostly left up to Gov. Cuomo to make the argument.— Nick Reisman (@NickReisman) February 14, 2019
calm before the storm https://t.co/e2mSoPiYdq— Nick Reisman (@NickReisman) February 14, 2019
Laura Nahmias, Politico
Amazon broke up with New York City on Valentine's Day! Ice-cold.— Laura Nahmias (@nahmias) February 14, 2019
A local coffee shop owner and longtime Queens resident in Long Island City, being interviewed on @NY1, calls Amazon's decision to pull out of the deal in Queens one of "the saddest days in New York City's history"— Laura Nahmias (@nahmias) February 14, 2019
My feeds and my inbox are an even mix between Democrats either rejoicing or bemoaning the death of the Amazon deal. Seems like a microcosm of an economic split within the party at large, and backlash to neoliberalism— Laura Nahmias (@nahmias) February 14, 2019
Harry Siegel, The Daily Beast, NY Daily News, FAQ NYC
Marking this as the moment the rising left in New York stopped fighting the power; became the power https://t.co/P1ZbxEGI6N— Harry Siegel (@harrysiegel) February 14, 2019
Marking Amazon exit as the moment when @AOC's potent rhetoric first translated into policy— Harry Siegel (@harrysiegel) February 14, 2019
Everyone saying the grassroots took on the world's richest man and won here should take a minute to consider how they're defining victory.— Harry Siegel (@harrysiegel) February 14, 2019
awful lot of bullshit in a small package here pic.twitter.com/gXu8GuFw6C— Harry Siegel (@harrysiegel) February 14, 2019
I must be losing track: That's where in NYC? https://t.co/Ol2ILLrfB2— Harry Siegel (@harrysiegel) February 14, 2019
Jillian Jorgensen, NY Daily News
NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME https://t.co/gB8zKhRc2R— Jillian Jorgensen (@Jill_Jorgensen) February 14, 2019
Elected officials should talk to reporters. Putting out a Twitter statement isn't the same as answering informed questions. https://t.co/jKmVFKei7e— Jillian Jorgensen (@Jill_Jorgensen) February 14, 2019
A source observes that in the scheme of NYC heat-taking, this wasn’t event so hot: “Jeff Bezos couldn’t last one month working at NYCHA.”— Jillian Jorgensen (@Jill_Jorgensen) February 14, 2019
In some ways, this tweet really just sums up the entire ethos of the de Blasio tenure. https://t.co/uogF0FauoR— Jillian Jorgensen (@Jill_Jorgensen) February 14, 2019
Grace Rauh, NY1
Also true, as companies like Google can attest. https://t.co/22MXG2g4Ge— Grace Rauh (@gracerauh) February 14, 2019
“You have to be tough to make it in New York City” https://t.co/Ri6Ie1l84g— Grace Rauh (@gracerauh) February 14, 2019
It’s not clear Mayor de Blasio will have an avail or speak about Amazon pulling out of NYC this afternoon. De Blasio’s press sec says he will address the issue during his speech at Harvard tonight.— Grace Rauh (@gracerauh) February 14, 2019
Editor's note: This story has been updated with comments from New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams and Assemblyman Michael Blake.