Cuomo, NY Democrats Attempt to Win Back Amazon Deal Opposed by Ocasio-Cortez

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo / Getty Images
February 28, 2019

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D., N.Y.) has been privately working behind the scenes in an attempt to get Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to rethink his decision to pull out of its HQ2 plans in New York.

Amazon announced two weeks ago it would be canceling its plans to build a headquarters in Long Island City in Queens due to vocal opposition from "state and local elected officials" who heavily criticized the deal's tax incentives. Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D.) were furious about Amazon canceling the plan, the New York Times reports.

Cuomo blamed a "small group" of politicians who "put their own narrow political interests above their community," referencing freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.), who was vocal about her opposition and celebrated after the cancelation. De Blasio also took a thinly veiled shot at Ocasio-Cortez, saying, "As a progressive my entire life—and I ain’t changing—I’ll take on any progressive anywhere that thinks it’s a good idea to lose jobs and revenue because I think that’s out of touch with what working people want."

In an attempt to save the Amazon plan, Cuomo has spent the last two weeks privately talking with Amazon executives, including Bezos, two people with knowledge of the conversations told the Times. While Cuomo did not offer a new location for the HQ2 plan, he did guarantee the executives that there would be support for the plan, according to one of the Times sources. In addition to Cuomo's efforts to save the plan, an open letter is being arranged for publication in the Times on Friday, the newspaper reported:

The letter was signed by supportive unions, local businesses, community groups and elected officials including Representatives Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn, a top Democrat, and Carolyn Maloney, whose district encompasses the Amazon site, and the former mayor David N. Dinkins.

The letter said that Mr. 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."

The letter, being arranged for publication in The New York Times on Friday, would urge Mr. Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, to reverse course again and build a campus in Queens.

So far at least, the company has shown no sign of reconsidering its decision to abandon the deal, in which Amazon promised to create up to 40,000 in Long Island City in exchange for a state grant of $500 million and state and city tax breaks that would have eventually totaled more than $2 billion.

"I do believe Amazon should have stayed and fought the opposition," Cuomo said in a Tuesday radio interview. "It was a vocal minority opposition. Seventy percent of the people support Amazon."

One of the people familiar with Cuomo's communications with Amazon executives said that he reiterated this argument. The open letter scheduled to be in the Times on Friday is aimed to rebut the notion that opposition to the plan was widespread.

"We know the public debate that followed the announcement of the Long Island City project was rough and not very welcoming," reads the letter, paid for by the Partnership for New York City, a prominent business group. "Governor 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."

Kathryn S. Wylde, the president of the partnership, said the open letter is not just aimed at Amazon, but other technology companies that may be interested in coming to New York for business.

"Yes, it’s directed to Amazon in hopes they will reconsider. Equally, it is a message to the broader industry," Wylde said. "The governor’s office was working with the business community on how to send this message."

Maloney, who signed the open letter, slammed Ocasio-Cortez two weeks ago for her opposition to the Amazon plan, saying, "Now we are protesting jobs?"

"I'm a progressive too, but I'm pragmatic. If someone is going to bring a job to my district and my city and billions of dollars in tax revenue—you also had a story this week that we were $3 billion under projected revenues for the state and roughly $1 billion under projected—this is the first quarter. We are $4 billion less than we usually get and yet we are kicking out a company that was projecting over 10 years roughly $27 billion in taxes," Maloney said.

"I am disappointed. It used to be if you wanted to change something, you worked with the contract to change it," she continued. "They just said, ‘We don't want it,' and they are demonstrating against it and it's jobs. It's jobs. I've never seen anything like this."

"We can find a way to both elevate working families and embrace innovation economy jobs," Jeffries, who signed the letter, said in a statement. "Otherwise, the city that never sleeps risks falling victim to a Luddite-induced slumber."