Amazon’s Exit Forces a Reckoning for N.Y. Political Leaders
Amazon’s sudden decision to cancel its plan to build a corporate campus in Long Island City, Queens, amounted to a stunning defeat for the two often-at-odds politicians who had heralded its arrival, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, and the biggest win yet for emboldened left-wing progressives in New York.
The turn of events on Thursday suggested a reordering of New York’s political power structure, as one of the world’s biggest companies was driven from Queens by a group of activists and elected officials who objected to a suite of corporate sweeteners and tax breaks.
But as this reality settled into New York, the architects of the uprisingfaced a backlash of their own, as 25,000 jobs — potentially remaking Long Island City as a high-tech hub — had vanished in a blink, and with them the chance to inject billions of dollars in tax revenues in the coming years. Polls showed that the deal offering Amazon tax incentives remained largely popular with New Yorkers.
The Amazon fight has exposed deep fissures within the Democratic Party between business-friendly centrism and unalloyed populism, in New York and beyond. Mr. Cuomo and Mr. de Blasio had pushed the Amazon deal as a vehicle to not only create jobs, but to boost the economy while transforming the nature of Long Island City.
Yet other Democrats, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose district bordered the Amazon site, pushed for the deal’s demise; State Senator Michael Gianaris, the No. 2 Democrat in the State Senate who was one of the leading foes to Amazon, said the company’s strategy was to “shake down governments to get its way.”
The divisions among New York Democrats are being seen on the national level, as the party, once defined by the pragmatism of the Clintons and President Barack Obama, is now re-evaluating its economic policies and positions.
One presidential candidate quickly waded into the thicket. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts declared Amazon “just walked away from billions in taxpayer bribes, all because some elected officials in New York aren’t sucking up to them enough.”
“How long will we allow giant corporations to hold our democracy hostage?” Ms. Warren asked.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter that Amazon’s decision showed that anything was 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,” she wrote.
For Mr. Cuomo, who had gone so far as to joke that he would rename himself “Amazon Cuomo” to lure the company and its jobs to his state, the collapse of a deal that he helped negotiate in private represented perhaps the most severe setback of a governorship that has long been driven by a more moderate and pro-business approach.
For Mr. de Blasio, who has fashioned himself as a movement politician of the progressive left, the episode marked an uncomfortable moment where he was at odds with the movement he claims to lead. (The tension for the mayor in the Amazon deal was apparent from the start, as he welcomed the company’s arrival even while maintaining that he refused to shop on the site.)
On Thursday, Mr. de Blasio did not sound overly wistful about the deal’s demise.
“We gave Amazon the opportunity to be a good neighbor and do business in the greatest city in the world,” the mayor, who was traveling to appear at a conference at Harvard University, said in a statement. “Instead of working with the community, Amazon threw away that opportunity.”
The fierceness of the opposition seemed to catch both the mayor and governor by surprise, and in their rare moment of unity, they failed to convince Amazon skeptics of the deal’s merits. Try as they might, they could not communicate effectively enough that the $3 billion in tax breaks that Amazon was to receive were, for the most part, reductions in future taxes that the company would have paid had it moved here.
The carve-out in the deal for a helipad on the East River for Amazon and its executives added to the early outrage in a city where the subways continue to underperform.
“I know I’d choose mass transit over helipads any day,” Corey Johnson, the speaker of the City Council and a possible candidate for mayor in 2021, said in a statement decrying “vulture capitalism.”
Another mayoral aspirant, City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, characterized Amazon’s exit as a defeat for the city, blaming Mr. de Blasio in an interview for mishandling the situation: “Any time jobs don’t come to New York City, it’s a loss,” he said.
“The mayor set the template for the Amazon failure,” Mr. Stringer said. “There was no community input. There was no consideration for the issues facing Long Island City residents.”
In Albany, Amazon’s decision could fully poison the already souring relationship between Senate Democrats, newly in the majority, and Mr. Cuomo.
One of the leaders of the Amazon opposition was Mr. Gianaris, who represents Queens and has long been a thorn in Mr. Cuomo’s side. The Senate nominated Mr. Gianaris to a crucial state board with authority over the Amazon plan, seen as a key signal of the depth and seriousness of the opposition.
“The New York State Senate has done tremendous damage,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement. “They should be held accountable for this lost economic opportunity.”
The Senate majority leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, said in an interview that “certain people want to divide, I think, the Senate Democrats.”
“It just seems that the governor — Amazon’s not blaming us, he wants to blame us,” she said.
How the fallout from the failed Amazon deal plays out over the long haul remains the great unknown. The issue could be tested as early as next year in legislative and congressional primaries, where some candidates, like Representative Carolyn Maloney, whose district includes the site of Amazon’s proposed corporate campus, are expected to face challenges.
Ms. Maloney, who supported the deal even as she argued it could be improved, registered her disappointment at the Amazon news, writing on Twitter, “This is not the Valentine that NY needed.”
There could also be political fallout within the State Senate, where some of the Democrats who just gave the party their majority were in favor of Amazon’s arrival.
Senator Monica R. Martinez, a Democrat who won a swing district on Long Island, said constituents had already called to voice their disappointment. “There was a potential for them to get jobs. That opportunity has escaped them,” she said.
Still, Mr. Gianaris declared victory on Thursday as he called for “a national dialogue about the perils of these types of corporate subsidies.”
Melissa DeRosa, the executive secretary and top aide to Mr. Cuomo, saw it differently.
“This is like the dog that caught the car,” she said of Amazon’s opponents.