Political backlash forces Amazon to cancel New York headquarters

Amazon has abandoned plans to build a second headquarters in New York City after meeting resistance from grass roots groups and politicians concerned about its impact on property prices and local services, and angry at the use of tax breaks to entice huge companies.

The decision left real estate agents in Long Island City, Queens crestfallen as Amazon’s decision to build one of two, $5bn new HQs there had sparked a property-selling boom, reports CNN.

The campaign against Amazon picked up pace last year after newly-elected congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez opposed the move, and attacked the government of New York state for offering the company nearly $3bn worth of tax breaks and other incentives.

This is a deal that wasn’t done with us and wasn’t for us– Jessica Ramos, Queens state senator

Amazon’s revenues jumped to $232.9bn in 2018, up from $177.9bn in 2017, while profits topped $10bn.

It spent much of last year being wooed by US states who offered incentive packages to lure it to choose them for its second US headquarters. The company eventually chose two sites, one in New York and another in Arlington, Virginia, on 12 November.

The appointment of Senator Michael Gianaris, an outspoken critic of the scheme, to a state review board with the power to veto it, added to concerns about the project. His appointment, on 4 February, gave the "death blow" to the scheme, according to the New York Post. Mr Gianaris had backed the deal initially, but turned against it after learning the details.

Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, defended the sweeteners on the grounds that Amazon would create 25,000 jobs and would provide $27.5bn of revenue for New York state and city over the next 25 years. He attacked the campaign against Amazon, blaming a small group of politicians who had "put their own narrow political interests above their community … the state’s economic future and the best interests of the people of this state".

The New York Times reports that the deal was also supported by the city’s business community, some unions and people living in a nearby public housing project, which contained residents who hoped to find work. A pair of polls also showed broad support around the city and state.

The Washington Post, which is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, published an editorial yesterday describing the collapse of the project as "a show of force for the resurgent left wing in New York City" and "a sign of how deeply concerns about the rising cost of living, decaying infrastructure, and preferential treatment of corporations have permeated the political discussion in the city and beyond".

The campaign against the Long Island City site began the day Amazon announced its choice, and centred on the way the decision had been made by executive fiat, bypassing local politicians.

Jessica Ramos, a state senator for Queens, commented in an interview: "I learned about the deal, along with all of my neighbours, the minute that it hit the press, which is not exactly how a community should first hear about a huge project that would impact nearly every aspect of their lives … This is a deal that wasn’t done with us and wasn’t for us."

Image: Long Island City (Antony-22/CC BY-SA 4.0)

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