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Amazon deal stirs new tensions in New York

Amazon deal stirs new tensions in New York

'I’ve never seen a more absurd situation,' said Cuomo
Amazon deal stirs new tensions in New York
A portion of the area in Queens where Amazon will locate is pictured.
Photographer: The New York Times

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York on Friday ratcheted up the pressure on political opponents of a deal to bring Amazon to New York City, warning that they would face the wrath of voters if the company pulled out and took with it tens of thousands of jobs.

While some local opposition was to be expected, Cuomo said, the project’s political opponents were being unreasonable. “I’ve never seen a more absurd situation,” the governor said at an unrelated event on Long Island.

Cuomo’s comments came as tensions over the deal for Amazon to build a vast corporate campus in Queens have been simmering for days, with company executives chafing at what appeared to be new roadblocks to the move.

Previous: The spot Amazon picked in Queens? Schenectady’s Union College once owned it

The selection of a vocal Amazon opponent to a crucial state board with potential veto power over the deal riled those inside Amazon — and inside of the governor’s mansion — according to two people with knowledge of the discussions. Executives have grown increasingly frustrated that the company is not being welcomed in New York as it has been in Virginia and Nashville, Tennessee, two other places where Amazon is adding corporate offices.

Those tensions spilled into public view Friday when The Washington Post published an article that said the company was reconsidering its plans to come to Queens. But the two people with direct knowledge of the company’s thinking said the article had gone too far and Amazon had no plans to back out.

An Amazon spokeswoman declined to respond to the report.

Inside the company, discussions have intensified about political developments in New York since the selection by Democrats in the state Senate of Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens to the Public Authorities Control Board, a little-known entity that could eventually block the development plan.

Amazon executives are concerned that the company will have invested significant money and time on the plan only to have it shot down by the board, said one of the people, who like others familiar with the internal conversations spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private meetings.

But company executives did not share those concerns with the Democratic majority leader of the state Senate, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, when they met with her Tuesday. The executives gave no indication that they were changing their plans to come to New York City, according to a person who was briefed on the meeting.

Still, Cuomo, who along with Mayor Bill de Blasio negotiated the deal to bring Amazon to Queens, suggested that the company could back out during a radio interview this week as he warned Senate Democrats about the political impact of the deal falling through.

On Friday, Cuomo reacted to The Post story by again denouncing the Senate, calling its actions “governmental malpractice” and saying the senators would pay at the ballot box if Amazon bolted. “It would be a tremendous loss,” he said.

Mike Murphy, a spokesman for the Democratic majority in the Senate, did not comment directly on the Amazon news, but seemed dismayed by the governor’s criticism of Albany’s upper chamber. “It is unfortunate that the Governor is trying to divide the Democratic Party at this crucial and historic time,” Murphy said in a statement.

Cuomo has the power to reject the selection of Gianaris. But doing so would force a standoff with the new Democratic majority in the Senate, which would then have to nominate someone new to the board. The governor has yet to say what he will do.

Gianaris, who opposes state and city incentives for Amazon that could amount to $3 billion, said that he had not been aware of any high-level concern at Amazon about the plan. Still, he said, “If Amazon’s goal is to extort New York through threats, that says a lot about whether we should want them here at all.”

Jonathan Westin, a vocal opponent of the Amazon deal and executive director of New York Communities for Change, expressed skepticism over the idea that the company would back out. “It really feels like this threat of Amazon to leave has been choreographed with the governor” to put pressure on Senate Democrats, he said.

If the company were reconsidering its plans for a campus in New York City, which would include between 25,000 and 40,000 employees, it does not appear to have taken steps to make contingency plans.

Stephen Moret, who runs the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, which negotiated the deal in that state, said in an interview Tuesday that he had not heard from Amazon about shifting jobs from New York to Northern Virginia. Still, he added, “We wouldn’t be disappointed if that happened.”

A spokesman for de Blasio said “the mayor fully expects Amazon to deliver on its promise to New Yorkers.”

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