March 1, 2019 By Nathaly Pesantez
Governor Andrew Cuomo has been attempting, in the weeks since Amazon dropped its plans for Long Island City, to make the company reconsider its decision and return to New York, according to a New York Times report that comes at the same time a lineup of local leaders released an open letter to Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, with the same plea.
The report, published on Thursday and citing two people with knowledge of Cuomo’s efforts, said the governor has had many phone calls with Amazon executives, including Bezos, where he offered to help the company move through the government approvals process for the project.
The company, which said more than two weeks ago that it decided not to go forward with its plans for corporate offices at Anable Basin because of fierce opposition, mainly from elected officials, was essentially offered guaranteed support for the project by Cuomo, according to the New York Times source.
Amazon executives, however, reportedly gave no indication that the company would reconsider its reversal.
The news comes as a group of 80 elected officials, unions, civic leaders and business executives and owners signed on to an open letter urging Bezos to reconsider “so that we can move forward together.” Signees include Congresswomen Carolyn Maloney, chief executives at Silvercup Studios and Goldman Sachs, 32BJ SEIU, and leaders from the Hunters Point Parks Conservancy, Queensbridge Houses and LIC Partnership.
“New Yorkers do not want to give up on the 25,000 permanent jobs, 11,000 union construction and maintenance jobs, and $28 billion in new tax revenues that Amazon was prepared to bring to our state,” the letter, which appeared as an full-page ad in Friday’s New York Times’ print edition, reads. “A clear majority of New Yorkers support this project and were disappointed by your decision not to proceed.”
The letter makes mention of the staunch opposition the company faced after the deal it struck for the campus with the city and state, which included tax incentives totaling at a potential $3 billion, was announced in November.
“We know the public debate that followed the announcement of the Long Island City project was rough and not very welcoming,” they wrote. “Opinions are strong in New York—sometimes strident. We consider it part of the New York charm! But when we commit to a project as important as this, we figure out how to get it done in a way that works for everyone.”
The group also promises that Cuomo “will take personal responsibility” for the project’s state approval, and that Mayor Bill de Blasio will work along with him to manage the community development process.
The letter was paid for by the Partnership for New York City, a business group, which also released a petition version for the public to “join us in welcoming Amazon to New York.”
Cuomo confirmed his talks with Amazon over the past weeks during an interview on The Brian Lehrer Show on Friday. He noted, however, that the conversations were “private,” and would not confirm if he spoke to Bezos as the Times reported.
“It was about what I believe were the distortions and the oddities that occurred with the Amazon transaction,” he said about the calls, adding that the open letter, which states that “a clear majority of New Yorkers support this project and were disappointed by [the] decision not to proceed,” simply says, “here are the facts.”
The governor also said that Amazon, since announcing on Feb. 14 that it dropped Long Island City campus plans and that it would not pick back up with its HQ2 search, has not appeared to budge in its choice.
“I have no reason to believe that Amazon is reconsidering,” he said. Would I like them to? Certainly? But I have no reason to believe that.”
But his continuing efforts to win the company over, he said, also work to convey that New York is open for business, and that what the company experienced was out of the norm.
“We want all businesses nationwide to know that this was an oddity,” he said. “Don’t think that if you come to New York the same thing is going to happen that happened to Amazon. That was a small, vocal minority. That was local, petty politics that governed the day and we don’t operate that way.”
Cuomo went on to ask, “Who is Make the Road?”–among the more prominent grassroots group that organized against the Amazon deal–and said the politicians that railed against the project and likely drove the company away, like State Sen. Mike Gianaris and Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, would be “irrelevant” if Amazon decided to come back.
“At this point they are irrelevant,” he said. “There are other ways that the state can get it done, and I told Amazon that. The state approval process I will personally guarantee.”
Van Bramer responded to Cuomo’s comments in a tweet earlier today.
“As long as I am alive I am relevant. As long as I have a voice I will raise it,” he said.
His statements on the two Queens politicians comes as Gianaris, who was appointed by the senate to serve on a state body that could have unraveled the Amazon deal, had his nomination rescinded recently due to Cuomo’s seeming unwillingness to approve the pick.
Gianaris, since referred to as the “Amazon slayer,” would have held veto power over the deal if his appointment to the body were successful, a prospect that appeared to frighten the e-commerce giant and eventually lure them away from Queens.
Make the Road New York has since responded with its own “open letter” to Cuomo’s comments on WNYC. The nonprofit’s executive director also denounced the governor’s behind-the-scene efforts to bring Amazon back in a statement released last night after the Times story.
“Andrew Cuomo needs to stop groveling at the feet of corporations and billionaires and start listening to our communities, who overwhelmingly reject this deal,” said Deborah Axt.
The immigrant nonprofit was also among dozens of grassroots groups that signed an open letter, released yesterday, against Cuomo’s efforts, noting it “does not accurately reflect the desires of immigrant communities, working-class communities, and communities of color.”
“Amazon left the first time around because of fierce vocal opposition, and that opposition still remains,” they wrote. “We defeated them recently, and we will do it again.”
The company had planed on building corporate offices over a mix of city and privately owned lots west of Vernon Boulevard and between 44th Road and 46th Avenues. The lots are held by city agencies like the Departments of Education and Transportation, while the private sites are owned by Plaxall, the plastics manufacturer.
What will become of the waterfront sites, which already had significant developments in the pipeline prior to Amazon’s campus plans, is still unclear, even as efforts are mounting to get the company back.