Feb. 5, 2019 By Nathaly Pesantez
State Sen. Mike Gianaris, an outspoken critic of Amazon’s plans to build a sprawling campus in Long Island City, has been recommended to serve on a state board that will review and could possibly block the tech giant’s project, according to a New York Times report.
Gianaris, who serves as Senate Deputy Leader and represents the area where Amazon is looking to bring its second “headquarters” to, was selected to sit on the state’s Public Authorities Control Board, a body that reviews financing for projects run by, as the name suggests, state authorities, and which has been described as an avenue for opponents of the HQ2 plan to gain leverage.
The five-member PACB will review certain aspects of Empire State Development’s HQ2 deal once the project, now in its months-long planning process run by the state, reaches it some time in 2020.
Gianaris was recommended to the board by Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in a Feb. 4 letter sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo and obtained by the New York Times.
In a statement, Gianaris said he appreciated Stewart-Cousins’ “faith” in him for the role, and was honored to have his name submitted.
“New York needs responsible fiscal stewardship now more than ever, and ensuring our economic development dollars are well spent is a responsibility I take very seriously,” he said.
The Times said Gianaris would be one of three voting members on the board, and that any voting member has the power to stop plans brought before it.
The state senator, however, must have his appointment approved by Cuomo, who also appoints other PACB members based on recommendations from the majority and minority leaders in the legislature.
But the pick has already created a rift between the legislature and Cuomo’s office, which responded unfavorably to the recommendation, telling the Times that the selection “puts the self-interest of a flip-flopping opponent of the Amazon project above the state’s economic growth.”
“Every Democratic Senator will now be called on to defend their opposition to the greatest economic growth potential this state has seen in over 50 years,” said Dani Lever, a spokesperson for the governor in a statement to the paper.
The governor’s office, however, did not say if it would reject Gianaris’ appointment, with Cuomo noting today that what he does reject is “the triumph of politics over government.”
“I think it’s unfortunate that the Senate is playing politics here,” he said during his appearance on The Brian Lehrer show, later adding, “I understand the political temperature is high, but I also believe that we should act responsibly and governmentally.”
He reiterated his support for a plan that is estimated to bring almost $30 billion in revenue to the state, along with 25,000 jobs.
Gianaris, who was among dozens of politicians to sign letters urging Amazon to consider New York for its new offices, began to publicly denounce the corporation’s deal with the city and state even before the official HQ2 announcement in November.
The state senator has criticized the billions in state and city incentives going toward the project, along with the circumvention of city land use reviews and the negotiations kept under wraps leading up to the deal. He has also questioned the government’s investment in this project in light of infrastructure needs and other concerns in Long Island City and beyond.
Gianaris has recently introduced legislation to ban non-disclosure agreements in economic development negotiations, as was required in the Amazon deal, and another to ban insider real estate trading after reports said Amazon employees began buying properties in the area before the HQ2 announcement was made.
In a November anti-Amazon rally after the official headquarters announcement, the state senator indicated that the plan is bad news for Long Island City, and called for it to be scrapped.
“We are here to say to Amazon—take that welcome mat that was rolled out for you yesterday, put it back in the package it came in, and send it back to Seattle where it belongs,” he said.
But Gianaris, who often used the “Scamazon” hashtag when referring to the deal on social media, has also laid out what the company should be focusing on if it wants to have a space in Long Island City—indicating that he not opposed to Amazon’s presence in the area outright.
“If Amazon wants to come here, they should be talking about subsidizing Long Island City, not squeezing subsidies out of New York State and New York City,” he said at the rally, noting that he is not against jobs and employment for the community.
He later added: “If they want to come here, get rid of public subsidy, and then start a conversation about what they’re going to do to help the neighborhood handle the influx of people,” he said. “That’s the starting point.”
Despite telling the Times that it was “hard” to say what he would do on the board regarding the deal if approved, since he “doesn’t know” what he would be asked to opine on, Gianaris noted that the deal on the table simply can’t be worked with.
“I am against the deal that has been proposed and don’t believe that it can form the foundation of a negotiation,” he said.
Gianaris’ appointment was received favorably by many groups and politicians who have, too, voiced their opposition to the HQ2 deal.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said the state senator is “the right person” for the appointment, while Comptroller Scott Stringer said Gianaris is a “thoughtful, independent legislator.”
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which has rejected Amazon’s plans and participated in several rallies against the project, said Gianaris “will provide a public and transparent analysis of the proposed deal, which has been solely lacking in a process that has been shrouded in secrecy.”
A coalition of community groups, including Make the Road NY, ALIGN, and CAAV Organizing Asian Communities, said Gianaris’ appointment is a step forward in ensuring that the opposition’s voices to the “corrupt” Amazon deal are heard.
“We call on Governor Cuomo to respect the appointment of the elected Democratic Senate majority,” the groups said in a statement released today.