While the Democrats running New York state (Gov. Andrew Cuomo) and New York City (Mayor Bill DiBlasio) celebrated the city’s selection by Amazon to co-host the company’s new headquarters, many other Democrats are not rolling out a welcome mat.
The tech giant today confirmed picking New York’s Long Island City as well as suburban Washington to share expansive new “headquarters” facilities. The two cities emerged as winners among dozens of cities jockeying for more than a year for the so-called “HQ2” project by the Seattle-based tech giant, which has pledged to spend $5 billion on the sites and create 50,000 jobs.
Pro-business Democrats and influential figures like former mayor Michael Bloomberg see the influx of tech workers as a boon to New York’s ambition to compete with Silicon Valley. Critics of the deal have pointed to an array of other areas of need, such as affordable housing, education and the city’s already overloaded subway system. They question the idea of catering to a tech company with tax breaks that will surpass $1.5 billion.
“Amazon is a billion-dollar company,” tweeted newly elected Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “The idea that it will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks at a time when our subway is crumbling and our communities need MORE investment, not less, is extremely concerning to residents here.” In a later tweet, she added, “This isn’t just about one company or one headquarters. It’s about cost of living, corps paying their fair share, etc. It’s not about picking a fight, either. I was elected to advocate for our community’s interests – & they’ve requested, clearly, to voice their concerns.”
New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson also cited his constituents. “Amazon is one of the richest companies in the world, but you can’t put a price on community input, which has been missing throughout the entire process,” he said in a statement.
The tension is particularly evident in the borough of Queens, where Amazon is moving, to the neighborhood of Long Island City, just across the East River from Manhattan. On Sunday, with the deal already known to be a fait accompli, state Sen. Michael Gianaris and City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer made a joint announcement decrying the plan. “We were not elected to serve as Amazon drones,” the announcement said. “It is unfathomable” that New York would offer hefty incentives when “our subways are crumbling, our children lack school seats, and too many of our neighbors lack adequate health care.” The statement went on, “Too much is at stake to accept this without a fight.”
For much of its modern history, as the birthplace of the American skyscraper and high-density urban planning, New York has seen regular clashes over the use of land and public resources. Recently, the spotlight fell on Barry Diller’s on-again/off-again effort to build an island in the Hudson River to host cultural events and park activities. (Opponents fear its environmental impact.)
Years earlier, a bid by former mayors Rudy Giuliani and then Bloomberg to build a stadium on Manhattan’s West Side ran into a buzzsaw of opposition. The industrial parcel known as Hudson Yards, where the stadium would have risen, has since been redeveloped as part of a massive commercial redevelopment that is the city’s biggest since Rockefeller Center nearly a century ago.
The High Line, an elevated park snaking through that same neighborhood, has raised real estate values across large swaths of Manhattan and drawn swarms of tourists. At the same time, developments like it throughout the city are prompting increasing worries about gentrification and the city becoming less affordable. (In an interesting footnote, De Blasio made a point not to visit the High Line for years after pledging to temper the pro-business fervor of Bloomberg’s run.)
As the Amazon news has rippled out in press accounts in recent days, reaction has also come from the likes of MCNBC host Chris Hayes. Tweeting yesterday, Hayes called the HQ2 competition “a debasing con from the jump.”
On the right, while many gleefully teed off on Ocasio-Cortez and other Democratic critics of the deal, conservative stalwart the National Review said tax breaks are not always the stimuli they are made out to be. “Her conservative critics reveal their own economic misunderstanding when they support targeted tax breaks as a means of creating jobs,” wrote Veronique De Rugy.