As Amazon drops New York City project,
progressives claim a major coup
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[February 15, 2019]
By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. Representative
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wasted no time on Thursday in calling Amazon's
decision to scrap plans to build a major New York outpost with nearly $3
billion in city and state incentives a big victory for progressive
The democratic socialist congresswoman has become the face of the
Democratic Party's ascendant left wing, thanks in part to her upset
victory last year in a district near the proposed Amazon.com Inc
"Anything is possible: today was the day a group of dedicated, everyday
New Yorkers & their neighbors defeated Amazon's corporate greed, its
worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world,"
Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter.
Amazon blamed local opposition for its abrupt reversal, which some saw
as the latest evidence of the progressive movement's surging influence
ahead of the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination next
"They have shown sufficient power to back off the largest corporation in
the world," Douglas Muzzio, a professor at Baruch College in New York
and an expert on city politics and public opinion. "They killed Amazon,
the biggest beast around."
Democratic U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has made anti-corporate
criticism a key tenet of her 2020 presidential campaign, called the
subsidies "billions in taxpayer bribes" and asked on Twitter, "How long
will we allow giant corporations to hold our democracy hostage?"
Amazon had already been a favored target for some left-wing politicians
due to its dominance of online shopping and reputation for imposing
difficult work conditions on warehouse workers. The company has defended
its practices and last year raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour, more
than twice the federally mandated level.
But since Amazon announced plans for its so-called HQ2 in 2017 and began
soliciting bids from hundreds of U.S. cities, the political environment
in both New York and the country has shifted significantly.
Last fall, Democrats swept to victory in the U.S. House of
Representatives, buoyed by left-wing energy and animus toward Republican
U.S. President Donald Trump. In New York, Democrats took control of the
state Senate from Republicans for the first time in a decade.
Democratic leaders in the state Senate then nominated Michael Gianaris,
whose district includes the proposed Long Island City Amazon site, to a
little-known state board that could have vetoed the project.
[to top of second column]
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) looks on during a march
organised by the Women's March Alliance in the Manhattan borough of
New York City, U.S., January 19, 2019. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs
Gianaris, a Democrat, was a vocal critic of the billions in
subsidies offered to Amazon despite initially calling on the company
to consider New York.
"This was a shakedown, pure and simple," Gianaris told reporters on
Critics of the deal questioned why the third-most valuable company
in the United States – with a chief executive, Jeff Bezos, who ranks
as the world's wealthiest man – required that level of public
funding, including tax breaks and grant money.
Amazon also faced anti-gentrification sentiment in a city where
income inequality and a lack of affordable housing have become major
concerns. Some labor leaders opposed the deal unless Amazon agreed
not to oppose unionization efforts, a position that the company
Still, public polling suggested the deal, which Amazon said would
eventually create at least 25,000 jobs, was fairly popular among New
Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio, an enthusiastic backer of the
project, faced outrage from left-wing activists who questioned how
he could defend the subsidies while staying true to his liberal
But he and Governor Andrew Cuomo, a fellow Democrat who spent the
last year burnishing his own progressive bona fides while running
for another term, had argued that the deal's job creation benefits
far outweighed any cost.
In a statement, Cuomo cast blame on a "small group of politicians"
he accused of putting political interests ahead of their
De Blasio, by contrast, put the blame on Amazon for refusing to
address local concerns.
"We gave Amazon the opportunity to be a good neighbor and do
business in the greatest city in the world," he said in a statement.
"Instead of working with the community, Amazon threw away that
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Frank McGurty and Meredith
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