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Cuomo, deputy mayor go on the offensive over HQ2 backlash

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State and city officials who brokered the HQ2-in-Long Island City deal are responding to the backlash

Illustration by Alyssa Nassner

The backlash to the announcement that New York City would be one of two locations for Amazon’s second North American headquarters (or HQ2) came swiftly last week, with many—City Council members, state legislators, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and a number of publications—denouncing the deal.

And now that a few days have passed, we’ve entered the backlash to the backlash cycle of things: Some of the officials behind the deal—including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen—have gone on the offensive with the goal of deflecting criticism about tax breaks and the opacity of the whole process.

Cuomo published an op-ed on his website earlier today, ostensibly to lay out his case for why the HQ2 deal is good for New York, but with a healthy heaping of scorn for those who’ve criticized the deal.

Though some of the 2,000-word piece touches on the benefits that New York City will see from the HQ2 deal—job growth, an investment in the tech sector, “an annual payroll of over $3.75 billion annually within 10 years”—much of it is devoted to finger-wagging at city and state officials who are engaging in “pure political posturing” (because some had previously signed a letter expressing their support for an HQ2 bid), as well media outlets that have benefited from tax breaks prior to the Amazon deal. (The New York Times, in his estimation, is “totally hypocritical” for criticizing the deal, since its building in Times Square received more than $20 million in tax breaks, which were negotiated jointly by Forest City Ratner and the New York Times Company—not, it should be noted, the journalists reporting on HQ2—in 2008.)

He also defended the nearly $3 billion in incentives that Amazon will receive as a result of the HQ2 deal as nothing new, and noted that the company will pour $900 million back into New York’s economy each year.

“One could argue that in a perfect world no city or state would be legally allowed to offer incentives and there would be no competition for individuals or businesses. True,” Cuomo wrote. “But this is not a perfect world. Our state is in an intense daily competition with other states and, indeed, other countries.”

On the city side of things, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen spoke with New York magazine about the deal, shedding some light on how the de Blasio administration approached it, and—like Cuomo—going on the offensive when challenged about issues critics have brought up, including whether Amazon will hire locally (Glen says that the city’s prior investments in the tech sector, such as providing job training to New Yorkers, will encourage that) and exacerbating New York’s inequality issues (“We have fundamentally changed the game” on affordable housing creation, Glen argued, so, by her logic, that won’t be an issue).

“For us, the most important things with respect to the development project is that we get the public benefits that are important for all New Yorkers,” Glen told New York.

She also defended the use of a general project plan, which will circumvent the city’s traditional land use review process—and has drawn the ire of local officials who feel cut out of the approval process.

“[T]he governor and the mayor were both elected by overwhelming majorities … to say that this isn’t a democratic process is sort of, I think, a misinterpretation of what’s going on, and the GPP, and the statue, requires there to be an environmental review, here,” Glen stated. “There will be plenty of opportunities for comments and engagement, [and] the city planning department here will be making very specific comments and recommendations on the GPP.”

Even New York’s Justin Davidson got into the backlash-to-the-backlash game, arguing that “New York could survive without Amazon, and it can damn well survive with it.”

“It’s important to separate the deal, which stinks, from the long-term effects, which don’t,” he writes. “At bottom, this is not a fight over taxes, but a debate over what Amazon represents for our metropolitan future. And if you think that one company can singlehandedly own, save, or ravage the city, then you underestimate New York.”