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Amazon reportedly reconsidering HQ2 deal amid fierce opposition

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Legislators and grassroots activists have come together to oppose Amazon’s new headquarters in Queens

Illustration by Alyssa Nassner

Facing stiff opposition over everything from tax breaks to its stance on unions, Amazon is now reportedly reconsidering its decision to bring half of its second North American headquarters to Long Island City. The Washington Post reports that the company has “had internal discussions recently to reassess the situation in New York and explore alternatives,” per two unnamed sources who are allegedly familiar with the tech giant’s plans. (It’s worth noting that the Post is owned by Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos.)

“The question is whether it’s worth it if the politicians in New York don’t want the project, especially with how people in Virginia and Nashville have been so welcoming,” one source told the Post.

Opposition has been swift, and fierce, since Amazon announced in November that it would bring its HQ2—and, reportedly, 25,000 jobs and $27 billion in tax revenue—to Long Island City. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have both touted the deal as an economic development win for New York City. But much of the criticism has focused on the subsidies that Amazon will recive: as much as $3 billion, through a combination of tax incentive programs from the city and state. Critics of the deal include City Council member Jimmy van Bramer and State Senator Michael Gianaris, who represent Long Island City, and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“Since the Governor and the Mayor announced the Amazon deal, I have joined many to fight it,” Van Bramer said in a statement. “We rose up and held the line. When a corporation is anti-union, pro-ICE and seeks billions in corporate welfare, we must fight back. It’s not over, but I’m proud of the values we fought for.”

During a City Council hearing at the end of January, speaker Corey Johnson told executives from Amazon that “we have 63,000 people sleeping in homeless shelters in New York City, we have subways that are falling apart, we have schools that aren’t getting the money they deserve … This seems like vulture, monopolistic capitalism at its worst.”

“It is the Council’s job to ask questions, and to make sure that a nearly $4 billion deal involving public land is in the best interests of the New Yorkers who elected us,” Johnson said of the HQ2 news in a statement. “No company is entitled to public land and subsidies without tough public scrutiny. The Council is looking forward to our next hearing with Amazon.”

Amazon’s stance on unions has become another sticking point; the company has said it would oppose any attempts on the part of its New York workforce to unionize, even as both the governor and mayor have crowed about the state being extremely union-friendly. (Recently, de Blasio claimed that Amazon might “reconsider” its stance on unions after setting up a NYC headquarters.)

Most recently, the State Senate majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins nominated Gianaris, a vocal critic of the HQ2 deal, to the Public Authorities Control Board, which would ultimately have approval power over the project. His office was responsible for anti-HQ2 fliers that were sent to Queens residents in recent weeks, which he told Fast Company was an effort to counteract Amazon’s own “misinformation campaign” (the company has been sending its own fliers touting HQ2 to borough residents).

“We are dealing with an era of unprecedented corporate power in this country,” Gianaris told the Post. “This Amazon deal represents a tipping point that is going to set the stage for what this country is going to be going forward.”

During a speech on Long Island on Friday, Cuomo addressed the rumors of the NYC HQ2’s demise, saying that if the deal’s opponents get their way, and the deal falls through, “they’re going to have the people of New York to explain it to.”

“If Amazon does not come to New York it’s because of the political opposition,” he said. “It is so ironic with Amazon, after they spent one year with everyone seducing them, everyone courting them … we win, and then there’s political opposition. … I’ve never seen a more absurd situation where political pander and obvious pander so defeats a bona fide economic development project.”

Virginia, meanwhile, has rolled out the welcome mat for Amazon; this week, Gov. Ralph Northam signed into law a package allowing for $750 million in incentives, and as the Post notes, opposition has not included elected officials.

It’s possible that the news leak is a negotiating tactic, similar to what the company used in Seattle over the city’s proposed “head tax,” which would have levied a tax on big businesses like Starbucks and Amazon, in an effort to fund affordable housing and homeless services. The tax was initially approved by the Seattle City Council, but pressure from business groups—including Amazon, which threatened to stop construction on major projects in the city—led the Council to later repeal the tax.

Where Amazon could move its HQ2—or if it would move forward with the headquarters in the same form—if the New York deal falls through is unclear, though there was no shortage of cities vying for the company’s business in the lead-up to the November announcement.

“We’re focused on engaging with our new neighbors—small business owners, educators, and community leaders,” an Amazon spokesperson said in an emailed statement to Curbed. “Whether it’s building a pipeline of local jobs through workforce training or funding computer science classes for thousands of New York City students, we are working hard to demonstrate what kind of neighbor we will be.”

This story is developing; we’ll update with more information as it becomes available.

Additional reporting by Caroline Spivack.