Cuomo Speaks With Bezos, Furiously Trying to Win Back Amazon

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has privately assured Amazon officials that he would help the company secure the needed approvals if it resurrects its plan to build a campus in Queens.CreditCreditChang W. Lee/The New York Times

By J. David Goodman     Feb. 28, 2019

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who was staggered by Amazon’s decision to pull out of its plans to come to New York City, is furiously working behind the scenes to lure the company back, even connecting with Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, to make a personal pitch.

The governor has had multiple phone conversations with Amazon executives, including Mr. Bezos, over the past two weeks, according to two people with knowledge of the efforts. In those calls, Mr. Cuomo said he would navigate the company through the byzantine governmental process.

Mr. Cuomo did not offer a new location but rather guarantees of support for the project, one person said. Amazon executives gave no sense the company would reconsider.

The executives also learned of an open letter being arranged for publication in The New York Times on Friday, also urging Mr. Bezos, the company’s chief executive, to reverse course again and build the campus in Long Island City, Queens.

The letter was signed by supportive unions, local businesses, community groups and elected officials including Representatives Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn, a top Democrat, and Carolyn Maloney, whose district encompasses the Amazon site, and the former mayor David N. Dinkins.

The letter said that Mr. Cuomo “will take personal responsibility for the project’s state approval,” and Mayor Bill de Blasio “will work together with the governor to manage the community development process.”

So far at least, the company has shown no sign of reconsidering its decision to abandon the deal, in which Amazon promised to create up to 40,000 jobs in Long Island City in exchange for a state grant of $500 million and state and city tax breaks that would have eventually totaled more than $2 billion.

“I’ve had many conversations with Amazon. I hope that they reconsider,” Mr. Cuomo told reporters at an unrelated event Thursday on Long Island. “It would be helpful if the State Senate said that they would approve it; that would be helpful. But in the meantime I haven’t heard any changes.”

An Amazon spokeswoman declined a request for comment.

The conversation between Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Bezos appeared to have been the first time the two had spoken at any point about Amazon’s plans for Queens, or about the company’s abrupt decision earlier in February to cancel the project amid noisy opposition.

Since the deal fell, Mr. Cuomo has been arguing in public and in private that support for the project was and remains far more widespread than it may have seemed.

“I do believe Amazon should have stayed and fought the opposition,” said Mr. Cuomo in a radio interview on Tuesday. “It was a vocal minority opposition. Seventy percent of the people support Amazon.”

He reiterated that message to Amazon executives during their calls, according to one of the people with knowledge of the exchanges, both of whom requested anonymity in order to discuss the private conversations.

The campus was meant to be one half of what had been called a second headquarters for the company; the other half, with roughly the same number of jobs, is still planned for a Virginia suburb of Washington.

But Amazon faced vociferous opponents — including local groups, some unions and political activists animated by the surprise victory of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — from the moment it announced its plans for Queens in November. Three months later, with no end in sight for the sustained political pressure and negative attention, executives decided to pull the plug.

Those familiar with the company’s thinking have insisted that the decision to abandon the New York City plan had been based on a confluence of factors, including the loud opposition and the lack of any sign it would abate.

“We think we could have gotten New York done, but you have to say, ‘At what cost?’” Holly Sullivan, Amazon’s director of global economic development, said at an event in Virginia on Thursday. “We made a prudent decision that gives us the opportunity to hyperfocus on D.C.”

The advertisement, an open letter to Mr. Bezos that was set to appear on a full page in Friday’s newspaper, is aimed at combating the notion that the opposition to Amazon was widespread, arguing that a “clear majority” of New Yorkers support the company.

“We know the public debate that followed the announcement of the Long Island City project was rough and not very welcoming,” reads the letter, paid for by the Partnership for New York City, a prominent business group. “But when we commit to a project as important as this, we figure out how to get it done in a way that works for everyone.”

Kathryn S. Wylde, the president of the partnership, said the letter had been aimed not just at Amazon but at assuring technology companies generally that New York City welcomed their businesses: “Yes, it’s directed to Amazon in hopes they will reconsider. Equally, it is a message to the broader industry.”

“The governor’s office was working with the business community on how to send this message,” Ms. Wylde added, and the result was the letter.

Many of those signing on to the letter — including public housing leaders, unions like Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union and the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York — were supportive of the deal all along. A spokesman for Mr. de Blasio, whose initial support of the Amazon deal has turned into vociferous criticism after the company pulled out, said the mayor was aware that the letter was being prepared.

The most vocal opponents, like Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, were not among the signatories.

“Our concerns remain the same,” Mr. Appelbaum said in response to Mr. Cuomo’s efforts. “If Amazon wants to come to New York, it must respect all workers and communities.”

One thing that has changed in the last two weeks: Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic majority leader of the State Senate, withdrew her nomination of Senator Michael Gianaris to the obscure Public Authorities Control Board. The position would have given Mr. Gianaris, who represents Long Island City, the ability to vote down the development project for Amazon when it came before the board in about a year’s time.

But Mr. Cuomo refused to appoint Mr. Gianaris, who declined to comment on the governor’s efforts, or to formally reject him. And so last week, Ms. Stewart-Cousins selected another Queens representative, Leroy Comrie, to sit on the board, a person who would be more likely to get the governor’s approval.



Source: The New York Times




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