Did you think Governor Andrew Cuomo was going to take this Amazon decision lying down? That he was just going to let as many as 40,000 tech jobs (tech jobs!) and billions in tax revenue drive on down the road like white-knuckled truckers defying a blizzard-induced travel ban? They call him Amazon Cuomo because he's the King of the New York jungle, and the lion is definitely not sleeping tonight—he's pacing around Westchester calling Jeff 'Piñata' Bezos.
According to the New York Times, Cuomo has spent the last two weeks working "furiously" to make a "personal pitch" to Amazon to come back. From the Times:
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 that it would reconsider.
Cuomo has angrily and repeatedly blamed Senate Democrats for opposing the deal, offering the fierce Amazon critic Senator Michael Gianaris for an appointment to the Public Authorities Control Board, and scaring Amazon away. Last week he called it the "greatest tragedy that I have seen since I have been in government." But couldn't he have called Bezos earlier, before the company backed out?
In a statement released on Thursday night, Cuomo spokesperson Dani Lever said that the governor was now going to "take control" of the situation, and that 75 percent of New Yorkers supported the deal. (Lever later clarified that she meant 70 percent, which refers to a poll that Amazon commissioned. The most recent poll released earlier this month showed that 58 percent of New York City residents supported the project. Lever did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
"The State Senate made a terrible blunder—everyone, including their members, knows it—and 70% of New Yorkers affirmed it," Lever said in a statement. "The Governor will take over the process and can comfortably assure Amazon the approval will get done."
Given that the Amazon deal was largely negotiated by Governor Cuomo's Empire State Development Corporation, the state's commercial development engine, it's strange that the governor would just now be "taking control."
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who initially appointed Senator Gianaris to the PACB, pulled his appointment once Cuomo made it clear he wouldn't approve it, and appointed Senator Leroy Comrie instead, said she would be open to Amazon moving forward.
“I have always been clear that I support job creation and was disappointed with Amazon’s decision and hoped they would reconsider," Stewart-Cousins said in a statement. "I have also repeatedly indicated my willingness to work with Amazon in the best interests of our state and affected communities. It is clear that this process exposed serious flaws in our economic development programs that need to be reformed for future projects.”
“The Governor will take over the process.” Smh, what a tyrant https://t.co/HMehQo7h4t
— Julia Salazar (@JuliaCarmel__) March 1, 2019
On Friday, the Partnership for New York City, a group of the city's largest private sector employers and business leaders, published an open letter to Amazon in the New York Times, lamenting how "rough and not very welcoming" the debate was around the Long Island City campus, and asking the company to reconsider. The letter is signed by small business owners, union leaders, and a few members of Congress.
Kathryn Wylde, the president and CEO of the Partnership, told Gothamist that the effort to get Amazon to reconsider their decision reminded her of "the end of the '70s the early '80s, when everybody was moving out of the city and we lost half our Fortune 500 companies."
"For those of us who were around then, we realize how fragile the city is. We've done well the last 15, 20 years, but that does not mean that continued progress is inevitable," Wylde said.
Asked how much of the blame should be on Amazon for the loss of the Long Island City campus, given that they pulled out so early in the process, before any of the actual planning started, Wylde responded, "If you're participating in a process and you don't like it, and you don't like how you're being treated, and you decide to leave, yeah, they can be blamed but what good does that do us? We want the project."
Wylde added, "I think the politics of New York were shocking to them, surprising to them. No employer likes to see their executives put through the ringer. Did you see the people bashing a piñata with Jeff Bezos' head on it?"
Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.
Opponents of the Amazon deal respond to Cuomo’s efforts to lure back the company with their own letter: “We defeated them recently and we will do it again.” pic.twitter.com/4KzpnqH3fg
— J. David Goodman (@jdavidgoodman) March 1, 2019
[UPDATE 11:18 a.m.] Speaking to WNYC's Brian Lehrer this morning, Governor Cuomo refused to confirm or deny that he had spoken directly to Jeff Bezos.
"I have had private conversations with Amazon executives," Cuomo said, refusing to elaborate. "They're private conversations."
"They have given no indication that they would reconsider," the governor continued. "I have no reason to believe that Amazon is reconsidering. Would I like them to? Certainly. But I have no reason to believe that. We want all businesses nationwide to know, that this was an oddity."
Gothamist has filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the governor's office, asking for all records and logs of communication between Jeff Bezos and other agents and surrogates of Amazon.
Robert Freeman, the executive director of the State Committee on Open Government, and an expert on the state's FOIL law, said that logs of telephone calls between Amazon and the Governor are a matter of public record.
"My question is, whether there is indeed a record," Freeman said.
In 2012, the Daily News reported that Governor Cuomo used BlackBerry messaging to avoid leaving a paper trail.