ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Friday accused the Democratic-controlled state Senate of “governmental malpractice” for what he said was threatening the multibillion-dollar deal to bring an Amazon headquarters to New York, after a published report that said the retail giant is having second thoughts.
“If Amazon doesn’t come to New York, it is because of the political opposition. For the state Senate to oppose Amazon was governmental malpractice,” Cuomo told the Long Island Association business group in Woodbury. “And if they stop Amazon from coming to New York, they are going to have to have the people of New York State to explain it to. It is irresponsible to allow political opposition to overcome sound government policy.”
The blistering attack sparked a harsh back-and-forth between the Democratic governor and the Senate. The focus of Cuomo’s ire, Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), an Amazon critic who represents the area where the company might build, said the governor was to blame for making a “secret” and “bad” giveaway deal with Amazon. The senator also raised the possibility that Cuomo had “orchestrated” the threat of Amazon leaving as a way to silence critics.
“It’s very curious that he had a slide ready to be presented 10 minutes after news broke that Amazon was reconsidering,” Gianaris said. “A cynic might believe this is all orchestrated. The governor’s always about pointing fingers at anyone but himself. He made a secret deal with Amazon. He made a bad deal with Amazon. He has to live with the consequences of that.”
The internet giant announced in November it had chosen to build half its East Coast headquarters in Long Island City, Queens, and the other half in Northern Virginia, promising 25,000 jobs for each location. New York and Virginia beat out numerous other competitors.
Cuomo said the state and city will provide $3 billion in tax breaks and aid to Amazon, one of the world’s richest companies, while the company would provide $27 billion in tax revenue, adding, “I would do that all day long.” The area is zoned for mixed commercial and residential use.
Cuomo cited a Washington Post story published Friday morning that quoted sources as saying Amazon may pull out of the New York deal because of local opponents, who have decried the tax incentives promised to one of the world’s biggest companies.
Friday afternoon, The New York Times published a story citing officials familiar with Amazon’s thinking that said the Washington Post story went “too far” and the company wasn’t thinking of backing out of coming to Long Island City.
In either case, it’s clear the political fighting is nowhere near an end
“I would not want to be a Democratic senator coming back to my district to explain why Amazon left,” Cuomo said, directing his wrath fully at the Senate. He accused the Democratic majority of “pandering” to some Queens residents fearful that the Amazon headquarters will jack up housing prices in the name of “corporate welfare.”
Cuomo, in particular, has bashed Senate leadership for nominating Gianaris to serve on the arcane but crucial Public Authorities Control Board, a panel that signs off on many state grants and tax incentives. Any member of the three-person panel can veto a project — it’s the panel that killed Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plans for a Manhattan football stadium more than a decade ago.
Cuomo told Newsday the situation is “critical.” He has met with increasing questioning of the deal and earlier this week blamed Amazon for not doing a good enough job of persuading opponents to step back.
“I’m doing everything I can to persuade them to stay,” Cuomo said at Newsday’s offices following the event. “But it’s totally up to them and I think it’s imminent.”
Asked if he thought the nomination of Gianaris could prompt Amazon’s second thoughts, Cuomo said, “Yes, definitely.”
An Amazon spokesman in a prepared statement said Friday the company is “working hard to demonstrate what kind of neighbor we will be,” citing employment, workforce training and computer science classes for schools.
The Senate hasn’t said it opposes the deal. Cuomo struck the agreement unilaterally in a national competition created by Amazon with little information released publicly about tax breaks and incentives. The Senate has called for more information on the project.
Gianaris said the terms of the state and city deal with Amazon were “unacceptable.”
“They are anti-union,” Gianaris said. “They have no concern about the impact they might have on communities they join. . . . Amazon is just take, take, take and doesn’t give a damn about the communities it destroys in the process.”
Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi denied any orchestration with The Washington Post story or in promoting any false threat of losing Amazon, dismissing it as a conspiracy theory. “Someone has their tin foil hat on a little too tight,” Azzopardi said.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said that Gianaris would bring accountability to the PACB and that Cuomo was trying to splinter Democrats just weeks after they took control of the Senate.
“It is unfortunate that the governor is trying to divide the Democratic Party at this crucial and historic time,” spokesman Mike Murphy said.
Beyond criticism of the aid Amazon would receive, city activists have expressed concerns whether the neighborhood’s infrastructure could handle the company, including the impact on subways and rents.
Part of the opposition from the legislature came after Amazon said it wouldn’t commit to hiring only workers represented by unions, which have significant influence in Albany.
“If the Amazon deal falls apart, they will have nobody to blame but themselves,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, a labor group that hopes to provide workers to Amazon. “A major problem is the way the deal was put together shrouded in secrecy and ignoring what New Yorkers want and need. They arrogantly continue to refuse to meet with key stakeholders to address their concerns, despite requests from New York’s top elected officials to do so.”
Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) promised to speak with Gianaris. However, Gaughran also noted he and other senators have limited say in the Amazon project: “There is no bill in the Senate for us to vote on.”
Other Long Island Democratic senators in the audience — Cuomo implored them to bring “sanity” to the Senate — said they supported the Amazon project.
A vote in the legislature on whether Amazon receives all of the promised tax credits is likely a year or more away. It might be a year before the PACB has to take any action on the state incentives, officials have said.
A spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio said: “The mayor fully expects Amazon to deliver on its promise to New Yorkers.”
With James T. Madore, Victor Ocasio, Rick Brand, Matthew Chayes and Robert Brodsky.