Officials point fingers after Amazon pulls plug

| Media Coverage

ALBANY — Amazon’s decision to step away from its plan to build a second headquarters in New York after being offered billions of dollars in state incentives drew sharp reaction from across the political spectrum Thursday and stoked new worries about the state’s business climate.

While the Amazon deal was advanced by appointees of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, one of the most vocal critics of the project has been Senate Deputy Leader Mike Gianaris, a Queens Democrat who represents a portion of the New York City borough where the Amazon project was sited.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, broke ranks with Cuomo over the Amazon deal. She suggested the state’s attempt to bring at least 25,000 jobs to New York City crumbled because the process lacked transparency and shut out local officials such as Gianaris.

“This process was clearly flawed and did not include the affected community nor their legislative representatives until after the deal was signed,” Stewart-Cousins said.

At a state budget hearing this week, Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, asked Howard Zemsky, the chief of economic development for the Cuomo administration, to delve into whether an Amazon warehouse could be placed in his upstate district.

On Thursday, Seward said he was disappointed by the collapse of what Cuomo hailed as the biggest business project in New York history. The senator suggested the deal’s benefits outweighed the drawbacks resulting from the project’s secrecy.

“It is extremely unfortunate that a hostile political environment has resulted in the loss of 25,000 good-paying jobs,” Seward said.

Just two days before Amazon’s announcement, a Siena College poll found that 56 percent of New Yorkers backed the state’s deal to subsidize Amazon’s second headquarters, noted Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore.

“I certainly hope that Amazon will reconsider this decision,” Schimminger, who oversees the Assembly’s economic development committee, said. He said the collapse of the deal underscores the importance of “community energizing and astro-turfing” to build support for potentially controversial projects and prevent people who could be impacted from “feeling they have been blind-sided.”

E.J. McMahon, research director for the Empire Center for Public Policy, said the scuttling of the Amazon headquarters “highlights New York’s lack of competitiveness” as it jockeys with other states to lure jobs.

While the nation’s largest city struggles with an overcrowded subway and other hindrances to development, the solution put forward by critics of the Amazon subsidy amount to a simplistic “tax the rich” approach, without any other targeted remedies, McMahon said.

The Amazon deal became wobbly after the Senate Democrats arranged to have Gianaris placed on a a government board that could potentially hold up the project, a concern acknowledged by Cuomo this week. Amazon’s decision to scratch the deal exposed significant fault lines in the New York Democratic Party, with a Cuomo spokeswoman blasting one of the Long Island Democratic senators, Todd Kaminsky, who approved of the Gianaris appointment.

Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever told Newsday that the “Senate tanked the Amazon plan by placing a stalwart Amazon opponent on the (board) to pander to the local socialists.”

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