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NY politicians at odds over Amazon's decision to pull out of Queens

Ocasio-Cortez said it shows everyday Americans can have more say "than the richest man in the world." Cuomo blamed a small group of politicians with "narrow political interests."
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New York lawmakers are not on the same page after Amazon's announcement Thursday that the retail giant was scrapping plans to build a headquarters in Queens' Long Island City neighborhood.

The decision "shows that everyday Americans still have the power to organize and fight for their communities, and they can have more say in this country than the richest man in the world," said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., whose district borders the one Long Island City is in.

Ocasio-Cortez had been vocal about her opposition to the proposed New York City headquarters since Amazon announced it in November.

"Amazon is a billion-dollar company," she tweeted when Amazon first announced their intention to build in New York. "The idea that it will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks at a time when our subway is crumbling and our communities need MORE investment, not less, is extremely concerning to residents here."

Amazon had said that the new campus would bring 25,000 "full-time high-paying jobs" to New York, and would be fueled by $3 billion in state and city incentives paid to Amazon.

Image: Demonstrators hold signs during a protest against Amazon in Long Island City, Queens, on Feb. 14, 2019.
Demonstrators protest against Amazon in Long Island City, Queens, on Thursday.Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

"If we’re willing to give away $3 billion for this deal, we could invest those $3 billion in our district ourselves if we wanted to. We could hire out more teachers, we can fix our subways. We can put a lot of people to work for that money if we wanted to," Ocasio-Cortez said from Capitol Hill Thursday.

"Additionally, those jobs, there was no guarantee that those jobs were for the New Yorkers that were here," she said.

Amazon said their decision to pull out of Long Island City was because of politicians like Ocasio-Cortez who were against the planned Long Island City headquarters.

"While polls show that 70 percent of New Yorkers support our plans and investment, a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project we and many others envisioned in Long Island City," the company said in a statement Thursday.

"It wasn't any one incident," Jodi Seth, the head of policy communications for Amazon, told NBC News on Thursday. "It was that the environment over the course of the past three months had not got any better. There were some local and state elected officials who refused to meet with Amazon and criticized us day in and day out about the plan."

Seth said it came down to a long-term environment that Amazon did not care to work in, in part because different politicians put forward different reasons for opposing the project.

Among the opponents was New York State Sen. Michael Gianaris, a Democrat who represents the district that includes Long Island City. “Today’s behavior by Amazon shows why they would have been a bad partner for New York in any event," he said.

"Rather than seriously engage with the community they proposed to profoundly change, Amazon continued its effort to shakedown governments to get its way. It is time for a national dialogue about the perils of these types of corporate subsidies," Gianaris added.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who supported Amazon's presence in New York, blamed state senators and other local politicians for the company's decision to back out.

"A small group [of] politicians put their own narrow political interests above their community — which poll after poll showed overwhelmingly supported bringing Amazon to Long Island City — the state's economic future and the best interests of the people of this state," Cuomo said. "The New York State Senate has done tremendous damage. They should be held accountable for this lost economic opportunity."

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had said he was "thrilled" when Amazon first trumpeted plans to come to Long Island City, also expressed his displeasure Thursday.

"You have to be tough to make it in New York City," he said. "We gave Amazon the opportunity to be a good neighbor and do business in the greatest city in the world. Instead of working with the community, Amazon threw away that opportunity."