Editorial

Amazon never really understood our region

Posted

Who’s to blame for Amazon’s sudden departure last Thursday? That was the big question as news of the tech giant’s decision to nix plans to locate its second headquarters in Long Island City filtered out to the public.

Let’s leave that question aside for a moment. The more critical one is this: What kind of company pulls out of a multi-billion-dollar deal — one of the largest in New York history — in the face of relatively minor opposition? And, in doing so, what message was Amazon — owned by the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos — sending to New Yorkers? That it, and it alone, can dictate the terms of its deals?

That, Mr. Bezos, is the height of corporate hubris.

After all, who opposed the Amazon deal? A relatively small group of protesters, numbering in the hundreds, perhaps a few thousand (in a state of nearly 20 million people); a handful of city and state elected leaders; and one first-year congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. That was about it.

Meanwhile, Amazon had Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on board, and opinion polls showed that the company enjoyed 70 percent support among New Yorkers for a deal that would have given it $3 billion in state and city tax breaks.

So why did Amazon pull out without making an earnest attempt to reach out to the communities that would have been most affected by the deal, or even first speaking with Cuomo or de Blasio?

Could it have been that Amazon understood that the protesters were right when they charged that its arrival could have led to the gentrification of a number of neighborhoods and potentially forced thousands of city residents out of their homes because of rising rents? That would have been bad publicity for a company that, until now, has remained in relatively good standing with the public.

Amazon is a global virtual marketplace, steering clear of charges that it violates anti-trust laws because it drives prices down rather than up. How easily we forget how many small, independent bookstores have been lost to this mega-corporation.

Yes, Long Islanders supported the notion of a deal that would have brought 25,000 jobs to the region. You didn’t see most people, however, jumping for joy at Amazon’s arrival, at least not in the way that Bezos and Cuomo wanted us to, and apparently thought we would.

After the deal went sour, Cuomo began playing the blame game, lambasting Long Island’s State Senate delegation, saying that our Democratic senators — most of them in office for only weeks — hadn’t done enough to help secure the deal. In particular, Cuomo singled out Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach, who has been in the Senate fewer than three years. Why did the Island’s senators not speak out more? Cuomo demanded to know.

Could it have been that Long Island is populated by hundreds of small downtowns with thousands of mom-and-pop, brick-and-mortar shops that want little to nothing to do with Amazon?

If our senators had pledged their full-throated support for the Amazon deal, they would have effectively abandoned their local constituencies — their chambers of commerce and the small businesses that comprise them.

The deal was rushed from the start, negotiated in secret and announced only last November. Amazon did not hire a single New Yorker to meet with community groups to explain its terms, according to The New York Times.

The average salary at the company’s new headquarters, we were told, would have been $150,000. Amazon’s annual median salary, however, is $28,446, according to its 2018 corporate filings. The average warehouse associate earns $13.85 an hour. Perhaps Amazon would have filled its new headquarters with six-figure executives and coders, but maybe not. There was little questioning of the $150,000 figure.

If anyone is to blame for the collapse of the deal, it is Amazon itself, followed closely by Cuomo. Neither made any real attempt to understand conditions on the ground in the region or telegraph specifics of the deal to a concerned and questioning public.