Extortion without a dick pic.
That was the essence of Amazon’s dealings with New York while the company pitted cities against each other in a contest to win its new headquarters.
The underlying message being this: give us what we want or suffer the consequence.
The consequence being this: Amazon would chose one of the other cities in a competition that was publicly announced but privately negotiated, as if taxpayers’ money was not involved.
As a result, Amazon secured more some $3 billion in incentives and subsidies from New York in secret negotiations with the governor and the mayor in exchange for being named a co-winner along with Arlington, Virginia. This was $3 billion more than Google got when it simply announced plans to expand in New York and deliver nearly as many jobs to the city, asking for not a penny. It was twice as much as Virginia offered to win its half of the company’s so-called HQ2.
Amazon also demanded and got a private helicopter pad for CEO Jeff Bezos at the HQ to be built in the Long Island City section of Queens.
And that was not all.
Amazon wanted New York to be thankful.
As the company blog noted, Amazon figured on investing more than $2.5 billion in the New York headquarters operation and providing more than 25,000 full-time jobs. The company would even be providing computer classes for city schoolkids and donating a site for a brand new school.
But some New Yorkers, being New Yorkers, had trouble accepting that state and city officials had negotiated behind closed doors to give a company headed by the richest man in the world $3 billion in tax breaks and incentives whereas Google required nothing at all.
And then there was that private helipad.
The grumbling continued and involved a number of “progressive” politicians who are so annoying they can almost make you forget they might have a point when they speak of the $3 billion shakedown.
On Thursday, Amazon announced that it was abandoning its plans.
“After much thought and deliberation, we've decided not to move forward with our plans to build a headquarters for Amazon in Long Island City, Queens,” a company statement read.
The statement went on, “For Amazon, the commitment to build a new headquarters requires positive, collaborative relationships with state and local elected officials who will be supportive over the long-term.”
Amazon said it was “deeply grateful” to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York and Mayor Bill de Blasio, and their staffs, “who so enthusiastically and graciously invited us to build in New York City and supported us during the process.”
The statement continued, “While polls show that 70% 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.”
The statement suggests the opposing politicians are simply obstructionist. It is worth noting that these same politicians did not oppose Google, which refrained from engaging in even a hint of extortion.
The statement went on “We love New York, its incomparable dynamism, people, and culture — and particularly the community of Long Island City, where we have gotten to know so many optimistic, forward-leaning community leaders, small business owners, and residents.”
A number of those business owners whom Amazon has gotten to know lamented the company's decision to abandon the plan. They reported that Amazon representatives had repeatedly sought them out and were unfailingly pleasant and attentive.
“They were extremely friendly... respectful,” coffee merchant Frank Raffaele said on Thursday afternoon.
He was standing in the sunshine by a pocket park at the edge of what was to have been the site of Amazon HQ2. He added that the company emissaries were not at all bullying.
“Zero,” he said. “Absolutely the opposite.”
He added. “You could tell they weren't New Yorkers. They were listening. They were empathetic.”
Raffaele said he was less concerned about his own lost business opportunities than about the thousands of lost jobs, which are particularly needed in a nearby housing project.
A few feet away, one of the more annoying anti-Amazon politicians, City Councilman James Van Bramer, was addressing the press while flanked by activists holding signs with lame messages such as “Amazon Causes Homelessness.”
The onlookers included a businessman named Veso Buntic who reported that Amazon representatives had not sought him out or spoken to him him even once.
“They never approach me,” Buntic told The Daily Beast.
The mystery of why Amazon would have repeatedly sought out other businessmen but had never met with Buntic deepened when he reported that he had not just one, but three businesses in Long Island City: a seasonal waterfront restaurant, an event space and a construction firm.
The difference may have been that the other businessmen were situated outside the actual site where Amazon was expected to construct its headquarters. Buntic was inside the area, meaning that his establishments would be torn down and he would be gone.
And that would seem to offer a glimpse into Amazon’s soul, or perhaps lack thereof. The businessmen outside the actual site would still be around and were worth winning over, for the sake of Amazon's image if nothing else.
But someone in the site would be gone as soon as the demolition began, so who cares what he thinks?
Bostic said that as he experienced it, “Amazon came in back door instead of front door. They didn't ask anybody anything. They just came in and they're going to tell you what they're going to do and they don’t care.”
Buntic was not speaking as some reflexively anti-development progressive.
“It's’ nice to develop, but do it in a nice way,” he said. “With dignity.”
He said that had not been Amazon's modus operandi, by his observation.
“It wasn't an approach like, ‘OK, find a solution for everybody and move on and build,’” he said. “That's the right way.”
He had by then left the pocket park and walked back down the street to the waterfront home of his three businesses, where Amazon was to have built its vast headquarters once it had squeezed New York for all it wanted.
Amazon is certainly rich enough to have just gone the Google way and foregone any subsidies.It certainly would have been getting its money worth in securing a spot where you can gaze across the East River to the United Nations and the towers of Manhattan. Bezos might have enjoyed the historical resonance, for Long Island City was where John D. Rockefeller built his first refineries on the way to becoming what was then the nation’s richest man.
In seeking this site, Bezos should have been able to understand that people are liable to take offense if you try to shake them down. Just look at his response when AMI tried to shake him down.
But maybe what bothered him was really just the dick pic.