OPINION: How Cuomo And de Blasio’s Politics Failed NYC And Botched The Amazon Deal

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J. G. Collins Managing Director, Stuyvesant Square Consultancy
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Reading New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s op-ed on Sunday, “The Path Amazon Rejected,” and listening to his shameless groveling to his fellow Democrats on “Meet the Press,” I was struck by how outrageously disingenuous the mayor’s comments were. The mayor claims that he “counseled a senior Amazon executive about how they could win over some of their critics” just an hour before news broke that Amazon had abandoned the deal.

Balderdash. Any effort to “win over” some of Amazon’s critics came too little, too late, and largely because de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo put their respective 2020 political ambitions before New York’s workers and economy.

In a city of over 8.5 million people on less than 370 square miles, no major development just “happens” overnight. In New York, major developments are undertaken within the rubric of an ordered, exhaustive, inclusionary, process involving resident and commercial neighbors, elected officials, city bureaucrats, and other institutions known as “ULURP,” the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

Virtually any development that is not already in compliance with the city’s existing, and strict, zoning regulations — that is, developed “as of right” — has to go through ULURP. Developers often yield concessions, local stakeholders obtain local benefits (one Manhattan developer, for example, sold part of his development site to build a school), and deals can get done; everyone walks away approvingly. It might be be grudging approval, both for the developer and the community, but it is approval nonetheless. All sides benefit.

Except in the Amazon deal, there was no land-use review.

Instead, in the rush to claim a quick “win” to advance their 2020 presidential campaign aspirations, Cuomo and de Blasio chose to ride roughshod on the local stakeholders and skipped the land-use review.

In the alternative, they chose to use something called a “general project plan” under the state’s Urban Development Corporation Act, which allowed the state and city economic development agencies to present the Amazon project as a fait accompli in which the usual ULURP stakeholders would have virtually no say.

Never mind that general project plans were intended, mostly, for large-scale public infrastructure projects like transit centers, airports, housing projects and other large public facilities, or to clear urban blight for public projects like the original World Trade Center or Lincoln Center. (But when ambitious politicians are playing for advantage why worry about legislative intent?)

Presented with a “done deal” with which they could not abide, and in which they had no say, the local stakeholders rightfully rebelled.

Objections started first at the local community board, where land use is first reviewed. But then, as more details of Amazon’s backroom deal with the mayor and governor came to be known, the objections metastasized from a base of local residents and stakeholders into a full-fledged “democratic socialist,” anti-capitalist, “income inequality” pile-on; a rally point and object lesson for the far left. Amazon, seeing the angry crowds gathering behind the ramparts, and having none of the stakeholder allies they might have won to their side had the project passed a land review, understandably pulled the plug on the deal.

For the mayor to assert, as he has now that the deal is dead, that Amazon didn’t come to the table isn’t even disingenuous; it is an outright lie. Amazon followed his and Cuomo’s heavy-handed lead as the “political leaders” they purport to be; as the authorities “on the ground” who knew their state and city better than anyone from Seattle-based Amazon would. It was Cuomo and de Blasio who elected to ignore local stakeholders and thereby kindle the flames of resentment among the locals that became a veritable wildfire of protest for the far Left.   

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos should fire the entire Amazon HQ2 government relations team that bought into the being grievously tone-deaf, heavy-handed, deal proposal. Cuomo should fire the head of Empire State Development and de Blasio should fire the head of New York’s Economic Development Corporation.

And New Yorkers should hold accountable those council members who blindly followed the mayor’s lead and who — along with the mayor — arguably ignored their oath to uphold the city charter. Then, fire the lot of them.

J.G. Collins is the managing director of The Stuyvesant Square Consultancy, a business advisory, economic, and political consulting firm. He has served on a New York City community board for over 20 years.

 The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.