Liberal NYC ♡s Amazon

How Amazon Will Rule the World

Amazon comes to the Commonwealth of Virginia and Queens County, New York, showcasing the political limits of the current Democratic coalition along the way:

In its effort to woo Amazon to New York, a top city official promised to alert the e-commerce giant to public records requests, in case the company wanted to try to obstruct those requests in court.

When people ask me if where I live is progressive, liberal, etc. I always say “kind of.” The people are. Some of them radically so, some of them in-name-only. New York is a highly transactional political culture in a diverse, multicultural, cosmopolitan city. So it is culturally and socially progressive, yes. But it is not politically and economically progressive in any meaningful definition of the word.

This Politico article last month highlighted an interesting, nuanced, and often times unfortunate reality about the modern Democratic coalition. It’s electoral base is in heavily urban areas, and while those areas have plenty of opportunity in nearly every sphere of life, the outcomes produced politically and economically are not progressive. If you want progressive political and economic outcomes, you’d be more likely to find some in the state of Minnesota which is defined by a more moralistic political culture.

This is not to say that there are not a lot of good-hearted folks trying for meaningful reform, but the hundreds of years of the city tends to tell a story of a vicious cycle of monopolist capitalism, extreme economic inequities, poor access to its political system, and the subsequent working class struggle for reform and dignity. New York City, like many deeply blue cities in the modern Democratic coalition, embodies “the struggle.”

While it’s commonplace for economic development authorities in New York to promise early notice of public records requests to businesses they deal with, it’s unusual for them to so explicitly state their reason for doing so.

Go on….

The normally adversarial administrations of de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo teamed up to submit an 81-page bid to host Amazon, in response to the company’s nationwide competition last year. All told, Amazon will get $3 billion in subsidies, most of them granted as-of-right.

The submission reads like a love letter to New York State, with officials boasting they are “rivaling Greece in Greek yogurt production” and de Blasio describing New York City as the place “where the future comes to rehearse, where the best come to get better.”

There have been all sorts of stories locally about Amazon, and the various love letters from Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio, historically bitter intra-party rivals, united at last, and united by money. Specifically $2 billion dollars because we all know Jeff Bezos needs it, right? A few months back I was in a professional class setting and I was asked about my views on Amazon and on one hand, lets call it the left hand, the hand who had donated $ to then-long-shot Congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, I wanted to be rather critical of the deal and move in the moment much in the same way I’ve been historically critical of major city Mayors, nearly always Democrats too, subsidizing sports stadiums for billionaires, but the more pragmatic side of my brain, the side of the brain that remembers this December Quinnipiac poll showing New Yorkers approval of the Amazon move to Long Island City (Queens) at 60 percent to just 26 percent disapproval, despite the objections of Queens-based activists. This side of my brain is increasingly a constructivist. We’ve got a long way to go.   

The city and state also assured Amazon it could use eminent domain to acquire properties, as well as “override local zoning.” The company’s planned 4- to 8-million-square-foot headquarters, spanning several waterfront lots, will circumvent the typical and often lengthy city public land use process.

To a lesser extent, the submission also reads like a love letter to Amazon, even opening with an adaptation of Milton Glaser’s famous I Love NY slogan, with officials swapping out the heart for Amazon’s orange arrow.

The non-disclosure agreement meanwhile highlights, yet again, New York State’s notoriously weak public-information laws, a fact that an ongoing police corruption trial has also brought into stark relief.

Simply put, it’s stories like this that reaffirm my often quoted refrain that if you want economic progressive or populist outcomes, don’t count on them happening in New York, NY. It’s been breath of fresh air that more people agree with me on this locally than I had previously assumed. There’s been some great reformist figures and movements throughout New York’s political history, and also some tremendous political corruption… you really do get a bit of everything.

It may be tempting to think New York is finally beginning to see some solid reformist grassroots opportunities happen, some cracks in the hardboards if you will, but whenever I get overly confident I think about that 60% of New Yorkers prefer the Amazon move.

Maybe they’ll build some solid affordable housing (because the city sure doesn’t know how to do it very well) and invest in the community… maybe they won’t. Was Wall Street really going to leave a few decades ago across the river? Let’s throw a bunch of money at them just in case they do says Albany and City Hall. After all, New York does not need to throw taxpayer giveaways at billionaire sports owners like Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Atlanta. They’ve got the REALLY big businesses, and business-as-usual, and the coinciding high-tax, more-services, but also the expensive real estate, high inequality, poverty, and homelessness (now up to 70,000 in the city) that goes with it… it’s a-boomin’.

Like Cal Hockley on the Titanic “I always win Jack, one way or another.” 

That being said, I truly love living here, I love New York City and State, but I also like being honest about what I see. And another thing that I see is an optical problem for the modern day Democratic coalition. If this is the “blue model” (it’s not), at least optically, then it’s really easy to undermine the national party given the media, cultural weight, and electoral power of New York. So actually getting progressive and reformist policies passed here is pretty important beyond the obvious most important task: elimination of unnecessary human suffering. Now that the NY State Senate is Democratic, there will be a chance to improve on some of these outcomes. Update on that front, this is a good start. In fact it’s the best start.

The Republican Party and right-wing talking heads love to rail against the “cultural elites” and “immoral tastes” of the coastal cities like Los Angeles and New York City… but in their zealous pursuit of bigotry they’re really missing an opportunity.

What they should be doing instead is railing against these economic outcomes, transparent and legally privileged deal-making, and at-times, outright political corruption (especially historically).

But they don’t. Because their politicians like the big money too.



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