Politicians pushing back on corporate power celebrate victory in Amazon’s NYC reversal

New York State Sen. Michael Gianaris hosts a rally protesting Amazon’s planned New York office. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

In the first few weeks of 2019, progressive politicians have started a national conversation about income inequality and corporate power.

Turns out it’s more than just talk.

On Thursday, Amazon reversed plans to build a giant New York City office in response to a vocal group of officials and activists who have been fighting the deal.

“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,” Amazon said Thursday in a statement.

The news: Behind closed doors, Amazon and New York leaders reached an agreement to give the Seattle e-commerce giant up to $3 billion in government incentives to build one half of its second headquarters — or “HQ2” — in Queens. That neighborhood elected left-leaning politicians to the city and state, who formed a coalition to oppose the deal. Parts of Queens are also represented by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the most high-profile critics of corporate power.

Faced with a fight, Amazon decided not to build the project, after all, in a sign that pitchforks can be effective at pushing back Big Tech’s influence.

The movement: Ocasio-Cortez and her peers are shining a spotlight on the growing wealth and influence of big tech companies like Amazon. She has floated the idea of a 70 percent marginal tax rate that would hit tech industry plutocrats. Ocasio-Cortez celebrated Amazon’s breakup with New York in a tweet Thursday. “Today was the day a group of dedicated, everyday New Yorkers & their neighbors defeated Amazon’s corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world,” she said.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the presidential hopeful with a wealth tax proposal that would cost Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos more than $3 billion. “Amazon — one of the wealthiest companies on the planet — just walked away from billions in taxpayer bribes, all because some elected officials in New York aren’t sucking up to them enough,” Warren tweeted. “How long will we allow giant corporations to hold our democracy hostage?”

New York Sen. Michael Gianaris speaks with Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold at a hearing on Amazon. (Photo via the Office of Senator Michael Gianaris)

The national conversation is reverberating through municipal governments, which are getting savvier about the cost of economic development. Last month, Seattle City Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and Lisa Herbold visited New York to warn opponents of the Amazon deal about what it’s like to have the tech giant as a neighbor.

“We’re sending a strong message that we’re not interested in a race to the bottom or a Hunger Games like approach to attract businesses,” Mosqueda said in an interview with GeekWire Thursday. “What we want is respect and investment in the local communities and infrastructure that make companies successful.”

Yes, but: Progressive politicians are making a lot of noise about the influence of corporations and the 1 percent, but it isn’t clear whether that message resonates with the population at large. In New York, for example, two polls showed that a majority of registered voters supported the Amazon project.