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New York City’s progressive elites gambled and lost over Amazon

Democrats’ unforced error on HQ2 deal delivered a gift to Republicans

Amazon pulling out of its second-headquarters deal with New York City represents a big loss for Democrats, Winston writes. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images file photo)
Amazon pulling out of its second-headquarters deal with New York City represents a big loss for Democrats, Winston writes. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images file photo)

OPINION — “I think it’s a bluff, first and foremost.”

Those were the words of New York City Council deputy leader Jimmy Van Bramer to Fox News’ Neil Cavuto on Feb. 11. Cavuto had asked Van Bramer about the possibility of Amazon walking away from its historic deal to locate one of its second headquarters in Queens because of anti-deal efforts stirred up by Van Bramer and others, most notably Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and state Sen. Michael Gianaris.

Despite the deputy leader’s confidence, three days later, Amazon pulled out of the deal.

Note to Van Bramer: Don’t take up poker.

What happened in New York last week has to be one of the most bone-headed political moves in recent history, showcasing for the country what happens when progressive socialist economic theory is put into practice. Everybody loses, particularly the Democratic Party, whose unforced political error delivered a gift to Republicans. Who needs Venezuela when you’ve got New York to make your point about the benefits of capitalism over socialism?

What New York lost

The entire episode boggles the mind. Why would political leaders work to undermine a deal over which other states and cities had competed relentlessly? A deal that would have brought New York City 25,000 new jobs, paying, on average, $150,000 a year. A deal that would have also produced nearly $1 billion a year in state and city tax revenues, not to mention the positive impact on local economic growth. According to state officials, over the next 25 years, New York would have netted $27.5 billion in new revenues even with $3 billion in tax incentives.

But for Van Bramer, two things were more important than the jobs-producing deal New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo called “far and away the state’s largest economic development transaction in modern history”: New York City “values” (whatever that means) and protecting organized labor (we all know what that means).

A defiant Van Bramer challenged the tech giant: “Look, if Amazon wants to leave because they say your values, the city of New York, whether that be us as a sanctuary city or a labor town, are inconsistent with their corporate values, then they should go.”

And so they did. Amazon was gone, and so were the 25,000 jobs and billions in tax revenues that could have funded everything from infrastructure projects to education. Amazon’s $600 million community fund to improve local infrastructure? Gone. The company’s promise to emphasize local hiring with a special focus on residents in public housing? Gone. And the boom in Long Island City real estate prices? Over.

But like the good progressives they are, Ocasio-Cortez, Van Bramer and their merry band of economic pranksters celebrated their “victory,” with AOC tweeting, “Anything is possible: 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.”

Also watch: Democrats downplay appearance of disunity on Green New Deal

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What voters wanted

Except for the pesky fact that the majority of everyday New Yorkers supported the Amazon deal — 56 percent to 36 percent, according to a Feb. 4-7 Siena College poll. Minority voters were even more enthusiastic about Amazon, with 70 percent of black voters and 81 percent of Latinos backing the deal.

For those interested in building majority coalitions, the survey found that independents approved the deal by a 64-29 percent margin, more than Democrats at 56-37 percent and Republicans at 47-42 percent. From an ideological perspective, approval from moderates  at 64-30 percent was significantly higher than liberals (48-46 percent) and conservatives (52-39 percent).

Don Levy, director of the Siena College Research Institute, characterized the support by locality, saying, “Upstate voters are evenly divided, but suburban voters strongly approve, and in New York City, where some local activists have voiced opposition, voters approve of the deal by 23 points.”

So did an obviously unhappy Cuomo, who complained after the deal fell through: “A small group of politicians put their own narrow political interests above their community — which poll after poll showed overwhelmingly supported bringing Amazon to Long Island City — the state’s economic future and the best interests of the people of this state.”

But AOC saw it differently through her decidedly curious economic lens.

“If we were willing to give away $3 billion for this deal, we could invest those $3 billion in our district ourselves if we wanted to. We could hire out more teachers, we can fix our subways. We can put a lot of people to work for that money if we wanted to,” she told a reporter after the Amazon decision became public. 

Obviously, the Boston University economics grad missed the class on how tax incentives work.

Her fellow New York Democrat, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, whose district includes the would-have-been Amazon site, cut to the chase: “There is no money if Amazon doesn’t come to New York. There’s not a pile of money.”

An easy choice

The basic question for the anti-deal progressive political leaders really wasn’t complicated. Do you want to work with business for the public good, offer $3 billion in tax incentives and get $27.5 billion of the $30 billion-plus in revenues the deal was expected to generate? Money that could have funded subways and education, along with Amazon’s $600 million to improve local infrastructure. And, of course, the 25,000 well-paying jobs. Or do you want to reflexively oppose big business to serve special interests, reject the incentives and hope to get the full $30 billion and risk ending up with zero? They chose zero.

If ever there was a case of “cutting off your nose to spite your face,” the Amazon debacle was it. Progressives such as Van Bramer, Gianaris and AOC sacrificed the economic prosperity of tens of thousands of New Yorkers on the altar of a political philosophy that history has shown doesn’t end well.

In doing so, they showed the American people the real-world consequences of progressive socialism and gave Republicans the perfect example to illustrate the choice in 2020 — radical economic policies that cost jobs or pragmatic, commonsense economic policies that drive growth and create jobs.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, a big supporter of the deal, switched sides and threw Amazon under the bus after the company announced its decision. In an opinion piece in Saturday’s New York Times, he blamed Amazon, saying, “We just witnessed another example of what the concentration of power in the hands of huge corporations leaves in its wake.”

No, mayor, it’s an example of what the concentration of power in the hands of anti-business elites leaves in its wake.

David Winston is the president of The Winston Group and a longtime adviser to congressional Republicans. He previously served as the director of planning for Speaker Newt Gingrich. He advises Fortune 100 companies, foundations, and nonprofit organizations on strategic planning and public policy issues, and is an election analyst for CBS News.