By David Klepper of The Associated Press with additional reporting by David Brand
State Sen. Michael Gianaris, a leading critic of subsidies for Amazon's plan to build a corporate campus in Long Island City, was nominated Monday to serve on a state board with the power to reject the project, driving a wedge between opponents of the state's financial backing and supporters like Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Gianaris has called the plan to award Amazon billions of dollars in tax credits and direct grants "offensive" to residents and taxpayers struggling with aging subways, overcrowded schools and a lack of affordable housing.
Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins tapped Gianaris as her nominee to the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB), a little-known but powerful state panel that must approve the state's involvement in the Amazon project. Each of the panel's five members has the power to block the funding.
Cuomo could reject the nomination, but such a move would further anger opponents of the deal.
"New York needs responsible fiscal stewardship now more than ever and ensuring our economic development dollars are well spent is a responsibility I take very seriously. I appreciate Leader Stewart-Cousins' faith in me and am honored she submitted my name to serve on the PACB," Gianaris told the Eagle in a statement.
Gianaris also told The New York Times that he won't make a final decision until Amazon and city and state officials work out the details of the project. The Times was the first outlet to report the nomination.
"My position on the Amazon deal is clear and unambiguous and is not changing," Gianaris told the Times. "I'm not looking to negotiate a better deal. I am against the deal that has been proposed and don't believe that it can form the foundation of a negotiation."
On Monday, a spokesperson for Cuomo issued a statement denouncing Stewart-Cousins' choice as "a clear sign" that the Senate Democrats oppose the deal. Dani Lever, Cuomo's director of communications, said such opposition is "shortsighted" since the state estimates the Amazon campus could create more than 25,000 new jobs.
"Every Democratic senator will now be called on to defend their opposition to the greatest economic growth potential this State has seen in over 50 years," Lever said.
Cuomo appeared on WNYC’s “Brian Lehrer Show” and said the Senate was “playing politics.”
“Yes, it's great politically to oppose the Amazon deal. ‘It's Jeff Bezos, one of the richest people, why are we giving him a break, he should be paying more than anybody else, I'm against it,’” Cuomo said. “Governmentally, on the facts, put aside the symbolism. Especially in light of what we just have seen, we need to diversify our economy. Bringing in tech is very important. This was a national competition for Amazon … I don't think we bring a big company without an incentive package.”
Cuomo said it was too early to to say whether he would reject Gianaris’ appointment..
“We're not there yet,” Cuomo told Lehrer. “What I do reject is the triumph of politics over government. I understand the political temperature is high, but I also believe that we should act responsibly and governmentally.”
Stewart-Cousins defended her selection, noting that the Public Authorities Control Board has oversight over many projects involving state funding, not just the Amazon headquarters.
"Now is a crucial time for our state and he will bring an important perspective and accountability to this board as it reviews numerous projects," she said.
A coalition of community groups who oppose the Amazon corporate campus also issued a statement in support of Stewart-Cousins’ decision to appoint Gianaris.
“This is a step forward to ensuring that the voices of community members and workers opposing the corrupt Amazon deal are heard,” said the coalition, which includes Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change and the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. “Let’s not forget that the HQ2 plan for Queens was arranged in a secretive backroom deal without any community input. It completely ignores Amazon's union-busting philosophy, their collaboration with ICE, their history of displacement in Seattle and their troubling work practices around the world.”
“Any politician claiming to be progressive will have to defend their support of this anti-union, anti-immigrant, anti-democratic corporation and this deal giving 3 billion dollars to the richest man in the world,” the coalition continued. “We call on Governor Cuomo to respect the appointment of the elected Democratic Senate majority."