Activists protested Amazon’s presence in NYC and won.Wang Ying/Xinhua/ZUMA Wire
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Bill de Blasio became New York City’s mayor in 2014 with a bold populist message about equaling the playing field for all New Yorkers. But when it comes to arguably the most contentious debate over wealth in the city’s recent history—Amazon’s announcement, and then reversal, on opening up a heavily subsidized headquarters in Queens—de Blasio is doing something of a bizarre about-face, arguing that private interests need to be stronger in order to withstand public scrutiny.
“The minute there were criticisms, they walked away,” de Blasio argued Sunday on Meet the Press. “Amazon just took their ball and went home.”
EXCLUSIVE: @NYCMayor Bill de Blasio joins #mtp to discuss Amazon’s decision to back out of their plans in Long Island City.
de Blasio: “This is an example of an abuse of corporate power… Amazon just took their ball and went home.” pic.twitter.com/QVh8g75VWc
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) February 17, 2019
Amazon’s decision to back out of the deal to build a campus in Queens has become something of a litmus test of progressive idealism. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), whose district includes the proposed site, celebrated the company’s reversal. “I think it’s incredible,” Ocasio-Cortez told NBC. “It shows that everyday Americans still have the power to organize and fight for their communities.”
Amazon withdrew from the deal after facing a severe backlash from communities over the millions of dollars in tax incentives politicians had brokered with the company. Opponents also worried that the project would deepen inequality in New York City, as big tech companies have been blamed for doing in places like San Francisco and Seattle.
De Blasio had championed the deal from the outset, and he’s now arguing that Amazon’s decision is “an abuse of corporate power.” In an op-ed for the New York Times published Saturday, de Blasio wrote that the deal provided a solid foundation for up to 25,000 jobs and that the company should have been able to withstand a little bit of public criticism about income inequality. “The lesson here is that corporations can’t ignore rising anger over economic inequality anymore,” de Blasio wrote. “We see that anger roiling Silicon Valley, in the rocks hurled at buses carrying tech workers from San Francisco and Oakland to office parks in the suburbs.”
Maybe the real lesson is that de Blasio’s message hasn’t changed. Instead, ordinary New Yorkers are far less willing to slowly chip away at inequality. They want to take it head on.