Amazon Sends a Message to America’s Cities

The Amazon Urban Campus in Seattle.Paul Gordon/ZUMA

After three months of steadily growing vitriol, Amazon has decided to kill its proposed New York headquarters:

Amazon on Thursday canceled its plans to build an expansive corporate campus in New York City after facing an unexpectedly fierce backlash from some lawmakers and union leaders, who contended that a tech giant did not deserve nearly $3 billion in government incentives.

The company’s decision is a major blow for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had set aside their differences to bring the company to New York. But it was at least a short-term win for insurgent progressive politicians led by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose upset victory last year occurred in the area where Amazon had planned its site. Her win galvanized the party’s left flank, which mobilized against the deal, and on Thursday she seemed to revel in the company’s retreat.

I have seen many takes on this, but I haven’t yet seen the one that I think is correct: Amazon did this to send a message. Public outcries over huge development projects are hardly a big surprise, after all. Amazon must have been prepared for brickbats and legal battles no matter where it went. But they didn’t need New York all that badly, and pulling out this fast makes it clear to other cities that Amazon plays hardball. If they decide to relocate their HQ2 to, say, Chicago, you can bet that the City of Broad Shoulders will tread very lightly before letting complaints get out of hand.


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