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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

‘Growth opportunities’ for Amazon

City Hall emails on HQ2 and Amazon in NYC.

Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

It has been two months since Amazon announced its big Long Island City HQ2 expansion and the tax incentives that came with it, but the furor from some corners has continued.

See the scrum of City Council members, state legislators and union representatives who gathered in Manhattan on Monday to criticize Amazon along with politicians from Seattle, the company’s hometown. That’s just the latest in political organizing against the Amazon deal.

Amazon apparently felt enough heat to publish an advertisement in city tabloids this weekend promising to be a good neighbor, bringing jobs on jobs.

Things looked more serene in private emails between Mayor Bill de Blasio and a top Amazon executive back in November, when the two assured each other of how successful the deal had gone, despite more than a week of early outcry from local politicians.

“We’re very glad everything worked out, and you’ll be part of the NYC community. Much to discuss about how we can start working together, particularly in Long Island City,” wrote de Blasio in a warm welcome to New York.

He signed off the email, “Best, Bill.”

The executive, Jeff Wilke, had written that the company was thrilled about “growth opportunities” to come.

The emails were part of a 418-page trove released to amNewYork through a state Freedom of Information Law request for communications between the mayor’s office and Amazon since the company announced its search for a second home.

Parts of the cache show how de Blasio worked to keep the high-stakes deal under wraps, his aides suggesting a meeting with Amazon at Gracie Mansion that wouldn’t go on the mayor’s public calendar.

But much of the back and forth involves Amazon simultaneously pitching the city on various aspects of its sprawling business. Growth opportunities, indeed.

There was the “Diaper Bank” partnership Amazon proposed in 2017 to provide diapers to “young parents in need.” Amazon would deliver diapers to a locker that could be opened with a code, which the city would provide to the parents.

There was the marketplace tool “Amazon Business,” pitched over 2017 and 2018 to the city’s Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise program.

And of course there was Amazon Web Services, the powerful fiefdom within Amazon that provides vital storage and processing power to a wide range of entities. Its use can feel ubiquitous. Testimonials on Amazon’s website say that Capital One, Expedia, and NASA have all dabbled.

Mayoral spokeswoman Jane Meyer said the diaper and M/WBE partnerships never materialized.

But the city has various contracts with Amazon Web Services. One for the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications started in July 2017, costing $4,500,000 through 2020.

NYC’s conversations with Amazon as indicated in these emails spanned a wide range of subjects, from artificial intelligence to automated vehicles.

That’s not surprising given Amazon’s reach into our lives. What started as a way to send books by mail is now an empire that entertains, feeds, clothes, and grows, among other functions.

That’s one explanation for the concerns that some New Yorkers have about the city and state’s invitation to Amazon to get even bigger, even closer.

The powerful company has a way of making itself almost impossible not to use. See de Blasio himself, who in 2017 proudly claimed, “I have never ordered from Amazon. That’s no disrespect to Amazon. God bless Amazon. I believe in bricks and mortar.”

His office, though, apparently couldn’t resist. It is, after all, so easy. The FOIL documents include the city’s 2017 request to get a tax refund on its Amazon orders for a few official government purchases. Sellers included “Prime Office Supplies” and “Top Grade Goods.”

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