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Nassau County officials upset over Amazon's decision to abandon Queens headquarters

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Nassau County elected officials expressed disappointment after Amazon announced Feb. 14 that it would drop its plan to open part of its second headquarters in Long Island City, Queens. Richard Kessel, head of the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency, said the panel had hired a consultant to see how the county could have taken advantage of Amazon’s planned investment in the state.

“We were identifying businesses that could do business with Amazon and become part of its supply chain,” Kessel said in a Feb. 15 interview. “We were also looking to develop workforce, transit-oriented developments. We were ready to take advantage of the Amazon venture.”

He called the company’s decision to abandon Long Island City, which came after several Queens elected leaders criticized the deal, unfortunate. “I think Amazon would have been a home run for the county,” he said.

Those who opposed the Amazon deal, including freshman U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, said New York City and the state should not have agreed to provide $3 billion in tax breaks and other incentives to the company, owned by Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man. Amazon would have created 25,000 to 40,000 jobs over 10 years and provided $27 billion in new revenue for New York City and the state.

Kessel, responding to Amazon’s critics, said it’s sometimes necessary to provide such incentives. “People have to understand that if you want businesses to come here and flourish, you have to incentivize them,” he said. He said he did not expect Amazon to abandon the deal, and thought it would work out an agreement with its detractors. “I was very surprised,” he said.

In a statement, Amazon said, “While polls show that 70 percent of New Yorkers support our plans and investment, a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project we and many others envisioned in Long Island City.”

The company also announced that it would still build half of its second headquarters in northern Virginia and Nashville, and would not search for an alternative to Long Island City at this time.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who helped broker the deal with Amazon, expressed anger at Democrats in the State Senate for opposing the deal. State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat from Westchester, had appointed State Sen. Michael Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens, to a panel that could have vetoed the Amazon agreement. Gianaris represents Long Island City and vocally opposed Amazon coming there.

But Cuomo also directed some of his anger at Long Island Democrats, including State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, of Long Beach. In published reports, Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever said Kaminsky should have fought for the deal instead of pandering to local representatives. “Sen. Kaminsky cowered when he should have shown courage,” Lever said in her statement. “Now all of Long Island suffers.”

Kaminsky, though, supported the deal and in a statement called Lever’s comments absurd. “[The Long Island delegation] supported the deal publicly and privately — but we were not the ones at the table — leaders in Albany, New York City and at Amazon failed to come to a deal, and it is a shame,” he said in an email. “We will continue to fight for good jobs in our region and make sure that companies know that we are open for business.”

In a Feb. 14 statement, Kaminsky asked Amazon to build its new headquarters in Nassau County. “We offer close proximity to the New York Metropolitan area, a highly skilled workforce backed by a world-class research corridor, access to beautiful beaches and recreation and the political will to make HQ2 a reality on Long Island,” he said.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran also urged Amazon to reconsider its decision, and at the Baldwin Chamber of Commerce’s Feb. 13 meeting suggested she would welcome them at the Nassau Hub. “Two-thirds of Long Islanders supported this move because they knew it would be good for them, their families and their pocketbooks,” she said in a Feb. 14 statement. “Long Island was poised to reap enormous benefits from the move, which would have brought a flood of new high-wage jobs, business development and much-needed tax revenue to the entire region.”

At the Baldwin Chamber of Commerce, she said that elected leaders who opposed the agreement discouraged her. “I think there’s a lot of political pandering going on,” Curran said. “I don’t like it. I think we need to be more business-friendly in Nassau County. We need to be more business-friendly in New York state.”

Town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, a Republican from Wantagh, wrote in early January to Bezos and suggested that Amazon locate its headquarters in Hempstead, even naming Baldwin as an alternative to Long Island City. “This would be an ideal location for new development and is in the process of ongoing revitalization and zoning reforms,” she said in her letter.

Reacting to the pullout, she said the news was disgraceful. “From shopkeepers and small business people to entrepreneurs looking to invest in new housing for young people, the loss of this deal is a huge blow to keeping young people in New York,” King Sweeney wrote on social media.

Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen also urged the company to come to New York. “Hempstead Town, located approximately 15 miles away from Long Island City, would have benefited greatly from Amazon’s planned development and job creation package,” Gillen said in a statement.