Thomas Friedman had been touting the College Board’s findings that proficiency in two codes, the U.S. Constitution and computer science, most highly correlate with success in college and career. Reading this, and having just finished teaching a con law course at alma mater, H.L. congratulated “Pat,” a wonderful student, clearly talented in both codes.
I envisioned Pat moving to Long Island City and taking one of the 25,000 jobs at Amazon’s HQ2 with an AVERAGE yearly salary of $150,000. HL’s fondness extended beyond Pat to that Queens neighborhood, where in the 1960s his Dad owned a construction materials business. It was next to the massive Daily News plant and from age 12 to 19, HL labored most weekends and every summer earning enough to pay for the same college where Pat matriculated 51 years later. Most days back then HL, would take lunch outside, gazing at the United Nations directly across the East River, while recalling even earlier childhood, his other Queens neighborhood, Kew Gardens Hills that was home to hundreds of U.N. diplomats. Turbaned and dashikied they had come to America in the U.N.’s early idealistic days for what was considered a nascent government presiding over a world at peace.
That pink and pleasant nostalgia lasted exactly two days, when Amazon pulled out with a polite statement. It was quickly followed by Trump-like rudeness, delusion and falsity, voiced by several New York electeds. Most notably Mayor Bill de Blasio, State Senator Mike Gianaris and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Let us not praise their infamous memes.
Mayor de Blasio was co-architect of the Amazon deal, along with Governor Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo and de Blasio were responsible for the degree to which other electeds and the public were excluded from the process. Nevertheless, de Blasio pitifully striving to maintain his juvenile progressive bona fides, attacked Amazon for refusing to renegotiate the deal he had struck with them. Amazon declined to do that amidst the auto-da-fé atmosphere that quickly replaced the initial euphoria that had greeted the deal. HQ2 would have been de Blasio’s only major accomplishment as mayor. But the politician who was elected in part by promising that New York would emulate the practices of “progressive capitals like Cleveland” quickly reverted to the sloganeering and identity politics that have dominated his tenure as mayor.
State Senator Gianaris, a perennial wannabe (Attorney General, Comptroller, Governor) once telephoned HL with the opening salutation, “Hi, I’m Mike Gianaris, the leading candidate to replace Eliot Spitzer as Attorney General.” Response: “No you’re not.” Not top five, and not even on the primary ballot for a job filled by Andrew Cuomo, who later would become governor. And as such, like his father Governor Mario Cuomo, Andrew made sure that the state senate stayed under Republican control, despite New York being majority Democratic on January 1, 1983, when Mario took office, and overwhelmingly so on January 1, 2019 after Andrew reluctantly acquiesced to majority rule. Karmic justice for Cuomo was swift, when just six weeks later the newly Democratic-led state senate helped kill HQ2, with Gianaris and new majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins leading the assault.
We wonder how welcome Gianaris will be in Long Island City, where he attended high school and future graduates would have filled high paying jobs at HQ2. Queens residents have long memories. They effectively terminated the political career of once and future king, John Lindsay, for just failing to promptly plow after a big snowstorm. The Gianaris quest for statewide office is over. Seventy percent of New Yorkers supported HQ2. Presumably because in their own high schools they learned that the $30 billion in projected tax revenues from HQ2 was more than the $3 billion in tax incentives granted to Amazon and conditioned on delivery of very specific outcomes.
For the entire five months of her celebrity, Representative Ocasio-Cortez has demonstrated profound ignorance of basics and fudged facts about her story (see H.L. 58). It’s not clear whether her opposition to HQ2 partakes of one or both of these character flaws or is just more of her sophomoric drivel. “Scraps” is how she characterized the average $150K yearly wages that HQ2 employees would have earned. While celebrating HQ2s demise, Ocasio-Cortez attacked Amazon for its exploitation of its workers. She did that in the wake of Amazon’s November 1, 2018 minimum wage of $15 per hour for all 350,000 of its workers, including temporary employees.
The cable news networks are already declaring that “this and/or that will be the wedge used against Dems in 2020 by Trump.” Their prediction that “Kavanaugh and caravans” would provide the wedge last November and the short attention span of the electorate makes these predictions a dubious exercise. But one thing is certain. The demise of HQ2 in Queens and the role of these politicians will be remembered on November 3, 2020 and long after.