The Robert Moses Nexus to Amazon's Cancellation of Queens HQ2
As noted in a New York Times analysis of Amazon's cancellation of HQ2 on Valentines Day, "Amazon could have worked with the deal’s biggest champions, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, to push past the limited public hostility," writes Marc J. Dunkelman, a fellow at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, and the author of “The Vanishing Neighbor: The Transformation of American Community."
However, even if a deal had been reached between the governor, the mayor, and Jeff Bezos, Dunkelman writes that "no amount of leverage is capable of overcoming resistance from a small star chamber in Albany known as the Public Authorities Control Board. Without unanimous support from the three voting members of the PACB, Amazon’s plan was dead in the water."
More specifically, Dunkelman points to an appointment to the board earlier this month.
"On [Feb. 4], the New York state Senate announced that it was appointing state Sen. Michael Gianaris [D] to represent the legislative body on the Public Authorities Control Board, reported Annie McDonough for City & State New York on Feb. 5.
How did this board acquire so much power?
Public Authorities Control Board and Robert Moses
By then, the public was seething and New York seemed to be on the decline. The PACB is one of a raft of new tools established in the wake of Moses’ reign to check the power of government to build new public works and other redevelopment projects.
To be sure, the board was created by Gov. Hugh Carey [D] in 1976 "in the aftermath of a state fiscal crisis in which the New York state Urban Development Corporation and the New York state Housing Finance Agency were thought to have overstretched themselves and incurring too much debt in building projects, according to a former member of the board," wrote McDonough for City & State
Included in Dunkelman's "raft of new tools" to check government power are:
- New York City Mayor Robert F. Wagner creating the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1965 in response to the loss of Pennsylvania Station in 1963.
- President Nixon's signing the National Environmental Policy Act in 1969 to establish an elaborate environmental review process for major projects to safeguard the environment.
- Strengthening of NYC zoning laws enabling residents to slow or even kill projects.
This is really the meat of Dunkelman's essay – that laws and boards have been given so much power in the aftermath of the physical destruction caused by Moses' projects that even good development can be halted too easily.
Moses’ mark often left a scar. But for policymakers—and particularly for progressives whose aim it is to use public power for the public good—the hurdles erected in his wake make the process of doing great things next to impossible. The scar tissue built over the past 50 years to prevent the second coming of Moses stops good projects as well as bad.
For example, "[f]ormer New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plans for a West Side Stadium were dashed in 2005, when then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver [and now-convicted felon] – who sat on the PACB – voted against the project," notes McDonough.
Similarly, Dunkelman writes that a "lone state senator had the single-handed power to kill the deal altogether. On this one issue, Gianaris’ 'no' was more powerful than every 'yes' standing behind the deal."
However, McDonough pointed out in her comprehensive article on the PACB and Giarnaris' appointment that the board had control over only $500 million, or one-sixth of the controversial $3 billion incentive package offered to Amazon. While the senator and the board no doubt figured into Amazon's decision, it may be a stretch to blame, or credit, depending on one's perspective, the outcome on them.
- New York
- Community / Economic Development
- Government / Politics
- History / Preservation
- Urban Development
- Long Island City
- New York City
- Landmarks Preservation Commission
- National Environmental Policy Act
- New York State Legislature
- Public Authorities Control Board
- West Side Stadium
- Zoning Laws
- Brown University
- Mayor Michael Bloomberg
- Gov. Hugh Carey
- Marc J. Dunkelman
- Michael Gianaris
- Robert Moses
- Annie McDonough
- Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller
- Sheldon Silver