The King Of Queens And Amazon

Michael Gianaris
Michael Gianaris
Credit: Office of Michael Gianaris

When Amazon announced that HQ2 would be located in Long Island City, New Yorkers cheered the 25,000 jobs it would bring. But in the backrooms of labor unions, some people were very unhappy.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos never met Senator Michael Gianaris, Deputy Majority Leader of the New York State Senate. But after the company announced that HQ2 would go to Long Island City, which happens to lie right smack in Gianaris’ District 12 in Queens, they got to know each other exceedingly well.

The message that Gianaris is sending to Bezos and CEOs is that there is a new sheriff in town. It will become a familiar refrain now that progressive Democrats are in ascendance after the Congressional election of 2018 amid the antipathy party members have for Republicans under Donald Trump. And for business generally, it is a harbinger of things to come. Chief executives may be asking if a ‘nobody’ like Gianaris could wipe the pavement with Jeff Bezos, what happens to the rest of us? This new breed of political mavericks is telling the big company bosses that they won’t kowtow to their money or prestige, or even the jobs they bring to town. How noble, right?

Might it help to look at some hard facts?

Senator Gianaris is a Harvard Law School graduate, a practicing member of the Eastern Orthodox church, and formerly a corporate lawyer — with Chadbourne and Parke, a top 25 New York firm whose clients are large, publicly held corporations, emerging growth companies, privately owned companies, and financial services. He left the corporate world to devote himself full time to politics. It appears he has learned the most important lesson, the care and feeding of donors.

Gianaris is a rising star of the new breed of politicians that came of age during the Clinton/Obama years. They are Democrat, populist, anti-business, and ethnically diverse, have immigrant roots, like his more famous counterpart, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents the neighboring district in the U.S. House of Representatives. But when it comes to raking in campaign money, Gianaris plays the game just like his forbears in the Boss Tweed era.

It explains why Gianaris would mount a rebellion against Amazon’s HQ2 plans despite the fact that it would employ 25,000 people in high paying jobs in his district. Once you look at the campaign contributions he received, you’ll find they are from the smoke-filled rooms where Gianaris does like to kowtow, to his labor union minders.

The outspoken state senator’s top contributors are unions, dozens of them, including the Communications Workers (ironically, of New Jersey, probably to disguise the local’s involvement), famously anti-business SEIU, Airbnb enemy #1 Hotel and Motel Trade Council, Transport Workers, and a construction executive that works in Long Island City. Gianaris sees them as a cheerleading squad who can help him get to higher office.

Just as I wrote in an earlier Amazon story that showed how labor unions pilloried the company for warehouse wages (which on investigation turned out to be the highest in the country), the unions will attack any sign of Amazon because they loathe the fact the company is so successful and non-union. Whether his constituents get jobs or not isn’t Gianaris’ main concern, it is keeping labor bosses happy, and he has certainly has proved he is good at that.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham is Chief Executive magazine's editor-at-large and a professor of leadership at Arizona State University/Thunderbird School of Global Management, where he has also endowed the Cunningham Global Fellowship for next-generation leaders. He also is the founder of Thunderbird Opinions poll of business trends. He was previously publisher of Forbes Magazine and CEO of Zip2 (founded by Elon Musk). Watch his YouTube interviews at Iconic Voices and connect on Twitter @CunninghamJeff and LinkedIn.