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Clash on the Issues, Part I: Recruiting Amazon

This is the first in a series about the issue positions of candidates in District 1 based on the debate hosted by Friends of White Flint. Candidates clashed greatly on whether and how to pitch White Flint as Amazon’s future location. While all touted Montgomery County’s assets, there was enormous disagreement on providing tax incentives.

Jim McGee argued against doing anything to recruit Amazon to Montgomery. He’s outraged that Jeff Bezos makes “$35 billion per year” and opposes the siting of the equivalent of “two Pentagons” here. While correct that Bezos is wealthy, though missing that it’s for creating a world-beating company, this analysis ignores both Amazon’s duty to its shareholders or the reality of its economic power to command incentives. McGee admitted candidly that he was “probably not the right guy” to make the pitch to Amazon.

Bill Cook wants the jobs but is “not willing to prostrate” before Amazon. He’d tell Jeff Bezos that he doesn’t need the money and you already have a mansion in Kalorama. Cook says he knows that Amazon is coming to Washington but won’t be going to DC or Fairfax because “the schools suck are terrible.” Neither true nor the way I’d put it. The Washington area provides three excellent candidates but Cook’s attitude would assure that Amazon doesn’t come to Maryland.

In contrast to these wildly unrealistic, populist views of the world, Reggie Oldak countered that it would be great if Amazon came, pointing out astutely that we are giving tax breaks, not subsidies, and that collecting 90% of something is better than 100% of nothing. Additionally, we’d receive transit funding from the State. Indeed, the tax breaks are spaced over many decades based on Amazon spending many times more in salaries.

Several candidates, such as Andrew Friedson, pointed out the attractiveness of our location near DC and three airports along with our transit system, educated workforce and excellent school system. Citing Montgomery as a diverse and welcoming community, Pete Fosselman argued emphatically that the tax breaks don’t outweigh the “phenomenal” long-term benefits. Fosselman also pointed out the State’s new funding for Metro along our planned BRT system as real positives in our recruitment pitch.

Demonstrating her planning skills, Wellington also emphasized our great location and said agreed with Pete Fosselman’s support for the Council’s recent zoning changes shortening the comment period for the site, perceptively pointing out the most important discussions occur before the submission of the plan. She’d work to make sure that Amazon’s new building integrate well into the community.

Ana Sol Gutiérrez said “Let’s make a deal. We can both win” but did not outline the sort of deal she’d expect or support. Gutiérrez said that the Governor is enticing Amazon with tax credits but wanted to know what we would gain from Amazon, saying that it’s not about the jobs but the diversity. I suspect most would disagree with Gutiérrez and say that it is, in fact, about the jobs, pointing out that Amazon’s arrival here would provide opportunities for our diverse workforce and assure that all people hired by Amazon, or the many businesses its arrival would spawn, would be covered by Montgomery’s protections for employees.

Unfortunately, Dalbin Osorio was ill and unable to attend the debate, which was too bad as he was a lively and interesting candidate at the first debate.

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