Mega misses — or wins?

With no Olympics or Amazon, we’ll just have to do our jobs

LIKE A HIGH SCHOOL KID  working to move past an unrequited crush, Boston told Amazon it just wasn’t that into the e-commerce giant anyway.

Mayor Marty Walsh said he was proud to have made it to the “short list” in the HQ2 sweepstakes, but added, “our future will not be defined by a single company.”

Gov. Charlie Baker was on board with the effort to bring Amazon here — but he was not willing to shower the company with the billions of public dollars that New York and the Washington, DC, areas evidently have nothing better to do with.

Then there was yesterday’s Globe editorial, which questioned whether Boston was ever really a serious contender, or just part of a massive, cynical PR move by Jeff Bezos to amp up the bidding war. Of the switch from a search for a enormous single second headquarters to the news that the second headquarters would be divided into two locations, the paper said, “Does anyone believe Amazon only recently made up its mind on the scope of the project?”

The whole Amazon circus carried an echo of Boston’s ill-fated dance with the US Olympic Committee over hosting the 2024 Summer Games. Of course, the two were hugely different: One promised 50,000 high-paying jobs and billions of dollars in investment while other promised a two-week sugar high — with the decidedly fuzzy idea of long-term benefits attached to it. But both prizes, it was argued, could help focus the region on big things that we need to get done anyway, namely, improve our rickety public transit system and address a growing housing shortage and affordability problem.

There were plenty of people arguing that an Amazon win would be a loss for those struggling on economic margins here — or stuck in worsening commutes. Now the decidedly mixed blessing of hosting the mail-order behemoth is someone else’s.

Seattle native Alaric Dearment, in an op-ed in yesterday’s Daily News, offered a less-than-glowing preview of coming attractions. “The insipid pseudo-culture of affluence and skyrocketing housing costs that now engulf Seattle testify to Amazon’s effect on the city and are ill omens for New York, especially Queens,” he wrote.

The photoshopped front page of yesterday’s New York Post showed a laughing Bezos holding bags of money as he looks out the open door of a helicopter over New York. Local elected officials in Queens were hardly forming a welcome wagon, as they ripped the news that Amazon was landing there. A Post editorial finds little to cheer about in the deal, with the city and state ponying nearly $3 billion in grants, credits, and other incentives to lure a company headed by the richest guy on the planet. “Sure looks like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos just fleeced Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio as rubes,” it says. The Times may not employ the same colorful tabloid talk, but its conclusion in an editorial today is the same: While the two leaders made good on their vow to land Amazon, “they seem to have done so by overpaying.”

In the Washington area, the company’s arrival is viewed with many of the same hopes — and fears — that attended the Boston bid. The hopes include a redoubled commitment to improvements to region’s Metro subway system. But any faltering on transit upgrades, reports the (Bezos-owned) Washington Post could push the thousands of new tech workers to embrace an already-exploding transportation mode that only exacerbates area traffic — Uber and Lyft. Meanwhile, the influx of thousands of new high-paid tech workers can only have one effect on the DC region’s already soaring housing costs.

As for Boston’s Olympic dream, which looked a lot more like a public-debt nightmare, it increasingly looks like we were onto to something when decided (at the 11th hour) to take a pass on that honor — complete with its required “public guarantee” to cover all cost overruns. Calgary voters this week turned thumbs down in an advisory vote on that city hosting the 2026 Winter Olympics. With that, the CBC reports, competition has dwindled from eight would-be bidders to two.

Whether the Olympics or Amazon, the goal always seemed to get regions sucked in by the bright, shiny new object — without worrying about all the potential downsides of the deal.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

“Just as with the Olympics, this was a ‘gift’ Boston didn’t really need in the first place,” Jon Keller said yesterday of the Amazon sweepstakes.

What to do now?

Globe columnist Adrian Walker offered a novel thought yesterday to those banking on an Amazon win to force a reckoning with transit and housing needs. “[I]nstead of waiting for a powerful corporation to push us to fix problems, we should, instead, do what we know we need to do,” he wrote. “With the chase over, we can get back to the business of making Boston even better for the people who are already here.”