Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Amazon has spent the past two decades conquering the world, but today it beat a stunning retreat from the New York leg of its HQ2 expansion.

Why it matters: The optics are terrible for Amazon. It dangled 50,000 jobs as a life preserver for America's mid-sized cities, then picked the D.C. area and NYC for the bulk of the winnings, only to balk at the prospect of a local insurgency over its lucrative incentives package.

  • The NYC deal was built — with the support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio — to avoid almost all scrutiny from other elected officials.
  • But it turns out one of the world's most valuable companies would rather fold than continue confronting the aggressive backlash from the city's community activists and municipal officials.
  • Amazon made no mention of the financial aspects of its deal in a blog post explaining its move, saying that a “number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project we and many others envisioned.”
  • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted: "Anything is possible: today was the day a group of dedicated, everyday New Yorkers & their neighbors defeated Amazon's corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world."

Behind the scenes: A source familiar with Amazon’s deliberations told Axios that serious conversations about pulling back on its New York plans started in the last two weeks, sometime after a second contentious City Council hearing with its executives.

  • The source said that another key moment in the company’s decision came when New York State Sen. Michael Gianaris, a critic of the deal, was nominated to a board in early February that would have had to have approved the project.
  • News that its commitment to New York was wavering broke in the press last week.
  • Amazon’s leadership made the final call to back off the project on Wednesday night, the source said.
  • Jay Carney, a former White House press secretary and Amazon’s top policy executive, called Cuomo and de Blasio this morning to deliver the news. The company went public hours later.

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