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Analysis: Does Washington, D.C., area have edge in Amazon second HQ sweepstakes?

Mayor Rahm Emanuel toured the Amazon offices in downtown Chicago with general manager Samantha Singer and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, in July. File Photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

As Chicago awaits a site visit from the Amazon team charged with evaluating 20 finalists for the company’s second North American headquarters, handicapping the Amazon sweepstakes has become something of a parlor game.

If you were placing a bet, you’d have to give the Washington, D.C., area the edge.

The area landed three sites on Amazon’s short-list: Washington, D.C., northern Virginia and Montgomery County, Maryland.

Amazon’s billionaire founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is putting down roots in Washington, D.C. Five years after purchasing the Washington Post, Bezos recently plunked down $23 million in cash for Washington’s former Textile Museum with the intention of converting the 27,000 square foot building into a single-family home.

Holly Sears Sullivan, the head of worldwide economic development at Amazon Public Policy, is the former president of the Montgomery Business Development Corporation. Sullivan was quoted in Amazon’s news release announcing the 20 finalists for the prize known as HQ2.

On Tuesday, Deputy Gov. Leslie Munger and Deputy Mayor Robert Rivkin tried their best to ignore warning signs that appear to give the Washington, D.C. area the advantage.

“I know that Bezos has a home in the area. But nowhere in the RFP did I see anything close to the home where the CEO lives,” Munger said.

Rivkin said he has “no control over” the ties between Bezos, Sullivan and the Washington, D.C., area. But he said, “I believe they’re gonna make the decision based on the criteria they’ve put forward and, if they do that, Chicago will do very well.”

And even if Chicago loses the Amazon sweepstakes, it won’t be a total loss, Rivkin said.

“It’s great that we’ve worked together at a state, county and city level to really articulate and value the really important assets we have for businesses looking to grow,” Rivkin said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Bruce Rauner have joined forces on a $2.25 billion bid for Amazon’s second North American headquarters that includes ten sites. Only two of them are located in the suburbs.

Munger said she has no idea when the Chicago area’s site visit will take place or how many of the ten sites will get an up-close inspection.

But she said, “I would be surprised — assuming they come here — that they would want to visit all ten. I would expect they would give us a list of the sites they would be most interested in.”

After receiving the Connected City Award from Mobilitie Tuesday, Emanuel argued that Seattle, where Amazon’s first world headquarters is located, is Chicago’s “main competition” for the economic development plum of the century and its potential for 50,000 well-paying jobs.

“Nobody wakes up and says, ‘Let’s go get ourselves a second headquarters.’ So, what is making them realize they need another headquarters? They’re short workers. They’re blamed for the homeless. They have a housing problem. What are we looking for to scratch the itch that Seattle is not scratching?” Emanuel said.

“That doesn’t mean if it gets down to the final five that’s how it stays or the final eight or whatever the number is. But you have to address what they’re seeking because they don’t have it where they are. That’s still the benchmark we’re working against.”

The mayor was asked how companies such as Mobilitie can help Chicago land the Amazon prize.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel cuts a ribbon Tuesday to celebrate the opening of Snapsheet’s new headquarters at 1 N. Dearborn. The company pioneered virtual claims technology for the personal and commercial and insurance industries. (Photo by Fran Spielman).

“At the end of the day, they’ll talk to companies like you guys and other companies [and ask], ‘Is the mayor full of crap or is it real? Is the talent what he says? Is the work ethic what he says? Is the public transportation what he says. Is the housing what it is?’” Emanuel said.

“I’m pretty good at my spiel. I’ve got this down. I’ve been working at this for seven years. But, they’re gonna want to know whether reality matches up with the numbers. So they’re gonna come kick the tires. I don’t think they’re gonna tell us who they’re gonna talk to.”

Emanuel couldn’t resist a sarcastic jab at the competition.

Joining Chicago on the list of finalists are: Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Boston; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas; Denver; Indianapolis; Los Angeles; Miami; Montgomery County, Md.; Nashville; Newark, N.J.; New York City; Northern Virginia; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Raleigh, N.C.; Toronto; Washington D.C.

“I don’t want to speak ill of any other city on that 20. But, if I could get the cameras out of here, I would,” he joked.