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Amazon hires D.C.’s economic development chief for regional role

Brian Kenner is leaving the Bowser administration to work for the tech company

Alyssa Nassner

The District’s top economic development official is departing the D.C. government to work for tech giant Amazon, the Washington Business Journal reports. Brian Kenner, the deputy mayor for planning and economic development under Mayor Muriel Bowser, will become a senior manager at the Seattle-based company’s policy outfit located in the nation’s capital.

Kenner was a key figure in D.C.’s unsuccessful bid to lure Amazon to the city, with his office helping to lead the Bowser administration’s “Obviously DC” campaign. That bid featured a number of taxpayer-funded incentives for Amazon, including accelerated permit approvals for the company’s second headquarters and the establishment of an “Amazon Ambassador” position within the mayor’s office to facilitate the company’s projects. While Amazon opted to move its “HQ2” project to neighboring Northern Virginia ultimately, the value of the city’s offerings was estimated to be worth between $488 million and $1.05 billion “through 2034.”

“Some of the issues I’ll be working on will be very familiar to me,” Kenner told the Business Journal, adding that Amazon approached him about the new gig roughly a month ago. “I’ll just be doing those on behalf of Amazon in the region.” A spokeswoman for Bowser’s office said Kenner’s last day is July 2. She provided the following written statement by the mayor:

“For four and a half years, Brian has been an invaluable leader at DC Government. In 2015, I tasked Brian with increasing our stock of affordable housing, creating DC jobs for DC residents, and increasing tax revenues. To the benefit of the District and our residents, he delivered. From Walter Reed to St. Elizabeths to the Franklin School to Skyland to The Wharf, Brian was able to move forward big projects across all eight wards. Together, we have produced and preserved thousands of affordable housing units across all eight wards, driven down unemployment, and developed DC into the capital of inclusive innovation. Brian is an incredible public servant, leader, and coach, and we wish him the best.”

A spokeswoman for Amazon confirmed that Kenner will begin at the company next month. In a statement, Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, linked Kenner’s hiring to the company’s HQ2 plans. “Our new headquarters presents an opportunity for us to build a foundation for regional collaboration and engagement,” Huseman said. “We will rely on Brian Kenner’s expertise in the region and in economic development to help us do that.”

Before being tapped as Bowser’s economic development chief, Kenner worked as chief of staff for two previous D.C. deputy mayors: Victor Hoskins, under Mayor Vince Gray, and Valerie Santos, under Mayor Adrian Fenty. (Hoskins now serves as director of economic development for Arlington County, future home to Amazon HQ2.) Kenner’s office oversees the disposition of public property, efforts to diversify the District’s economy, and tax deals. His government salary as of March 2019 was more than $211,000 a year, public records say.

With respect to D.C.’s Amazon bid, some residents criticized Kenner and his office over how the administration’s proposal was crafted and revealed in fall 2017. At one point during the company’s headquarters-selection process, he and Bowser fine-dined with Amazon bigwigs.

This post has been updated.