Image: Shutterstock

Virginia legislators are working to scrub a Confederate leader’s name from the highway where Jeff Bezos, who is already upgrading his $23 million Washington, D.C., mansion, plans to spend billions on its new suburban headquarters.

On Tuesday, Amazon picked Arlington’s Crystal City as one of its two new HQ2 locations, with space for a purported 25,000 employees. The site is labeled “National Landing” in recruiting material from Northern Virginia governments, on the Arlington, Virginia, government’s website, in Amazon’s press release, and in the pages of the Bezos-owned Washington Post.

That name was news for many local residents, who had never heard of “National Landing” before this week. And if local officials get their way, another change is coming soon: a new name for Jefferson Davis Highway, the main thoroughfare through Amazon’s newest neighborhood.

Arlington County officials began working last summer to scrap the Confederate leader’s name following the City of Alexandria’s move to jump-start the process of renaming Route 1 as “Richmond Highway” in June 2018. Amazon toured the location a few months earlier, according to the Post, before entering late-stage talks to move to National Landing this fall.

Tim Lovain has been involved in both recruiting Amazon to Virginia and the attempt to remove Jefferson Davis’ name from Route 1—though he says the two efforts are not connected. Lovain, a lobbyist at Crossroads Strategies (CRS) and an Alexandria City councilman, is part of the Northern Virginia team that lured Amazon to the District suburbs.

Lovain is a member of the Alexandria Transportation Commission and other transit task forces and boards, and he represents public sector transit companies in his lobby practice. He said he didn’t recall Northern Virginia’s recruitment of Amazon entering discussions about the Jefferson Davis Highway name-change efforts.

“The idea hadn’t crystallized yet about Crystal City,” Lovain said, saying it wasn’t concerns about Amazon that initially sparked moves to find a new name for the highway.

Lovain, who has lobbied Congress on behalf of Amazon’s home state of Washington, said he did not believe his firm had represented Amazon—though it might like to—and he proffered that the firm’s Washington-state ties could be a useful “arguing point” to win the company’s business in the future.

Earning any portion of Amazon’s lobbying work could mean a windfall for any influencer. The company set a second-consecutive quarterly record on federal lobbying spending this fall, according to a Bloomberg analysis. Amazon spent $3.63 million to influence federal officials last quarter, up from its $3.47 million expenditure from the previous quarter, according to filings in the U.S. Senate’s Lobbying Disclosure Act database.

A key target of Amazon’s influence spending amid the 2018 midterm elections appears to have been the Department of Defense’s desirous $10 billion cloud computing contract, dubbed the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure Cloud program, aka “JEDI Cloud.” King & Spalding partner J.C. Boggs looks to have won a portion of Amazon’s lobbying work on the matter, having netted $40,000 from Amazon Web Services, Inc., the company’s cloud-computing-focused subsidiary, for this year’s third quarter, according to a lobbying disclosure filed with Congress. Boggs did not immediately respond to requests for comment on his work.

Lovain said he doesn’t remember the Pentagon contract coming up in Northern Virginia’s pitch to Amazon. He cited Virginia Tech’s plans to build a $1 billion graduate campus in Alexandria next door to HQ2 as especially attractive to Amazon, which he said was drawn to the D.C.-area’s highly educated workforce.

The D.C. metropolitan area’s existing transit system was also appealing to Amazon, Lovain said, compared to other possible sites without mass public transit systems. Lovain acknowledged that the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority has “troubles,” but added, “We’re working through them.” (WMATA’s Metro service between Crystal City and nearby Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport was shut off between Friday and Tuesday due to “track work.”)

Amazon’s arrival, coupled with Virginia Tech’s billion-dollar expenditure, is also accompanied by an anticipated $1.85 billion investment in the region over 20 years from the commonwealth, according to Virginia officials. The investment reportedly includes nearly $200 million for improving transportation in Northern Virginia, particularly to Route 1 and WMATA’s Metro, which could provide a boon to Lovain’s business.

Lovain, who chose not to run for re-election in Alexandria in 2018, is not just a booster for the region, but also for his own profession. “Good lobbyists can actually make democracy work better,” Lovain wrote in a 2009 column. “Lobbying has been part of American politics since the Pilgrims. It is as American as apple pie.”