by Anya Kamenetz | Via Fast Company

In early October Andrew Rasiej, chairman of the New York Tech Meetup, and Kevin Ryan, chairman of Gilt Groupe, organized an off-the-record meet-and-greet for Democratic mayoral candidate Bill De Blasio and 70 to 80 members of New York City's tech community. By a couple of accounts, it wasn't the most successful speed date. De Blasio, the Democratic front-runner, came off like an out-of-touch, old-school lefty; for example, he referenced the City University of New York as a cutting-edge educational resource (not, say, General AssemblyHacker School, or Codecademy).

"It’s really hard for a lot of people in technology to understand whether Bill might be a good mayor," says Rasiej. Interviews with several members of the tech community suggest that whatever happens, the relationship between one of the city's economic powerhouses and the City of New York is about to get a lot more complicated.

The twelve-year reign of Michael Bloomberg coincided with the explosion of the New York City technology industry, which now boasts 262,000 workers contributing $30 billion in wages to the local economy. According to a Bloomberg report released in September, the tech and information sector is credited with New York reaching its highest share of the nation's private employment in 20 years.

Temperamentally, too, it was a match made in heaven between a billionaire tech and finance CEO-in-chief and the "Silicon Alley" investors and entrepreneurs who, during his reign, launched household-name companies like Etsy, Foursquare, Kickstarter, and more.

"The community for the first time found their mayor in Bloomberg," says Kane Sarhan, who as the founder of Enstitute works to place its apprentices with startups all over the city--from Warby Parker to Bit.ly. "[Bloomberg] launched all these great initiatives and made it a priority for the city to support this booming tech sector. The concern is that that could all go away. As a politician, you don’t hear Bill talking about our needs, our industry. He doesn’t have that track record or history of entrepreneurship."


Part of what the tech industry wants is programs and offices tailored to its needs and interests.

"I think in general, we’re worried a little bit," says Jon Oringer, founder and CEO of Shutterstock, a publicly traded company and one of New York City's biggest technology outfits. "Tech should definitely be one of the main pillars of the campaign of whoever is planning on running the city, and we haven't heard too much detail."

The list of tech industry initiatives pioneered by Mayor Bloomberg is long, from creating the position of Chief Digital Officer, to the Take the H.E.L.M. Grant and a series of open data hackathons across areas like education and sustainability. All of these initiatives have helped build relationships with the tech community.

Christina Wallace, director of Startup Institute New York, asked DeBlasio at the New York Tech Meetup whether these programs would be continuing. "He wouldn't give a solid answer," she told me. "He admitted tech is an important part of the New York City economy (and indeed we are second only to finance at this point, and for every tech job created four non-tech ones follow as a result), yet he wants to roll responsibility for our sector into the portfolio of one of the deputy mayors. To me, this sounds like the end of the Chief Digital Officer role. As for whether Take the H.E.L.M. will see a third class of grantees, it's anyone's guess (I'm glad we applied this year)."


Infrastructure, education, and the general business climate in New York City are top issues for Big Apple tech these days. Rasiej says that broadband provisioning in the city may be De Blasio's best chance to prove himself to the tech community. Under its contract with the city, Verizon is supposed to provide New Yorkers with universal fiber optic Internet access by next summer, but De Blasio's public advocate office released a report in April that shows less than half of the city currently has the hookup. "Broadband, I think, may become sort of the lightning rod issue to galvanize the tech community to understand why [De Blasio] deserves its support," says Rasiej.

On the other hand, DeBlasio has sided with the hotel unions against Airbnb, the "sharing economy" platform for short-term rentals, which is currently the target of a subpoena from the New York Attorney General, which is investigating violations of the city's hotel and short-term rental laws. "That’s a turnoff when the local government is going after a company that my friends and I love," says Sarhan. "That leaves a bad taste in your mouth."


Regardless of their business interests, most every New York techie I spoke with admitted they'd be voting Democratic when the time came--and that they support DeBlasio's advocacy for public education and economic rights.

In the end, the relationship between the new mayor and the technology industry may be exemplified by partnerships like P-TECH, the Pathways to Technology Early College High School. This is the public school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn that President Obama recently visited to highlight its six-year program that offers every student the chance to earn a technical associate's degree for free. IBM provided the academic blueprint and mentors for the school, a format that is spreading across the city and state with other corporate partners including SAP. Stan Litow, President of the IBM Foundation, says P-TECH is connected vitally to IBM's business interests.

"No company is going to prosper unless it’s connected to what cities need," he says. "If we can turn cities around and graduate a significantly larger number of students with marketable skills, that will benefit every company."

So maybe New York City's technology industry will come to meet De Blasio halfway if he's elected. Rasiej highlights education as a major issue where entrepreneurs need to roll up their sleeves and get involved. "So far the tech industry has been looking at this issue from the perspective of, what can you do for us? If the NYC tech community wants to make New York the #1 place in the world for tech and entrepreneurship to thrive, what they should really be saying is: what can we do to help you?"

The Emerging Internet Public: Andrew Rasiej at TEDxColumbiaSIPA

Andrew Rasiej is the Founder of Personal Democracy Media, which produces Personal Democracy Forum and other events about how the intersection of technology, politics, and civil society is empowering new levels of citizen engagement. He is also the Founder of MOUSE.org, focused on 21st century public education; Co-Founder of Mideastwire.com, which translates Arabic and Farsi news into English; and serves as Senior Technology Advisor to the Sunlight Foundation, an organization focused on using technology to help make government more transparent. He is a graduate of Cooper Union and a member of the Board of Directors of PopTech. In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)

Giving Politics a Hack - New York City's Growing Technology Sector Seeks to Influence the Mayoral Race

By Anjali Athavaley and Richard Morgan | The Wall Street Journal 


Mayor Michael Bloomberg addressing the New York Tech Meetup in 2011. The upcoming mayoral election will see the city's growing technology sector play a bigger role in politics.

New York's burgeoning technology sector wants to flex its newfound political muscle in this year's mayoral race, the first since digital companies coalesced in the city.

Leaders of the New York Tech Meetup, a 30,000-member group that draws professionals from start-ups and established tech companies in the city, are expected to approve a slate of policy proposals on Tuesday that will be reviewed by its rank-and-file before being presented to candidates running for citywide office, including those looking to succeed tech-friendly Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Among the potential policies: expanding low-cost broadband access, adding math and science classes in public schools and making government data more accessible.

"To make a difference in this and any other campaign, tech needs its Grover Norquist pledge," said Anil Dash, a New York Tech Meetup board member and entrepreneur, referring to the Club for Growth chief's no tax-increase promise. "It needs its list of demands."

The effort to inject a technology agenda into mayoral politics comes at a time when the industry is expanding in the city. The number of start-ups is growing, and larger publicly traded companies like Google Inc. and Facebook Inc. are increasing their footprints in Manhattan.

The meetup said its membership rose 30% in the past year, and the nonprofit group represents just a portion of the city's digital industries.

The city's prominent tech figures have already given to candidates expected to run in citywide elections this year, campaign-finance records show, a pattern likely to continue as the campaign season heats up.

Kevin Ryan, chief executive of online luxury retailer Gilt Groupe, contributed $1,000 to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a Democrat expected to vie for mayor, and gave the same amount to state Sen. Daniel Squadron and Reshma Saujani, two Democrats preparing to run for public advocate. Andrew Rasiej, chairman of New 

York Tech Meetup, gave $100 to mayoral hopeful Bill de Blasio. Fred Wilson, of Manhattan-based Union Square Ventures, has contributed the maximum of $4,950 to Mr. Squadron and Ms. Saujani.

Meanwhile, the city Campaign Finance Board is looking to get the technology industry directly involved in the election process itself. Officials have reached out to Google and other companies to ask if they would consider sponsoring a mayoral debate. A board spokesman said it wants to broadcast debates online and engage voters via social media. A Google spokesman said the debate proposal hadn't yet been discussed with city officials.

The industry has been concerned about finding a mayoral candidate as friendly to the tech sector as Mr. Bloomberg. During his tenure, the city has rolled out Wi-Fi in public parks, expanded broadband access for businesses and will open much more municipal data utilized by software developers by 2018.

The mayor's major tech legacy will be the establishment of an applied-sciences campus on Roosevelt Island. The city will contribute $100 million and 11 acres of public land toward the technology-oriented school, a joint venture between Cornell University and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology slated to open in 2017.

So far, by the measure of Mr. Bloomberg, the mayoral contenders haven't yet cracked the tech sector's political code.

"They're all quite interested in talking to the tech industry," said Mr. Wilson, whose venture-capital firm was an early backer of social-media companies like Twitter Inc. "If you really want to win the hearts and minds of the tech community, you'd have to learn our language."

The candidates, he added, aren't going to appeal to tech workers' wallets. "You're going to appeal to their worldview," he said.

The tech constituency encompasses a range of potential voters who remain unlikely to behave as a traditional bloc. "It's venture capitalists and 23-year-old graphic designers in Bushwick," Mr. Dash said. "It's labor and management. It's not traditional allies."

Proposals the tech industry is considering range from the appointment of a deputy mayor for information technology to tax incentives that are aimed at making the city more attractive to companies. But being heard in a city dominated by entrenched interests and established industries will be a challenge.

"It's not as if they're going to be the only well-heeled set of actors in the election arena," said Bruce Berg, a political-science professor at Fordham University. "It really depends upon how this tech group enters the conversation and how seriously they're taken amidst all the other noise of a mayoral campaign."

Mr. Rasiej, chairman of Tech Meetup, said the 2011 fight against antipiracy legislation was a "watershed moment" that brought more than 2,000 protesters, largely from the tech sector, to the city offices of U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. Congressional backers eventually abandoned the bills. "I expect that the city will recognize that technology is not a slice of the pie—it's the pan," Mr. Rasiej said.

Read Original Article: The Wall Street Journal