This week, New York Democrats will line up to vote for one of four candidates vying to replace state Attorney General Barbara Underwood. In doing so, they’ll also decide who will take on the responsibility of regulating the state’s technology industry – a sector that has become an integral part of New York’s economy and increasingly dependent on state policy makers.
Underwood, who was appointed as former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s replacement after he stepped down in May, has been an advocate for net neutrality on a national level, but has stayed relatively quiet on tech companies’ relationship with New York officials. Schneiderman, on the other hand, had a more complicated relationship with the tech community, taking on sports betting disruptors FanDuel and DraftKings and home-sharing service Airbnb during his tenure.
Now more than ever, the local tech community likely wants an attorney general who will have a proper understanding of the sector and the issues that affect it. Perhaps more importantly, the industry would want the next attorney general to be unaffected by the preferences of groups with roots in the city, and those groups’ relationships with city officials (see: the recent cap on the number of cars licensed by ride-hailing companies like Uber that have disrupted the well-connected New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission).
So how does each Democratic attorney general candidate fare in both categories? Considering the limited conversation around tech during the campaign, it’s hard to say definitively. But their past lives and their responses to a room full of NYC techies during a panel hosted by Axios, Tech:NYC and WeWork back in August provide some details.
Two of the four candidates have actually worked for a technology company. One of them, Leecia Eve, is a lobbyist for Verizon and on leave from her post as its vice president of government affairs for the tri-state region. She said during the panel that she understands “the role of technology better by far than (her) opponents,” alluding to her executive role at a telecommunications company, but her background also puts her in a complicated position. She, like all three of her opponents, presents herself as a strong proponent of net neutrality. “My company, Verizon, has never engaged and never will engage in paid prioritization,” she said at the WeWork panel in August. “No blocking. No throttling.” But Verizon has been called out for that exact offense – and against California firefighters who thought they had unlimited data, no less. Democratic senators in Washington have since asked the FCC to investigate, and while Eve isn’t directly responsible, it does speak to the complicated nature of her loyalties.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, meanwhile, was the chief operating officer of a New York-based software startup called Kiodex, Inc. from 2000 to 2003. He’s able to speak fluently about the importance of H1B visas to tech companies and of innovation to New York City, spoke most vehemently against the Uber cap during the panel, and told eager attendees more than once that the attorney general should be their partner. He displayed a strong understanding of the issues associated with trying to marry emerging tech with an established (sometimes antiquated) governing system.
“I’ve spent 10 years practicing law in this city … but it doesn’t mean you can’t stand on your own two feet and answer a simple question like whether you support the cap or not,” Maloney said. “Because what’s really going on with that question is whether you support the old school political bosses and political interests in this city or whether you support innovation and you are willing to deal with the disruptions and manage them as you go, because if you put an artificial cap on it, you are going to retard the creative atmosphere that all of you are working so hard to create it. And I’m opposed to it.”
On the other hand, it would be risky to assume that the congressman would prioritize these issues should he win, completely unaffected by the needs or wants of outside groups. “Maloney my guess is probably personally the most pro-tech of that group, so that’s good,” political strategist and venture capitalist Bradley Tusk told City & State. “But you know, he’s also very political.”
With the exception of net neutrality, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James has been perhaps the least committal of the candidates on tech issues. She said she thinks Uber raises a lot of social justice issues but “disagree(s) with the approach of the vote (and) think(s) there should have been more analysis.”
On data privacy, she said she believes in government access to open data to address social justice issues in New York, says it’s important that business disclose what data they gather, and that personal data not be abused and “is clearly protected.”
If Maloney appeared to be the most informed candidate, James came away looking as the least. And aside from presiding over the New York City Council during votes like the one on the Uber cap, her background has little to no connection to the tech industry.
Zephyr Teachout was the only one of the four candidates has explicitly come out in support of the Uber cap bill. “I support the Uber cap bill,” she said on Twitter. “We need to reduce congestion, break up concentrated power, and support drivers. Too many drivers have been squeezed out by big tech companies that steal all the money – and the dignity – from drivers.”
She avoided weighing in on the Uber cap during the WeWork panel, although she was asked many times to take a side. Instead, she repeated the need for an AG to prioritize, outlining her own priorities as being voting, corruption, campaign finance reform and mass incarceration – basically, nothing tech-related. She spoke out forcefully against monopolies too, and expressed her concern about the concentration of tech in New York City.
But when it comes to enforcing the law, Teachout – an associate law professor at Fordham Law School who has never been in elected office or had any company affiliation – gives the tech community reason to think she would regulate fairly. An added advantage? Tim Wu, the man who coined the term “net neutrality,” was her running mate during her 2014 gubernatorial campaign, and her allegiance to net neutrality doesn’t stop there. She told the panel attendees that she “did a crowd-sourced brief defending the open internet” – bonus points for tech lingo.
Voting Today Can Get You A Bunch Of Free Stuff
Today is election day in the US and with comes not only an opportunity to exercise your civic responsibility, right and privilege, but also to get a bunch of free food and services. Although ideally people would vote even if they didn’t get a free side of fries in return, it’s good that people are going to get to the polls somehow.
Uber and Lyft are both offering discounts today, taking their political rivalry to the next level. Uber, you may remember, has been boycotted after showing inadvertent support for Trump.
The company declined to participate in a work stoppage that New York taxi drivers were engaged in to protest Trumps travel ban. Lyft became the service of choice for many people after the #deleteuber movement took hold. Now, both companies are offering deals on rides to the polls.
Uber’s is a discount only for first-time users if they put in a special election day code and Lyft is giving across the board 50% discounts for those going to vote.
State Assembly Candidate from Bay Ridge Makes Ends Meet by Driving for Uber
Some politicians go home after a debate. State Assembly Candidate Adam Baumel gets in his car and does a shift with the ride share app Uber.
Baumel is running against incumbent Nicole Malliotakis to represent parts of Staten Island and Brooklyn. He started driving for the rideshare startup Uber in May 2016 while getting his bachelor’s degree through the G.I. Bill at CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
“I knew there was no guarantee I’d have a job immediately with a Political Science degree,” said Baumel, who moved from Harlem to Bay Ridge in May 2016, “So I made sure to set myself up to make income in some other way.”
Not long after, Baumel joined Stacey Pfeffer Amato’s state assembly campaign while continuing to supplement his income with Uber and has continued driving since. He said it gives him a particular perspective into what his potential constituents face.
“It shows I’m not just talk,” said Baumel, who has also driven for Lyft in the past. “I’m about the action that would benefit people who live the same sort of lifestyle I do.” He said he supports the legislation recently passed that would set a minimum wage for drivers of for-hire vehicles.
Baumel also said he identifies as an organized labor candidate and is frustrated by the amount of money politicians on both sides of the aisle have taken from union busters. “New York is a union state, and I see a lot of elected officials not acting like it.”
As an Uber driver in New York, he is in good company. The city has about 80,000 drivers who work for app-based dispatch companies like Uber or Lyft, according to a study co-authored by The New School and the University of California, Berkeley.
Baumel started driving a wheelchair-accessible vehicle nine months in and said it helped him to better understand the challenges many New Yorkers face when moving about the city.
Only 22 percent of New York subway stops are wheelchair accessible. Even then, the inefficiency of those stations keeps some wheelchair users from using them altogether. This is a hot topic in Bay Ridge, where the city recently renovated a station without making it accessible.
Liam McCabe, the president of the newly founded Verrazzano Republicans Club and a communication specialist at the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission, drove for Uber last year during his own campaign for city council. He said he left his previous job working for Rep. Dan Donovan to avoid the possible conflict of interests working for an elected official might cause.
“I thought it was good to separate myself, and Uber allowed me to do that,” said McCabe.
Uber-driver candidates can also boast an endorsement that non-drivers cannot: their ratings. “My Uber rating is actually something I’m very proud of, Baumel said. “It’s a 4.96, and I’m about to hit 5,000 rides. I’ve been doing this for a while.”
“I think it’s kind of cool,” said Soha Said, who works at Mando Foods Mini Mart in Bay Ridge. “He’s just like us!”
Voters, You’re Being Manipulated
When the bigot who shot up a Pittsburgh synagogue arrived at the local hospital emergency room to be treated for his injuries, he was shouting, “Kill all the Jews.” He was then promptly treated, very professionally, by three Jews.
The hospital president, Jeffrey K. Cohen, a member of the congregation that had been attacked, met there with the suspect to ask respectfully how he was doing. (I try to avoid using the names of mass shooters, to avoid giving them attention they sometime crave.)
“He asked me who I was,” Dr. Cohen told ABC News. “I said, ‘I’m Dr. Cohen, the president of the hospital.’”
Side by side with the worst of humanity we find the best. And in Pittsburgh, there was more of the best. The Muslim community promptly raised $214,000 for the victims of the synagogue shooting and offered to provide security for Jews in the area.
HIAS, the Jewish agency whose assistance for refugees infuriated the synagogue attacker (he blamed Jews for bringing in brown people in the caravan from Central America), has been flooded with donations, many from non-Jews. As my own feeble way to challenge hatred, I donated to HIAS on Saturday and suggested to my newsletter readers that they might as well. If we all find our own ways to light a candle, we can drive out the enveloping darkness.
These expressions of our shared humanity are important in and of themselves, but also as a way of fighting back at the fear and loathing that are being weaponized in this election cycle. One example: the breathless fear-mongering about the caravan still almost 1,000 miles away in Mexico.
Let’s be blunt: Voters, you are being manipulated.
President Trump has described the caravan as an “invasion of our country,” and Fox News referred to it as an invasion more than 60 times in October, along with 75 times on Fox Business Channel, according to CNN.
This should be a nonstory. As I’ve written, most in the shrinking caravan will never enter the United States and they would amount to less than one-tenth of 1 percent of immigrants this year. In just the period of the caravan’s journey, another 16,800 Americans may die from drugs — a real threat!
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