With Super Tuesday looming, President Obama cut a swath through New York City last night, attending four separate fundraisers, beginning his evening in a Manhattan penthouse. The big ticket events of the night both happened in Union Square, starting with a $35,000-a-plate dinner at ABC Kitchen, run by celebuchef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and then moving onto ABC Carpet & Home showroom, where Aziz Ansari made a special appearance and both The Roots and Ben Folds put on a show for the “young, hip-looking crowd.”
In seven hours, he managed to raise $5 million.
The press has focused on high-profile attendees like Deepak Chopra and Russell Simmons, as well as the turnout from the upper echelons of Wall Street. Indeed, Republicans would probably love to make stumping in front of an $18,000 piece of driftwood this season’s $400 haircut. But under the radar, New York techies also showed up–and paid up!–for the Democratic cause, and the ancillary bonus of getting to watch Questlove bang on some drums.
For all their willingness to weigh in on what the federal government is doing wrong, direct party affiliation isn’t something one hears that often in tech circles. (There are exceptions: TheLadders CEO Marc Cenedella planned on running for a Republican Senate seat; Chris Dixon wondered yesterday if he lived in a “left-wing bubble.”) It can be hard to tell, for example, whether an anti-SOPA advocate is a Libertarian or a Democrat. Or whether a disruption-chasing venture capitalist might be a fiscal conservative who votes GOP.
So it was interesting to see names like FirstMark Capital’s Lawrence Lenihan (alongside AHAlife’s Shauna Mei) on the host list for the dinner. Ryan Williams, a server engineer for Foursquare, checked-in on his company’s app to the $1,000-a-ticket show at ABC Carpet, along with Birchbox’s Dan Zeehandelaar. Others in attendance included Potential.ly founder Joel Smernoff, along with 212 Media‘s Jeremy Goldberg, a sizable contingent from LocalResponse, Cava Capital general partner Geoff Schneider, kbs+ Ventures senior associate Taylor Davidson and his fiance Sloane Berrent, Lippe Taylor’s VP of digital, who got points for her first check-in with the POTUS. On Ms. Mei’s Facebook page last week, Turntable.fm’s Billy Chasen and investor Jay Levy also expressed interest in attending.
“[Obama's] personality resonates with all of us,” LocalResponse CEO Nihal Mehta told Betabeat by email. “He kicked off last night’s 20-minute speech by saying he has more twitter followers than Aziz Ansari.”
— Aziz Ansari (@azizansari) March 2, 2012
Part of the techie turnout may have been orchestrated by Mr. Mehta’s girlfriend Reshma Saujani, who currently serves as deputy advocate for special initiatives for the New York City Public Advocate’s office and helped organize the fundraising event. When Ms. Saujani campaigned for a Congressional seat in 2010, she ran on an innovation/entrepreneurship platform that drew supporters like Jack Dorsey, of Twitter and Square, and Facebook’s Chris Hughes. Ms. Saujani, who introduced the president, was able to raise “well over $1 million,” said Mr. Mehta.
So does this mean we’ll be seeing more political activism from New York’s tech crowd as November draws near? Maybe more like political startups. “The threat of SOPA and PIPA activated a lot of political interest in many people involved in technology and entrepreneurship,” said Mr. Davidson, from kbs+ ventures (who teaches a mean Skillshare class on financial modeling). “I also believe that it created a lot of ideas for ‘political tech’ entrepreneurs. Many political campaigns have been very savvy in using web technology and communities to activate voters, but there is still a lot to be done beyond activation, and I think that technology entrepreneurs will build solutions to tackle many of those problems,” he said, adding, “Building solutions to help people be involved and engaged in government is more important than a particular entrepreneur’s political affiliation.”
Mr. Mehta also mentioned SOPA/PIPA, but in the context of listing Obama policies he thought attracted tech types. “New York tech will definitely come out and support the President given his stance against SOPA/PIPA, loan forgiveness programs for entrepreneurs, and constant encouragement of innovations in every speech (e.g. American cars are the leaders globally with 55 MPG saving the average US family $8-10k/year),” said Mr. Mehta. “His numerous references to creating the next steve jobs, and the necessity to innovate, ‘What Americans do.’”
Any Romney supporters care to share a differing opinion? You know what to do: firstname.lastname@example.org.