hack the vote

New York Tech Meetup Plans Candidate Forums to Flex Muscle in Race for City Hall

"Our main goal is to make sure our issues are part of the dialogue."
(Photo: "Alexander Torrenegra)

(Photo: “Alexander Torrenegra)

For many in the New York City startup community, it’s been nice having Mayor Michael Bloomberg around. Not only does the third-term mayor double as the city’s most successful tech entrepreneur, Mr. Bloomberg has championed policies aimed at turning New York into a hotbed of innovation.

With Mr. Bloomberg’s time in office coming to a close, and no candidate stepping boldly into his loafers, the New York Tech Meetup revealed plans to host a series of candidates forums in the months leading up to this year’s mayoral election.

It’s all part of the tech community attempt to claim a larger role in the political sphere as startups lose their best ally in City Hall, NYTM executive director Jessica Lawrence told Betabeat.

News of the forums, which have not been finalized, comes after The Wall Street Journal reported that NYTM is drafting proposals to educate would-be officials on issues that that the tech community considers paramount.

“Our main goal is to make sure our issues are part of the dialogue,” Ms. Lawrence told us. “It’s something that’s incredibly important if the city is to be a center for innovation, that the people elected to office listen to what those of us in the tech community have to say, and pay attention to that expertise.”

According to Ms. Lawrence, NYTM has been gathering input on its proposals for at least six months, but the organization’s efforts to play a greater political role date back to its efforts to defeat SOPA and PIPA in 2011, during which NYTM aimed to join the national debate on the anti-piracy laws.

Beyond NYTM’s efforts, the New York tech community has been increasingly feeling its political oats. The city’s tech community helped raise money for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign. In 2010, congressional candidate Reshma Saujani built her campaign around an innovation and entrepreneurship platform, drawing support from tech luminaries such as Jack Dorsey, of Twitter and Square and Facebook’s Chris Hughes.

“I think we’ve seen with Bloomberg how important it is to have a mayor who understands the role that tech plays in the local economy,” Ms. Lawrence said. “Because of that we’ve been able to make significant progress in establishing New York as center of innovation.”

To continue the strides that the city’s tech sector has made under Mayor Bloomberg, NYTM is expected to emphasize greater access to high-speed Internet and public data, as well a greater emphasis on math and science education in the city’s public schools, when it presents its proposals to candidates for the offices of mayor and public advocate.

A preliminary version of the slate will be discussed by the NYTM board at a meeting tonight. Assuming passage, the slate would be presented for comment to the organization’s 29,000 members, then finalized in the weeks and months to come.

“It’s going to be a combination of trying to be representative of the community, and what the community needs are without giving the candidates too many issues to deal with,” Ms. Lawrence said.

While it’s too early to say precisely what shape the forums might take, Ms. Lawrence anticipated large gatherings that would allow the candidates and the tech community to get to know each other better.

“As we look at the city’s economy, its systems for responding to disaster, or the traditional systems of making data available or awarding contracts—they’re all being changed by technology,” Ms. Lawrence said. “It’s not going backwards anytime soon. It’s important that we start having conversations about how tech is impacting the city’s economics and infrastructure.”

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