Political Animals

Mayoral Candidates Sound Pretty Skeptical of Regulation-Skirting ‘Disruptors’

"Is that an insult in the tech community, to call people techies?"
The candidates. (Jukay Hsu, via Instagram)

The candidates. (Jukay Hsu, via Instagram)

As New York City considers its options for mayor, Silicon Alley is biting its nails at the prospect of a post-Bloomberg world. And last night, four candidates–former councilman Sal Albanese, former Congressman Anthony Weiner, comptroller John Liu and former Bronx president Adolfo Carrión–appeared at the Museum of the Moving Image to pitch themselves to the tech industry, in a forum organized by the Coalition for Queens. (Front-runner Christine Quinn declined to show.)

And, well, they gave it the old college try.

In the obligatory what’s-your-phone opener, Mr. Albanese admitted his Blackberry Bold was “probably archaic,” while Mr. Weiner called his “a couple of Campbell Soup cans connected by a rope.” Mr. Carrión outed himself as a “Pandora nut” and Mr. Liu complained about all the bugs with his iPhone. Then they segued into connectivity–a perennial favorite of politicians trying to appeal to the tech business because hey, those hoodies love their Internet–and STEM education–largely used as an excuse for candidates to talk about their plans for public schools more broadly.

At one point, Mr. Carrión paused in the middle of an answer to ask, “Is that an insult in the tech community, to call people techies? It’s a term of endearment, right?”

Then came the $64,000 questions from moderator/Verge editor Nilay Patel: How would they deal with “disruptors” like the legally challenged trinity of Uber, Aereo and Airbnb?

Mr. Weiner tried to wrap himself in their mantle–“I like to think I’ve done that to the mayoral campaign”–but then insisted startups should stay on the right side of the law. “Just because you’re something that is an app on the phone, doesn’t mean you go around regulation,” he said. “The reason why I don’t think Uber will ever be a success in New York City” is the system of separating different types of cabs, which, he argued, has “pretty well to keep up the quality of our rides.”

Aereo he gave a pass, but no dice for Airbnb, either: “When we have detailed laws on how to make sure we’re not having illegal SROs, you’ve got to work within the laws.” He concluded: “We want you to be a successful tech company, but we don’t want you to undermine the laws because they’re written to protect consumers.”

Mr.  Carrión piggybacked: “You can be a disruptor, but the question is, are you then a developer and a creator and are you adding value–whether it’s a political race or a tech race,” taking the opportunity to zing Mr. Weiner. Airbnb could be good for the city, he allowed, but requires revisiting current rules. Ditto Mr. Liu: “If your business model and your profit is based on skirting regulations that other legitimate businesses have to follow, that’s not such a great thing.”

Mr. Albanese pretty much took a pass, saying that “it’s a difficult option at this point” and promising to “charge his commissioners” to come up with a good solution.

“I hope all of you deeply consider your answers the next time you try to get a cab in the rain,” Mr. Patel retorted to them all, disapprovingly.

It was an audience question about the possibility of creating a 3D-printing cluster in New York City, though, that completely derailed them all.

“What’s it called? MakerBock?” asked Mr. Weiner. “It sounds like a beer they’d serve in a Williamsburg bar. MakerBock.”

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com