I have attended three local political events in the past ten days. That is three more than I attended all of last year. But, as the flurry of activity died down on the national campaign cycles, where big money and SuperPACs actually were the ones with impact, the momentum has started picking up for some big local elections this fall. As I listened to candidates and representatives from campaigns, one thing became clear: an understanding that technology is important is no longer enough, first hand knowledge and personal examples of using technology for the benefit of their constituents is the new standard. This truth was on display at the Start Up City Conference hosted by Manhattan Borough President, Scott Stringer. Starting the day with a Keynote by the "Godfather of the NYC Start-Up Scene," Fred Wilson, the day brought a well rounded look into the ways that the city of New York is thinking about the growing digital industry as well as shed light on how far the Big Apple is behind other smaller cities in terms of connectivity and infrastructure. Some of the harshest words toward that end came from Andrew Rasiej as he called out Chattanooga, TN for having internet "20 times faster than New York." As the Chairman of the 32,000 member New York TechMeetUp, Rasiej and their community have laid out their top seven policy initiatives.
The conference wrapped up with a panel of almost all of the candidates for New York Mayor and was moderated by Buzzfeed's Ben Smith. Mr. Smith started off the panel with the only question that seemed to really matter to the technorati in the audience, "What kind of phone do you use personally and what is your favorite app?" 100% of the candidates answered that they used a Blackberry personally and only half of them could name their favorite app. The other half resembled Sarah Palin when Katie Couric asked he about her reading habits: "Oh yes, apps, I use a lot of them. I couldn't name one specifically that I like because I just seem to like them all." The candidates that could name an app were split between MLB and Pandora as their favorite app. And while you can't judge a person by their apps, but is was a huge miss to not show some competence in using the technology that is free and readily available to make their own lives better as their example of a favorite app. And made an even bigger miss when they could have given a shout out to some of the fantastic companies making that technology right here in NYC. These response to the question drew me back to another event that I attended earlier in the week.
"We need leaders that know and that use tech" was the opening statement from Twitter and Square's Jack Dorsey as he endorsed and introduced Reshma Saujani for New York's Public Advocate at her rally last week. The packed room erupted in cheers as when taking the stage Ms. Saujani told the crowd that "we don't need another politician, we need a change agent." She went on to lay out her personal experience in the world of digital and technology and pointed to her experiences founding girls who code. Running an incredible digital savvy campaign, Ms. Saujani is the first of what I hope to be many more technology entrepreneurs who make the cross over to involvement in public service. As the digital community digs deeper and brings more value to every area of our lives, we need leaders in every level of government who understand, and are not afraid, of technology.
The final event that I attended was for Michelle Wu, a candidate for the City Council in Boston. In the back of a fantastic restaurant on the Upper West Side, Jacob's Pickles, current and former residents of Boston gathered to hear an update on their city given its recent tragedy, but also to hear Ms. Wu's vision for the future. As a recent graduate of Harvard's Law School and an alumnus of Elizabeth Warren's successful bid for the US Senate, there were more than just loft ideas share, but comprehensive plans for action. "True change happens locally when people, when neighbors, come together for the good of their community."
I am fascinated by politics. Perhaps even more so as I recently went on a West Wing to Scandal to House of Cards political entertainment binge fest. But also because, much to the dismay or my Libertarian leanings, government is going to be a part of just about every meaningful initiative that I undertake going forward. Whether building companies, launching nonprofits, structuring my will and estate plan, or just saving for retirement, there are rules and regulations to be understood. And having the right people with a seat at the table for those conversations and future reforms is most definitely in all of our best interest.