Museum Of The Moving Image Holds Mayoral Candidates Night
The Museum of the Moving Image auditorium in Astoria was full on June 17 with twenty and thirty-something techies fiddling with their latest devices and listening to Democrats Anthony Weiner, Sal Albanese, John Liu and Independent Alfonso Carrión Jr. brandish their industry acumen at the New York City Mayoral Candidate Tech Policy Forum.
Anjali Athavaley, a commercial real estate reporter for the Wall Street Journal and The Verge’s Nilay Patel moderated the 90 minute discussion that spanned issues from the telecom monopoly to the candidates discussing their favorite app.
The event, sponsored by the Coalition for Queens, an organization with aspirations of luring more tech companies to the borough, offered candidates an opportunity to elaborate an identity that the New York City has both recently crafted and embraced.
Under the current mayoral administration, Cornell University won a bid in 2011 to establish an applied science and engineering campus on Roosevelt Island, hundreds of tech start-ups sprouted up in the Flatiron District (or Silicon Alley), and subways began advertising these companies as part of the Made in New York campaign.
Bloomberg made reference to New York’s efforts to embrace tech at the Stanford University commencement address he gave on June 15.
“I believe that more and more Stanford graduates will find themselves moving to (New York's) Silicon Alley -- not only because we're the hottest new tech scene in the country but also because there's more to do on a Friday night than go to the Pizza Hut in Sunnyvale. And you may even be able to find a date with a girl whose name is not Siri,” said Bloomberg.
The candidates themselves showed various levels of familiarity with tech vernacular, all content at times to keep their arguments in the familiar terms of education reform, strategic zoning and affordable housing while though occasionally “coaxial cable” and the taxi hailing app Uber and home sharing company, Air BNB were referenced.
Former Brooklyn city council member Sal Albanese, tied most of his tech proposals back to his platform’s strong education reform themes. For instance, Albanese linked the city’s efforts to create a more tech savvy and skilled homegrown workforce with teacher salaries.
“We don’t have enough science and math teachers who have specialized in those fields in our public schools,” said Albanese. “You make a lot more money in private sector if you have science and math background. We need to provide financial incentives.”
Former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión Jr. argued that “retooling New York’s educational system” was essential to keep the city nationally and globally viable.
“The next jump for us as a city is to go from finance, insurance and real estate or FIRE to FREIGHT, or information technology,” said Carrión Jr. “We have a lot broken things that need fixing and need a modern workforce to us carry forward and keep competitive.”
Flushing-based John Liu touted his Comptroller and tech credentials in creating a higher level of transparency in the city’s budget.
“As comptroller, I just recently crowd-sourced the people’s budget which allows people to come online and see what expenditures have been paid out and for what reason. It’s like seeing your own checkbook,” he said. “The program exists open-sourced for other cities and states.”
Most of the discussion centered around city-wide policies, though, not-surprisingly, former Queens Congressman Anthony Weiner brought his remarks back to the borough, arguing that rezoning Long Island City for luxury apartments, had contributed to little supply of vacant office space, and had left start-ups with little negotiating power at the commercial real estate table.
“I gave a speech back in 2008 about Long Island City and Jersey City,” he said. “They’re both one subway stop away but the city decided to rezone some of Long Island City’s warehouse for housing, rather than office. Now Jersey City has all the back office space.”
One of the larger discussions of the night involved possible mayoral interventions to the telecomm monopoly that many seemingly charged for cable blackouts and subpar broadband.
“One year residents of Bronx couldn’t watch the World Series and their team was in it. These are companies that we allow to have monopoly franchise,” said Liu. “If you’re not getting what you pay for, city government should step in.”
Carrión Jr. called the Franchise Concessions and Review Commission, the government body often responsible for handling telecomm challenges, “a little Vatican like.”
“The best advisers we can have [with these problems] are thousands of techies,” he said, before adding, “Is that a disrespectful term in the tech community? No. It’s a term of endearment.”
Albanese warned that special interest groups might stymie the government’s progress, while Weiner suggested creating a new development rule.
“If you’re going to get access to city, we have to get free broadband in the city, in exchange for having fairly controlled access,” said Weiner.
The audience had mixed reactions about the depth of the candidates’ performances.
Jennifer Vargas, who runs her Queens based tech start-up, appreciated the detail with which both Weiner and Carrión Jr. discussed issues.
“They were very specific; they didn’t just discuss internet broadband but real issues like office space. I have a lot more faith that they know what would actually help.”
Vargas did not share the same esteem for Liu’s performance.
“John Liu came 40 minutes late and then left early,” she said. “Maybe we’re just starting our companies now, but is this how he wants to treat a future tax base?”
Weiner’s performance most impressed Dion Ridley, who works at the Manhattan-based tech company, Creative Worx.
“Weiner was definitely my favorite,” said Ridley. “I’ve a longtime fan of his straightforward opinions.”
Randall, a lawyer who did not wish to disclose his last name, was frustrated about what he interpreted as the debate’s lack of substance.
“It was all ‘Are you for technology? Are you for free wifi?’” said Randall. “They want to make New York a hotbed for the best of the best. Tell me specifically, in a global city, what will you do with the kids already here?”