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In Google Hangout, NYC Mayor de Blasio Talks Tech and Outer Borough Potential

BY Miranda Neubauer | Friday, April 11 2014

De Blasio offers a Bronx Greeting

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio followed the lead of President Obama and New York City Council member Ben Kallos Friday by participating in a Google Hangout to help mark his first 100 days in office, in which the conversation focused on expanding access to technology opportunities through education and ensuring that the needs of the so-called "outer boroughs" aren't overlooked.

Alicia Menendez from Fusion, the TV channel focused on young Hispanics and the broader millennial generation, moderated the session. De Blasio took questions from Hangout participants selected by Google, as well as chat questions submitted by members of the public.

In his opening remarks, de Blasio emphasized the importance of listening to the public's concerns on the grassroots level, and highlighted what he called his administration's "tangible" accomplishments affecting ordinary New Yorkers, including paid sick leave, full day pre-K and reforming the stop-and-frisk policy.

Responding to a Brooklyn questioner's concerns about gentrification, de Blasio suggested that realizing the job potential of the tech sector would be a way to help New Yorkers economically and maintain the character of neighborhoods.

One of the selected Hangout participants was Jukay Hsu, the founder of the technology group Coalition for Queens who was also a member of de Blasio's transition team, and who asked de Blasio his thoughts on how the growing tech industry in Queens, near the planned Cornell/Technion campus, could also benefit the significant public housing and low-income communities in Western Queens.

De Blasio stressed that the "expansion of tech has to be a five borough endeavor," adding that he wished to see further growth in the Bronx and Staten Island. With many tech jobs not going to New Yorkers who lack skills, he emphasized the importance of creating new "pathways" toward those jobs, including the ones that do not require a four year degree, through alternative education programs, such as Per Scholas and by providing more resources to CUNY for two- and four-year degrees.

Those efforts will take an "assertive role from government," he said, adding that in his conversation with members of the tech sector, "there is a real embrace of that notion of the city government playing an active role."

He also stressed that the "concept of building a literacy and a connection to technology has to pervade our school system." Coincidentally, the New York Times published an article Friday highlighting social media instruction in a Queens public school.

More access to pre-K and afterschool programs can serve as a basis for more exposure to technology, he said, while on the high school level he said he aimed to create more links between schools and companies to provide internship and mentorship opportunities.

He expanded on that vision in his response to Sky, a Hangout participant from the Bronx, whom he also complimented on her "fashionable headphones." In addition to providing opportunities for students to find their passion, including for technology, through after-school programs, he stressed the importance of offering more access to technology, such as affordable high-speed broadband, in students' homes. "I believe government has a lot more tools than it uses," he said, promising an "aggressive" and "creative" approach. "We're going to use the tools we have to push an agenda of broadband access... ... there hasn't been enough competition in that vein, smaller companies haven't had a chance to get into that ... we're going to push the bigger telecom giants to do some of the things they've committed to doing.

He praised the tech community's enthusiasm for finding ways to expand educational opportunity, calling it "enlightened, progressive and altruistic."

Even as the Hangout touched on other topics, de Blasio repeatedly emphasized his interest in paying attention to all boroughs. When an Imam from Staten Island mentioned difficulties with attending an information session on Pre-K in Brooklyn, he promised to check about increasing outreach in his neighborhood. In response to a chat question, he said his administration would follow up with a Staten Island foundation involved in Sandy recovery.

Two brothers from the Bronx greeted de Blasio with a special Bronx arm gesture, which he returned. The brothers, who said they run a company focused on improving the image of and encouraging tourism to the Bronx, expressed concern that his pick for vice president of borough promotion and engagement at the city's marketing and tourism agency, the former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, known for his passionate promotion of his home borough, might see the other boroughs as an "afterthought." De Blasio said Markowitz's selection "epitomizes the understanding that the center of gravity really is the outer boroughs...I think you will find that he will not just be a fantastic cheerleader for the Bronx, but will really facilitate more tourism moving toward the Bronx, and more business opportunities for small businesses in the Bronx."

Later, after a brief technical disruption, and in between other questions on recycling and his controversial plan to replace the Central Park-based horse carriages with electric carriages, de Blasio had an important follow-up question for the brothers. He returned their Bronx greeting, while the two brothers took a picture, and he asked them whether it was true that there was going to be a Hip Hop Museum. They replied that they had heard such rumors but nothing concrete yet. "I'm very pumped up by that notion...You've got my vote," de Blasio told them.