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As Primary Day Arrives, Teachout and Wu Unveil Tech Policy With Ohanian Endorsement

BY Miranda Neubauer | Monday, September 8 2014

Alexis Ohanian, Tim Wu and Zephyr Teachout at Meetup (via Wu campaign on Twitter)

New York gubernatorial candidates Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu officially unveiled their technology policy Monday afternoon as they received an enthusiastic endorsement from Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian a day before New York's Democratic primary.

Introducing them at Meetup headquarters in Manhattan, CEO Scott Heiferman said "We are happy to support democracy, support conversation, debate -- although I don't know if there is anyone here to debate," in a swipe at New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has declined to debate Teachout. Heiferman also recalled her role as one of the first Meetup organizers during her time with the Howard Dean campaign.

The Teachout-Wu tech policy emphasizes investments in Internet infrastructure, protection of personal data, new regulatory approaches to innovative companies and an emphasis on open government.

Ohanian noted that he first met Wu when he was starting Reddit after college with his friend Steve Huffman during frequent trips back to New York from Boston. "Here I was, a 23 year old nerd, working on this website, and I got to meet one of the [Original Gangsters] of the Internet...this is one of the leaders and pioneers who worked to help make my career possible. I was able to live the American Dream with a buddy of mine and two laptops in a little apartment to build something that is now one of the top websites because of the work that Tim did."

He emphasized that it was important to lay a foundation so that "there are more Alexises and Steves, hopefully here in New York City, doing amazing things...that touch the World Wide Web." Ohanian said he "got giddy" when he first saw the tech policy proposal "because for the first time I actually saw something in government that reflected what I felt the world needed right now -- this is a 21st century plan that actually makes my heart grow a few sizes. Because we're not talking about it in California, we're talking about it, we're talking about it New York."

As someone who is in tech and not on the West Coast, Ohanian praised the fact "that after years of telling people bring in the nerds, we need more leaders, we don't need more bureaucrats in government, we need people who actually get things done, who have actually created things, we need them in office....for the first time I felt that there were candidates who represented the needs of 21st century New Yorkers." [Personal Democracy Media's co-founders Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry have also endorsed the Teachout-Wu campaign.]

Talking with TV reporters before the beginning of the event, Wu drew a comparison between his advocacy for net neutrality and the campaign against Cuomo, saying he wanted to work towards a New York where "you don't win because you're friends with the governor, you win because you deliver the best content."

In his remarks at the event, Wu called the tech policy an example of the campaign's focus on substance. "It's not about pandering to donors, our campaign is about ideas, it's about going places where other politicians aren't," he said. "It's about making New York state a leader in tech policy, not a follower. For too long has New York been the laggard, for too long has New York been the place where good ideas go to die," he said. "We have a thriving tech industry, we are a historic home for tech, and we should be the future not the past."

Wu emphasized his credentials in response to Cuomo's questioning them, highlighting his experience as a law clerk for Justice Stephen Breyer and working in the Obama administration on consumer protection issues. "In my academic career I have pushed ideas from the academic fringe into the mainstream in the defense of an open Internet," he said. "Net neutrality was an obscure academic idea ten years ago -- it has gone from academic obscurity into a national issue where more than a million people saw fit to write to the FCC to express their views."

He vowed to reinvent the lieutenant governor role into a public advocate position representing the "people's voice in Albany" and that he would take on the "issues that pit a tiny concentrated interest against the broader interest." In that context, he reiterated his view that New York state should act to block Comcast's take-over of Time Warner Cable, as resulting high prices would not be in the public interest, with both Wu and Teachout adding that they had testified against the merger in front of the Public Service Commission.

In her remarks, Teachout highlighted the potential for innovation through 21st century transportation technology by not "just treating the MTA like an ATM as Andrew Cuomo does, but investing in our transit system, and then encouraging entrepreneurs to come here to invest in new transit systems that we haven't even thought about yet."

In a reference to Cuomo's Start Up New York initiative, Teachout said that "when [Cuomo] sees tech policy all he can think about is tax giveaways, as opposed to...what is needed to build true infrastructure for the next generation of entrepreneurs." She added that she had recently met with Haitian tech entrepreneurs who did not feel like New York was a "sufficiently supportive environment" and promised to speak up for small businesses who might be afraid to speak up when forced to bargain with larger merged companies.

Teachout noted that the campaign spent time working on the policy with the help of a "tech council." According to a follow-up e-mail from Teachout spokesperson Kate Albright-Hanna, those advisers included New American Foundation fellow James Losey, open Internet advocate Elizabeth Stark, tech policy consultant Derek Khanna, New America Open Technology Institute Field Operations director Joshua Breitbart and outgoing Sunlight Labs Director Tom Lee. (Affiliations are just for identification purposes.)

Citing Airbnb and Bitcoin, the Teachout-Wu policy also says that state regulatory efforts "should aim to avoid panic and/or efforts primarily designed to protect threatened incumbents." While the policy notes that "New York's legal code is relatively accessible compared to other states," it suggests that the state commit to including its laws on a platform such as America Decoded, adopting the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau’s eRegs tool to make the laws more accessible, and instituting an "open by default" policy in the area of IT purchasing, data and research.

How Open is New York?
In the past, reform advocates have had some praise for the Cuomo administration open government efforts. In September 2013, John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, which is non-partisan, said that Cuomo's hiring of Andrew Nicklin, who previously worked on New York City data efforts, and of James Hendler, an adviser to, "shows a governor who's very interested and very committed to making New York a national leader."

Recently, the Center for Data Innovation included New York as one of the eight top-scoring states in its ranking of state open data policy efforts. As the state released its one-year open data portal report in the spring, it noted the upcoming launch of a new open data hub incorporating feedback from stakeholders participating in workshops.

However, in a recent talk given to New York City's Code for America brigade betaNYC, which is also non-partisan, Kaehny highlighted several open government challenges facing New York State. Noting recent reports a new state policy under which state employees' e-mails are automatically deleted after 90 days, Kaehny said Reinvent Albany would be working with other organizations to establish a standard for e-mail retention. In addition, he pointed out that Cuomo's Executive Order 95, which established the state open data policy, is being ignored when it comes to publishing an inventory of datasets to be released and highlighted the lack of transparency of state authorities' transactions related to procurement and real estate, and an "unlimited need" to scrape data available on PDFs and other non-machine readable formats and turn it into "digitized tabular data."

Some of the more pointed remarks during the Teachout-Wu event were responses to a now viral video showing Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ignoring his opponents at a Labor Day parade this past weekend. The video now has around 63,000 views and almost 4,000 Facebook likes or shares. Wu called the incident an "extraordinarily rude moment" and said that Cuomo's father Mario Cuomo had acknowledged his political opponents. Teachout told TV reporters that she felt that Cuomo was "denying the existence of democracy itself" and remarked later, noting the many TV reporters at the event, that "in the 21st century, there's always cameras around."

The Teachout-Wu campaign has been banking on online engagement with frequent social media posts, Facebook advertising, a Victory Center page with an online phone banking tool and mapped local coordinators across the state, an AskCuomo page in response to Cuomo's refusal to debate, and is also receiving support from a Thunderclap campaign started by a teachers' advocacy group. Monday evening, the campaign called on supporters to gather in Union Square to rally and reach out to their friends.

One indicator of the campaign's potential might be Google Trends, which shows interest in Teachout and Wu surging close to and above their opponents in the New York area.

In both cases, Cuomo and his running mate, former Rep. Kathy Hochul, have more search interest in upstate New York, while interest in Wu and Teachout is concentrated in New York City.

Consistent with what has been called his "Rose Garden strategy," Cuomo's official campaign has sent no e-mails to campaign supporters and posted nothing on Facebook since June and only one item on Twitter announcing Hochul as his running mate in May. In addition to $11 million spent on TV advertisements, as the New York Times reported, often targeting Republican candidate Rob Astorino, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday on the traditional voter turn-out operation underway in support of Cuomo from various unions, and the New York State Democratic Committee has also been mailing out almost daily leaflets in support of Cuomo and especially Hochul.

But Cuomo is not completely ignoring online outreach. Following a visit to Cuomo's official campaign website, this reporter started seeing online ads from the Cuomo campaign on unrelated websites with a spotlight on Hochul.

WNYC and Gotham Gazette have put together a voting and polling place information page for tomorrow's Governor and Lt. Governor races. The polls are open from 6am to 9pm.