As Mayor Bloomberg leaves office, New York City’s tech industry is dreading the day it loses its most vocal public ally. And it has no one to blame but itself.
It is not as though the two candidates for mayor haven’t pledged their support to the city’s growing tech sector. Both Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota have made overtures to the tech community, lauding the industry’s growth and pledging to establish public and private partnerships in the future.
Tech leaders, however, have failed to capitalize on the election as a way to sway the election in their favor. Instead, New York city’s technologists seem to be observing the election from afar, proving that unlike more established industries such as finance or real estate, the tech industry in New York is still too new and inexperienced to flex any political muscle.
When asked about his tech platform during his presentation to the New York Tech Meetup in August, De Blasio said he would tax wealthy New Yorkers to create a universal pre-K program, thereby growing a native talent pool. Lhota, on the other hand, offered to slash taxes so that new businesses can have an easier time launching in the city.
But the candidate’s ideas are too vague, said Alec Hartman, the CEO and founder of NYC DevShop, a startup that provides developer services to other startups.
“I’m definitely scared that neither of these candidates seems to have a specific plan that takes tech into consideration,” Hartman said. “[You need] specific policy initiatives to drive talent here, and the next mayor needs to be focused on that.”
Tech leaders are also unimpressed by what they perceive to be the candidates’ inability to demonstrate the same tech savvy that Bloomberg has wielded.
“We had this mayor who was aligned with us in Bloomberg, and we didn’t have to do that much because the guy clearly cared,” said Jake Horowitz, a co-founder of PolicyMic, a news startup. “Pushing somebody else to care feels like a much harder challenge.”
It is a challenge the tech community is unprepared to meet. Despite pleas from industry leaders like Fred Wilson—who took to his blog to ask tech leaders to learn more about the mayoral candidates—players like Horowitz admit they haven’t engaged with the election. Horowitz did not vote in the primary elections and remains undecided on a candidate.
“I don’t know who I’m going to vote for,” Horowitz said. “We’ve kind of just been waiting to see what’ll shake out.”
Tech leaders also seem divided on what mayoral candidates should even be providing for the industry. Their divergent views on policy priorities indicate a politically disjointed and disorganized industry.
For Nikki Hurt, the regional manager of SpotHero, an app that helps users find parking, Lhota’s pro-business tax plan is more than enough to earn her vote.
“He’s friendly to entrepreneurs and small businesses. He wants to reduce fines and fees,” Hurt said. “De Blasio is a fan of raising taxes.”
Horowitz, on the other hand, said that the typically more left-leaning members of the tech community should support a mayoral candidate who will improve social life and the environment in New York City, rather than a candidate who is simply pro-business.
Meanwhile, Hartman disagrees. The tech industry shouldn’t vote based on social and cultural amenities, but should vote for a candidate who can pass policies that will attract more talent to the city and who will foster public and private partnerships.
“Tech needs to be fed. I don’t think its going to survive on its own,” Hartman said.
The city may not be able to survive without tech either. Over the past decade, the tech industry has grown into a significant driver of jobs and income in the city. But if the public and private partnerships created between the mayor’s office and tech businesses dissipate with the next administration, the city’s economic future will be at stake.
Hartman is still undecided on whom he will vote for in November, but if the next mayor fails to continue Bloomberg’s legacy as being the tech industry’s biggest cheerleader, Hartman believes the tech sector will need to start organizing politically.
“We certainly never had the enthusiasm that Bloomberg has given us taken away before,” Hartman said. “If we lose it, then I think you’re going to find cause for tech to really get a lot more involved in community and political affairs.”