Wi-Fi for Everyone!

Photo: Eliot Shepard

Want New York to have universal wi-fi and cell-phone-friendly subways? Andrew Rasiej does. That’s why the online entrepreneur and all-around techno-noodge—who started Irving Plaza and the New York Nightlife Association—is running for public advocate against Betsy Gotbaum. He spoke to Greg Sargent.

Why P.A.?
I’m the Johnny Appleseed of technology and politics. For years I’ve advised politicians on how to drag city government into the 21st century. I got tired of seeing them politely nod, then ask for a $5,000 check.

No one’s ever ousted an incumbent P.A. Does Betsy really view you as a threat?
She’s not happy. I called to say I was running. She said, “Andrew, why not just come to me with your ideas and I’ll make them happen?” I said, “Betsy, I already did. Four years ago. I’ll see you on the campaign trail.”

Why toss Betsy?
Mark Green used the post to draw attention to issues. Virtually all Betsy’s done is use it to say, “Pay attention to me.”

But the public advocate is mostly powerless. What would you do?
Make 21st-century tools available to citizens like other cities do. We have 311, which was New York dragging itself into 1974. We spend ten minutes on the phone reporting a pothole, while Philadelphia and San Francisco are trying universal wi-fi.

Would you wire the subways?

How does a P.A. make such things happen?
Propose legislation. You have no name recognition. Can you win? I’m going to do unconventional things, put proposals into practice during the campaign. I’ll show that cell-phone cameras can be used—far more efficiently than 311—to report potholes.

Still, founding the Nightlife Association, which fought the smoking ban, isn’t exactly political experience.
I created it to improve relations between clubs and neighborhoods, a huge quality-of-life issue. Plus, I was for the ban. I left the association in 1997.

What’s your biggest hurdle?

But you’re rich enough to self-finance.
Campaigns shouldn’t be funded by rich people. That’s why I’m taking no donation larger than $100. If I raise enough that way, my candidacy will be real.

Wi-Fi for Everyone!