Andrew Rasiej for Public Advocate

I’ve never used this space to support a political candidate, but Andrew Rasiej isn’t really a political candidate – he’s simply a great person running for New York City’s job of Public Advocate, and the person I’ve chosen to support.

You can find out about him and his ideas on his website. I’ve known him since he founded, a non-profit dedicated to bridging the “digital divide” in public schools. (But I’ve benefited from him since he opened Irving Plaza, where I saw Gang of Four for the first time in 1979…)

The campaign centerpiece is Andrew’s intention to turn NYC into a Wi-Fi zone: free WiFi in all public places, and affordable for every business and home. I think that’s a great goal. Andrew’s opponents have criticized this as an elitist agenda.
I suppose they would have also called literacy or public schools an elitist agenda back before anyone but noblemen knew how to read.

Universal access to the Internet will be good for the poor, good for business, and good for New York. Public School kids in New York are getting left further behind their peers at private schools and, worse, other countries. (The US was 24 out of 29 developed nations in a recent study of 5th grade math skills.) The national economy and character both depend on raising young people capable of reading, writing, and programming.

While some big business advocates see Raseij’s vision as a kind of commie plot to take back the Internet, and deprive the media conglomerates of their broadband subscription fees, his plan for universal access actually *helps* business growth.
Real research and development, today, will not come from centralized hierarchies but the periphery. Pretty much every great new media company, from craigslist to blogger to Google owes its existence to some fringe characters with networking capability.

Deprive New Yorkers of the ability to network, and you deprive them of access to both the educational and entrepreneurial ladders. Who’s elitist, now?

I’m supporting Andrew Rasiej because he gets that a city today – even one as centralized and powerful as New York – is no longer a Renaissance-era city-state to be dictated from the top, but living network that breathes, spreads, and self-repairs from the periphery.

That’s precisely the sensibility defining the job responsibility of a city’s “public advocate.”