Irving Plaza Founder Eyes NYC Public Advocate Office

(CelebrityAccess MediaWire) — Despite being the founder New York City’s hugely successful Irving Plaza rock club, as well as several online music ventures, Andrew Rasiej is poised to take on his biggest endeavor yet: NYC government.

Rasiej has thrown his hat in the ring for the position of New York City public advocate; a spot that will have him overseeing city agencies, presiding over city council meetings, and if the mayor becomes unable to serve office, serving the city’s top office until special elections are held.

Rasiej thinks a jobs that aims to be an advocate for the people is the perfect place to demonstrate how Internet-driven “openness and transparency” can make a difference in government.

“All the data about potholes, where crimes and accidents happen, school performance, city council attendance—none of that is online," he told Fortune magazine. "That’s all public information, but today the public can’t do anything with it! Why shouldn’t you be able to take a picture of a pothole with a cellphone camera and put that right up on the web, so it can get fixed?"

The position can hold considerable power, depending on the attitude of the person in office. Mark Green, the city’s first public advocate, elected in 1993, went after the police department and HMOs, and raised awareness of the growing uninsured. The current public advocate, Betsy Gotbaum, is much less well known.

Gotbaum and former ACLU Executive Director Norman Siegel will be vying for the same seat as Rasiej come September’s Democratic primary.

Rasiej is garnering plenty of attention with his signature proposal to wire the entire city with municipal Wi-Fi networks and to offer residents access to them at low prices.

“The Wi-Fi proposal is not about technology,” he told the magazine. “It’s a metaphor for the idea that access to information is a civil right! If you can connect 8 million New Yorkers, you can amplify their voices and force government to act on their behalf.”

Rasiej got interested in politics when he visited a high school near Irving Plaza that had only old IBM Selectric typewriters for the students, rather than computers. He was completely flabbergasted by what he saw.

“There wasn’t a computer in the school,” he said. He donated money to the school to put in a high-bandwidth connection, and organized friends to contribute Pcs and spend a Saturday stringing them all together. That led to the creation of a group called MOUSE, which not only helps put technology into city schools, but also trains students to run the technology themselves.

“About 90% of those kids, who we call the MOUSE Squad, graduate and go to college,” he said proudly.

Rasiej began talking to congressional leaders about the importance of technology in schools, including working with Sen. Ron Wyden to develop a National Guard-style program where tech experts would help businesses and government agencies repair their equipment and services after terrorist attacks or natural disasters.

Still Rasiej developed a frustration with the political system and his party because more wasn’t being done.

“I decided to run for office,” he told Fortune, “because after seven years of giving the Democrats advice on technology, I got tired of them politely nodding and then asking me for a $10,000 check, and never taking any action.

Although no political figure has yet endorsed him, Rasiej told the magazine that former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey and New York Congressman Anthony Wiener back his wireless plan. His other supporters include tech figures like Craig Newmark, founder of the wildly successful craigslist.org, and John Perry Barlow, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Although a political neophyte like Rasiej will have a tough time in the upcoming election, he insists that he has a good chance. Even if he does not get elected, he is still raising issues that are necessary to address now.

Eventually, Rasiej says, “I know digital technology will have a huge effect on politics.” –by CelebrityAccess Staff Writers

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