andrewrasiej.jpg

Occupation

: Community activist, nightlife entrepreneur, candidate for Public AdvocateResidence: New York, NY

Let's start at the beginning: after you graduated from Cooper Union, what led you to found Irving Plaza?
I started a consulting business helping non-profits with their real estate needs, and one of my clients owned an old theater on Irving Place that had great acoustics and was perfect for concerts. So I rented it from them and started booking shows, and soon found that everyone agreed with me.

In your years there, what were your favorite shows?
Almost too numerous to mention, but a few standouts include U2, Eric Clapton, The Strokes, The Wallflowers, Green Day, Willie Nelson and a band called James, where the pogoing by the audience caused the plaster ceiling in the lobby to crash.

After that, you founded the Digital Club Network, which was later sold to eMusic- what did you learn during your dotcom ride?
People outside the technology arena don’t understand its potential, and people inside it mistakenly think it will solve everything. It takes time for human beings to accept new technology. And, despite what we first thought, money doesn’t grow on trees.

Recently, you've been involved with lots of non-for-profit projects, especially around technology and education- how'd that happen?
Because I made sure, as the owner of Irving Plaza, to be a good neighbor, the 14th Street Business Improvement District asked me to help with Washington Irving High School across the street. I walked in one day in 1997, just as the Internet was taking off for most Americans, and saw kids still typing on IBM Selectrics. I ordered a T-1 line, found some donated computers and sent one email to 10 friends asking if they would help me build a computer lab and connect it to the Internet.

Two hundred people showed up on a Saturday two weeks later. From that we started MOUSE.org, which today trains students to run the technology in their schools and has close to 1000 students in the program serving 89,000 other students and 6,000 teachers, saving the Department of Education a couple million dollars a year. More importantly, they’re making sure the technology works when the learning moments need to happen, which is priceless.

You've done some wild stuff, but you've never held elected office before- can you unseat Betsy Gotbaum?
What wild stuff are you talking about?

Here’s how we’re going to win: By creating a new vision for the Public Advocate’s office as a leader of all the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of public advocates who are already working to make their city better. And by making the office of Public Advocate the champion of their voices, their ideas and their energies, so that government works better and achieves more results. We will do more in four months with this campaign than Betsy has been able to do in four years. We’re not going to wait until Election Day to make the office of Public Advocate into a real hub for civic engagement.

Your campaign has pledged not to take more than $100 from any donor- why?
Politicians spend far too much time raising money from wealthy donors, and far too much time calculating their policy positions on how they will affect the money they may raise. I don’t want to be beholden to anyone but regular voters, and I want to be free to say what needs to be said, without fear of offending some wealthy interest. This is the only way to get honest and effective government. We can also do this because New York City has a landmark campaign finance law, which matches small donations by 4-1, with a cap on overall spending. I am running to be the candidate with the greatest number of people participating, not the candidate with the least number of people who give large amounts. People can give by going to http://www.advocatesforrasiej.com.

One of your big ideas is to build a universal wi-fi network serving the whole city. That sounds cool- but what'll it do for New Yorkers?

For one, low-cost universal broadband will plug our kids into the information explosion, 24-7, not just the one hour a week that they now get scheduled in a computer room. Imagine the value of buses and subways that can ping passengers a few minutes before they arrive at a stop, so you don’t have to wait out in the cold. Every family and small business that now pays up to $600 a year for broadband will save hundreds of dollars.

And then think of how this can improve public safety. Your fireman will be able to download a blueprint of the building he’s racing to as the truck speeds over. And you’ll be able to call 911 even if you’re underground in the subway. Bottom line, right now the city is falling behind other cities worldwide and the digital divide is growing wider. We can’t afford not to do this, the same way we invested a century ago in things like the water system, the subways and Central Park.

Let's say you win: does the Public Advocate have the power to actually change things around here?
The Public Advocate can propose legislation, do investigations and issue reports, but most important we make sure all the city’s public advocates are heard. One person can’t solve the problems of eight million people, but eight million people working together can solve one city’s problems.

You're becoming an expert on NYC politics- care to handicap the mayoral race for us?
The first candidate who endorses me will win.

Learn more about Andrew Rasiej at Advocates for Rasiej.

Editor's note: Gothamist is going to try to do interviews with all the candidates running for NYC offices this year- if you happen to work at one of those campaigns, and want to help us set up an interview with your candidate, please get in touch.

Publisher's note: Gothamist has run some ads for Mr. Rasiej's campaign, but our editorial and publishing operations are entirely separate, and no advertisement ever affects our interview schedule or contents.