Monday afternoon Newark Mayor Cory Booker crossed the Hudson River to chat at the OnMedia NYC conference about changes he believes government can make through technology. His administration uses social media to get residents more active in improving their community. “I could crowdsource my entire city,” Booker said, “and involve them in empowering Newark.”
He chatted with First Round Capital’s Howard Morgan at the two-day summit—hosted by media company AlwaysOn—for investors and entrepreneurs in advertising, social media, and commerce. Booker, who is also eyeing a run for the U.S. Senate, said government is often the last to catch up with change. He believes government should adopt certain traits of the technology sector such as being open and accessible.
That can include holding city departments more accountable for providing services. “When a water main breaks, a traffic light stops working, or a pothole appears, I am now getting people tweeting me about it and taking pictures of it,” Booker said. “I can let them know how we’re doing.”
The innovation community also seems to want his city to thrive. Mark Zuckerberg in 2010 famously donated $100 million to help improve Newark’s public schools. Booker said better educating people in technology and life sciences could improve their chances to find work in the current economy. “Merck, a pharmaceutical company in my city, 60 percent of the people they hire as biomedical statisticians are from outside of the country because they can’t find Americans to do those jobs,” Booker said.
In addition to his mayoral duties, Booker jumped into the innovation scene last year as a co-founder of Waywire, a social video startup in New York. First Round Capital and Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors last July led a $1.75 million seed round investment in Waywire, whose platform curates user-generated video content. “Somebody’s got to solve this problem of discoverability,” he said. “Somebody’s got to be the Pandora of video.”
Booker had plenty to say about technology—and also stumped a bit like a true politico. “We have a real problem in government,” Booker said. “[Government] is not creating an environment for business to succeed.” He touched on his desire to change immigration policies that might send home students from overseas who attend U.S. universities once they graduate. Attracting and retraining talent from around the world, he said, can be important to boosting the economy. “The best resource for explosions of GDP growth is the genius of human beings,” he said.
The public sector needs to learn from the disruption that innovation brings, according to Booker. He cited crowdfunding platform Kickstarter and online lending platform Kiva as changing the ways some entrepreneurs seek early capital. “You don’t need to go anymore to big banks,” he said. Booker wants to see government entities embrace new modes of thinking as well as technology emerging on the scene. “Government is still doing things in a hierarchical, top-down, opaque fashion,” he said. “I hope we can shake this up and create an open source government.”
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