In his first appearance at the New York Tech Meetup, freshman New York Mayor Bill de Blasio made a statement about the role technology will have in his administration.
“Clearly what’s happening here is an example of where this city is going,” he said. “It’s powerful to see the creativity and understand what it’s going to mean for the future.”
Last night, between the usual tech demos, de Blasio took to the stage and named Minerva Tantoco as the incoming chief technology officer for the city. She will head up the mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation, which will develop a strategy for technology across the city and connect with the local tech community.
Tantoco most recently served as CTO for client-facing technology at UBS. She has a few patents to her name in artificial intelligence and workflow systems, and she is a native of Queens. “Our goal is to make New York City the most tech-friendly and innovation-driven city in the world,” she said.
De Blasio said Tantoco is the city’s first ever CTO, though New York City has had an advocate for technology before. Rachel Haot was chief digital officer in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration and championed a variety of technology initiatives for the city. Haot is currently chief digital officer and deputy secretary of technology in New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration.
Getting more in touch with the technology community seems to be part of de Blasio’s plan. For example, last night he guaranteed the team that demoed Heat Seek NYC a meeting with the city’s housing commissioner and the general manager of the New York City Housing Authority. Heat Seek NYC wants to install sensors in city apartments to detect, identify, and analyze drops in temperature in winter that violate heating codes.
It is also notable that de Blasio came to NYTM during his first year as mayor, something Bloomberg finally did near the end of his 12-year tenure in office. De Blasio said technology is the fastest growing sector of the city’s economy, with some 291,000 jobs. Earlier on Tuesday, his administration named Kristen Titus as founding director of the NYC Tech Talent Pipeline, an initiative to better train more New Yorkers for technology jobs. Titus was previously executive director of Girls Who Code, an organization that aims to close the gender gap in the technology industry.
De Blasio has often expressed a desire to see technology benefit everyone in the city, particularly universal access to low-cost, high-speed Internet connections. Last night, he said his administration can push harder on companies in the private sector to do more to provide that access. “We’re paying close attention to the proposed Comcast [and Timer Warner] merger,” he said. “Governments all around the country need to speak more on broadband access and net neutrality. It’s time for a common front of local governments speaking up.”
Big companies are not alone in getting extra scrutiny from the mayor. Certain startups—such as Airbnb—have also raised his concerns in the past. The business models of companies in the “sharing economy” do not always mesh well with local laws; some interpretations of the law dub them illegal.
So de Blasio’s attendance at arguably the biggest monthly technology gathering in New York added a new dimension to his relationship with local innovators.
“It’s great to see continued support for the community, which is one of the most vibrant in the world,” said James Barrood, the newly minted CEO of the New Jersey Technology Council. Barood said he came to NYTM last night to see how the tech scene is growing in New York. He called the appointment of Tantoco as CTO an important move.
De Blasio said he wants his administration to foster ideas that come from the local innovation community and get more technologists involved as mentors at area schools. “We’re only scratching the surface for what technology can mean for a redemocratization of our society,” he said.