Like a time capsule, this year's New York City mayoral race seems to be stuck in the 1970s. Not the near-broke city of 1975, but a one bankrupt of ideas that, four years from now, might put New York behind other cities with respect to talent, technology, innovation, and a competitive edge.
How could that happen?
For starters, both leading mayoral candidates within their parties, Bill de Blasio, the Democrat challenger, and Joe Lhota, the Republican, however well-intentioned, are out of touch with the city of tomorrow. They have no vision. How would either one, if elected, be able to take the baton from what outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg started in quality of life, sustainability, and resiliency, and transform the city to be more energy efficient, as well as attract talent and create new jobs?
The other candidate for the Mayor of New York in Jack Hidary, a serial entrepreneur, who I met at the Funding Post NYC VC & Angel Conference last week, had a different vision for what New York City needs to become.
"Funding Post invited Jack to get another perspective, a perspective that entrepreneurs and investors in New York can relate to," said Joe Rubin, Director of Funding Post.
Jack Hidary opened the conference with some humor, saying New Jersey residents who work in New York would be allowed to vote, for which he received laughter and applause. The conference was held at the AT&T Adworks Lab in midtown Manhattan.
In a follow up phone interview with Jack Hidary, he said in his fast New York speech, "Neither of the leading candidates have a track record in sustainability or innovation."
When visiting the websites of both candidates, de Blasio is encumbered with boilerplate answers on green and sustainability, such as holding the moratorium line on hydrofracking in New York, while Lhota suffers from a dearth of information in the "Environment" section, a half page out of a 22-page profile, called Joe Lhota: A Mayor for All of New York. Other than batting about buzzwords like "green" and "sustainable jobs," neither candidate appears capable to develop and implement such a sustainable program, let alone a define and deliver an overall vision.
Neither candidate in DeBlasio and Lhota responded to requests to comment. Instead, they decided not to debate on the one anniversary of Hurricane Sandy.
Jack Hidary has been an entrepreneur and innovator going back to the Dot Com era of the 1990s, with successful exits in several tech startups. During our discussion, he explained that he and David Yassky worked to bring the hybrid yellow taxis to New York City in 2005. "We demonstrated to the city that we needed to replace the iconic fleet of Crown Victoria cabs with cleaner vehicles," he said, adding, "Since the rollout out of that program, 2,000 cities around the world have adopted the model."
He emphasized that New York's leadership has been copied elsewhere, and that we need to learn from other nations, with fewer resources, on how to become more sustainable. He mentioned Mexico's rollout of solar batteries on city streetlights, as an example.
Hurricane Sandy Anniversary and Resiliency
"The buildings of New York City generate 74 percent of the greenhouse gases. They are the low-hanging fruit," Candidate Hidary said, energized. "We need more LED lights, HVAC upgrades, and an accelerated timeline to change out the #4 and #6 fuel oils, which are in thousands of schools. We can't wait another two decades. There's a deadline next year. But the hard deadline is in 2030. That's too long to wait for a public-private partnership (p3) that can provide financing to the buildings' owners that would create jobs. There are over 9,000 boilers that need to be retrofitted."
On LED lights, last week Mayor Bloomberg announced that the city has begun a plan to replace the thousands of streetlights, street lamps in all of the parks, the pearl lights that light up the East River bridges at night, and other public locations. It's about time.
Moscow, Russia, also announced in an Invest in Moscow conference, held at the Princeton Club, that they too will use a P3 investment model to change their 400,000 public lights into energy efficient LEDs.
Jack Hidary agrees with Mayor Bloomberg on the LEDs of public lights, but noted, "That's not enough. The city needs a comprehensive plan. The lights are all connected to the grid. If the LEDs were run on solar power with batteries, they would still be on during the next hurricane or blackout, because they would be off-grid. The investment to go off-grid would paid back in three-years." He explained. "Downtown Manhattan lost productivity in the billions of dollars. Lives were in danger. 4,000 police officers had to be deployed below 23rd Street for a public safety measure and to prevent looting. Had street lights worked, they could have been redeployed elsewhere."
He went on to explain the dangers of hospital ICU shutdowns, diesel generators that failed, which could have been backed up by batteries, as critical infrastructure was impacted and shutdown. "We need to upgrade the city building and construction codes, particularly in the coastal zones, such as the Rockaways and Tribeca."
Sustainability and the City
In attending a Clean Energy NYC conference the same week, Gene Rachmansky, the founder of the not-for-profit company and one of the city's leading renewable energy experts, said,
"While the city has made great strides in expanding both green markets and spaces, as well as supporting programs that promote the need for clean, sustainable energy sources, more action needs to be taken to motivate individuals and businesses to purchase electricity through green power programs."
Rachmansky added, "An increased focus on creating effective private and public sector partnerships, would greatly contribute to the progress of initiatives with our shared goals, such as the greeNYC Birdie, replacing street lamps with energy saving LED bulbs and NYC Cool Roofs. Even if only 10 percent of New Yorkers made the switch to renewable energy, the city and its officials would be taking on a significant leadership role in this growing clean energy movement."
On cool roofs, Jack Hidary said, "A tenth of an inch of rain forces the city to open 500 hatches, which dumps 27 billions of gallons of raw sewage each year. That keeps New York out of compliance. Younger cities have two separate systems for water and sewage, but New York's is a combined system. More green roofs on existing buildings would reduce the city's heat tab in the summer, sequester carbon from traffic, while reduce storm water runoff. Green roofs would act as a buffer to that problem."
What keeps Jack for Mayor focused are two other items. One, is sustainable transportation such as car-sharing, like they have in Paris, Austin and San Antonio, Texas.
"In Paris, there are 3,000 parking spaces dedicated for car-sharing. Zip Car is a good start, but the driver is forced to bring the car back to the same place where they picked it up. A car-sharing model allows one to ride on one side of town and leave it on the other side. One car-sharing vehicle equals a fleet of ten cars on our crowded streets. As mayor, I would seek to implement and promote that model."
From Citi Bike to car-sharing would improve quality of life and reduce traffic density at the same time.
Mayor Hidary's other area is the need to create jobs -- not part-time, low level jobs, but jobs in technology, innovation, and sustainability. "The Brooklyn Navy Yard is under utilized. It should become a hub for year-round research that would attract investors, startups, and skilled labor. By creating and implementing a new tech center, technology would create various advances in manpower, and the ability to attract talent and companies could lead to inventing breakthroughs from HVAC to harnessing clean energy," he said.
If Moscow is starting to do this, then what are candidates Lhota and de Blasio waiting for? They really have no background in either technology or sustainability. If either one is elected next week, or Jack Hidary does not become mayor, then perhaps one of them would be smart enough to hire a green czar like Jack.
If Moscow can do it, so can New York.