Coverage: Uber gets politically savvy
Uber has come under fire from all sides – taxi drivers, regulators and competitors. Now the company has decided to fight back and it’s hired a political heavyweight to help them.
The New York Times’ Mike Isaac said the move was a signal Uber was planning to begin its campaign to win over people across the world:
Uber wants your vote of support. And it has hired a campaign manager to win you over.
Uber, a fast-growing start-up that promotes private car sharing, announced on Tuesday that it had hired the political strategist David Plouffe to be its senior vice president of policy and strategy. The move further signaled the grand aspirations of companies like Uber, which are challenging entrenched industries and running into resistance from some local governments.
Mr. Plouffe, who ran President Obama’s 2008 campaign, said he planned to run Uber’s communication efforts much like a political race, pushing to woo consumers and regulators alike in the company’s fast-paced expansion across the world.
Uber, which allows consumers to summon private rides via a smartphone app, now operates in more than 170 cities globally, the company said. But it has tussled with regulators in the United States and overseas in its race to gain traction in new cities.The legality of the service was questioned in 2012 when it entered New York City. In June, thousands of taxi drivers in Europe tied up traffic as they protested Uber’s rise.
Writing for Reuters, Sarah McBride and Edwin Chan reported that the move ended talk in Washington about Plouffe’s next career move:
The Uber announcement quashes speculation in Washington that Plouffe could replace White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough later this year.
Plouffe, 47, managed Obama’s successful 2008 presidential campaign and was a top adviser for the Obama administration. He joined the White House in 2011, serving for two years as a senior adviser to the president.
He has remained close to Obama, strongly defending the president during his second term.
His decision to join Uber signals that the company, which is valued at $18 billion, making it one of the largest startups in Silicon Valley, intends to take on those opposing its expansion.
BuzzFeed’s Jacob Fischler detailed some of the opposition to Uber and similar companies. He also points out that some are trying to make it political, so appointing a heavyweight may be a good move:
As well-financed apps like Uber and Lyft have disrupted business in major U.S. cities, taxi companies — and unions — have struggled to compete. In some of Uber’s most contested state’s and cities, the cab companies are relying on their deep-seeded political ties for support.
For instance, under Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Virginia first attempted to shut down Uber’s service, before reaching a new deal with the company that will install new regulation. In Illinois, state Democratic legislators have tried to regulate Uber more heavily.
In the meantime, Republicans have tried to turn Uber into a political cause — flipping users support for Uber into a vote for deregulation of the transportation industry. On Monday, an RNC spokesman attacked Plouffe’s move to the company as hypocritical.
“It’s ironic that Plouffe got the regulation king elected and now is trying to push for deregulation,” RNC spokesman Raffi Williams said Tuesday. “I guess Uber thinks that Plouffe might be able to talk some sense into the Democrats who are afraid of innovation and try to stamp out any innovative business with overregulation.”
The Washington Post story by Emily Badger and Zachary A. Goldfarb pointed out that Uber’s opponents still have a lot to say about the company:
The Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association, which has been Uber’s primary lobbying foe at the national level, countered that the company wouldn’t need an “expensive political operative” if it simply adhered to laws limiting who can transport passengers for hire.
“By following the rules and meeting local public safety requirements like the rest of us,” the group’s chief executive, Alfred LaGasse, said in a statement, “they wouldn’t need a ‘political campaign’ in the first place.”
Politico reported in a story by Mike Allen that Plouffe doesn’t see the job as much different than how he as spent his career in politics:
Plouffe will commute for now but will move to San Francisco with his wife, Olivia Morgan, and their two children in summer 2015. Plouffe, who has been advising major technology and communications companies since leaving the West Wing after Obama’s reelection, said in an interview that the new job is analogous to his role as Obama’s 2008 campaign manager and then White House senior adviser.
“We’ll be trying to change the point of view of established politicians, and there’s a lot of resistance coming from people who want to protect the status quo,” Plouffe said, adding that he’ll be working with a lot of young people and “helping see the light about progress and change.”
The matchmaker was Jim Messina, who was manager of Obama’s 2012 campaign. Messina was introduced to Kalanick by Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman. The Uber CEO will attend Messina’s wedding in Montana later this month.
Messina said in an interview: “It’s the perfect marriage: You have the smartest strategist I have ever met, with one of the most innovative companies in America.”
Uber has quite a battle to win over its opponents, especially since it’s one that will be regional at times. But that’s exactly the reason for hiring Plouffe; he’s got a lot of experience in taking a national issue and relating it at a more local level. Plouffe has a big job ahead, but he’s helped run a country, so this should be much easier.