Behind the scenes of Uber’s blistering political attacks


Meet Bradley Tusk, Uber’s first political consultant, on the latest Recode Decode.

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Bradley Tusk never intended to become a startup consigliere. That changed when fellow Michael Bloomberg adviser Kevin Sheekey called Tusk, asking him to take a meeting with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

“He says, ‘Hey, there’s a guy with a small transportation startup. He’s having some regulatory problems; would you mind talking to him?’” Tusk recalled on the latest Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. “Later that day, I become Uber’s first political consultant.”

“He [Kalanick] called back and said ‘Hey, your fee’s a little steep, would you take some equity?’ Thank God I said yes,” Tusk added.

Flash-forward to 2015, when Uber — now worth billions — found itself fighting New York City once again. Mayor Bill de Blasio was proposing a one-year limit on Uber’s growth in the city, and Tusk’s team was tasked with defeating him in an upcoming city council vote.

“There’s a saying, ‘You can’t fight City Hall, but we did, very, very aggressively,” Tusk said.

That fight included in-person rallies and a “de Blasio” button in the Uber app that lengthened the wait for a pickup. Tusk also pushed “gut-wrenching” TV ads, in which immigrants and minorities accused the anti-Uber taxi industry of racism.

“The City Council’s so liberal, they said, ‘Oh, shit, these are our voters,’” Tusk said. “And then we went after council members by name in the mail: ‘They’re sell-outs to the taxi industry.’”

De Blasio dropped the proposed bill before it could go to a vote.

On the new podcast, Tusk also discussed what New York needs to do to better rival Silicon Valley; the need for federal rules on autonomous vehicles, which Uber, Lyft and others are already closing in on; and the upshot of those companies’ political defeat in Austin, Texas — a political battle, he is quick to point out, that he did not work on.

“I did not, although my wife is from Austin and her family lives there,” Tusk said. “So everyone in Austin thinks I worked on it and failed. So I kind of wish I had.”

You can listen to Recode Decode in the audio player above, or subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.
  • Too Embarrassed to Ask, hosted by Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode, answers the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.
  • And Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, including the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. We’ve posted audio of every single interview at the 2016 Code Conference, so subscribe today on iTunes, Google Play Music, TuneIn and Stitcher.

If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on iTunes — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Kara. Tune in next Monday for another episode of Recode Decode!

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