When tech icon Kara Swisher told the San Francisco Chronicle last month she planned to run for mayor of the city in 2023, the response in Silicon Valley was largely incredulous. Some commented she had gotten her announcement all wrong by stating her plans so informally, so early.
In Swisher's view, that's just part of the package. "I'm not a politician, so I don't spend my time plotting my rise to the top," the Recode cofounder, who plans to run as a Democrat, tells Inc.
Still, many said they would support her campaign for political office. And the 53-year-old journalist says she has considered a move into public service since before she entered the media world and rose to prominence as a Wall Street Journal columnist. Her run for mayor is a topic she's brought up in public settings since last year, she says.
San Francisco news website SFist questioned whether Swisher might have trouble raising campaign funds from prominent venture capitalist and Facebook investor Ron Conway following an intense onstage interview with Mark Zuckerberg in 2010. Swisher brushes off the supposed chasm as a momentary rift with one of the many Silicon Valley heavyweights she charms despite her reputation for critical reporting.
"That was a long time ago," says Swisher of the situation with Conway, a local political kingmaker and financial backer of current mayor Ed Lee. "We talk now. I just emailed him the other day."
If anything, the quizzical response to Swisher's slapdash declaration has only accelerated her timeline. Swisher now says she may decide to run in the 2019 mayoral election rather than wait for 2023. City residents can expect to see her more involved in politics in the time leading up to her campaign, especially in the city's neighboring Castro and Corona Heights districts, where she owns two homes.
"I'm going to show up at City Council meetings and yell at people," she jokes.
She also plans on penning more editorials in Recode--a site she admits she'll have to step back from when she starts her political career.
Swisher sat down with Inc. earlier this month to talk about her reasons for entering politics and the specifics of her platform. Topping her list of priorities? Promoting residential development in the city, where housing stock is notoriously scarce and rent prohibitively high. Here are some excerpts from the conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity.
Yes, she's serious about running
Inc.: When was the first time you said you would run?
KS: I've mentioned it a lot because I wanted to be in government service. I wanted to join the State Department when I was in college. I was in the [Georgetown] School of Foreign Service and I was gay, and it was a difficult time. I wanted to be in CIA, I wanted to serve in government. I wanted to be in the military and a lot of that was prevented at the time--since I'm so old--because of laws against gays in the military.
My dad was in the military, almost a career military person. He left the military and was in his early thirties, and he died really quickly. Before he started his first civilian job he died of a cerebral hemorrhage. I think a lot about the military. It is an important institution in our country if done correctly. It helped him come out of poverty and get a medical degree. I always felt like I wanted to do that--at least be in the Reserves. And I couldn't be because I was gay. And so I did journalism because it was just another area I liked a lot. I've always thought government service and the duty to serve in your community and your country is important.
Inc.: So, you've had this interest in being involved in public institutions for some time.
KS: And I haven't [been involved], I haven't at all. I haven't. I'm a bad citizen. I'm embarrassed by myself.
Inc.: Some people don't really believe that you're running.
KS: I know that, they don't believe it. They think I'm making it up. I never make things up. People didn't think I was going to leave the Wall Street Journal: "You're not going to do that. Oh you're not going to break away from the Wall." And then once we did All Things D - "Oh, you're not leaving them." I'm like, I'm leaving them. I said it.
Barring some illness--you know I had a stroke a couple years ago--or something wrong with my kids, that could change things obviously. But no, this is a big interest of mine. Either this or I'll write a novel about Silicon Valley, knock the block off of everybody. That's my plan. So tell them they better wish I run for mayor. They don't want me to do a tell-all of Silicon Valley.
Residential development is her top priority
Inc.: I know your plans to run for mayor are very preliminary, but what are some specific policies that you would like to see instated?
KS: Density development. I suppose I'm more of a YIMBY ["yes in my backyard"] than a lot of people probably would like. I feel like there has to be a real focus on an economic development plan for the city that encompasses the whole city rather than just individual neighborhoods. Every city on the planet has denser development than San Francisco. We have to have a smart plan that that creates affordable housing, middle income housing and housing for the wealthy. Because in the end, you know, people will buy up these houses who have money and force people out. That's where it ends up and so we have to have a real smart plan around that so density development is one.
Two is changing workplace issues. You know all these fights around Uber. How how do we change workplace regulations given how the workplace is changing? I think that's a really fascinating area. Where are jobs going? How can we better regulate them so employees are protected at the same time? It's gonna be something that San Francisco should be solving first, because it's going to iterate around the entire country. We're doing this stuff here now, it's just happening. Instead of this resistance to what's happening how do we smartly move into the next era of employment? I don't have the answers, I absolutely don't have the answers, I just think it's something that we're not thinking about it's going to hit us in a way and since it's happening here first it's something we need to think about.
I'm really interested in the legalization of marijuana, I am. I just don't understand why marijuana [is illegal.] I mean, everybody smokes in San Francisco. They get their cards for $20 and they talk to some doctor on Skype. I think we have to really think hard about the decriminalization of lower level drugs like marijuana. I don't smoke, I don't smoke at all, but I'm for it. I'm for pot!
The last issue I think is super important is this issue around diversity which we've been pushing a lot on the tech industry, both gender diversity and racial diversity. There are more jobs open in tech than anywhere else and we're not training our population to take them. The way training to go into tech is done has to undergo a sea change in terms of how we develop people who move into these sectors.
She thinks tech should get more political
Inc.: Having covered tech since the dotcom bubble, is there anything that you would say is new about the involvement of tech in politics?
KS: They're not as involved as they should be. People say that they're involved. You see a couple people [involved]--Marc Benioff, Ron Conway--[but]most of them are pretty hands off, either uninterested or too busy. You see an increase in lobbying by tech in Washington. There's certain issues, like Uber has been super aggressive across the country. Google obviously has ratcheted up its lobbying spending here and abroad. You know, Microsoft is a famous case of a company that never paid attention to politics until politics came after Microsoft and probably should have been more involved in politics earlier.
All kinds of issues that are coming up in the future revolve around the world how the workplace is going to change, impacted by tech; how we get food, impacted by tech; how we're going to manage cars. That's a really fascinating thing in the next 10 years. You have Apple, Google, Uber, Ford, GM, Mercedes, all competing in this in this autonomous driving space. This is going to be a massive change in the way we live. I think a smart city needs to be at the forefront of figuring out one, how we're going to manage these changes; two, how we how we create a living city when these changes happen. I think anyone living here, the commuting issue has just gotten worse. Every city has that problem but I think most people feel San Francisco could really be at the forefront of where this stuff is going and being smart around regulation around these things.