Albany’s King Geek

Senator Smith and Mr. Aponte have put their faith in Mr. Hoppin to get the job done. “How do you undo decades of complacency in a couple of weeks?” asked Mr. Smith’s press secretary, Austin Shafran. “We have complete confidence in him. He’s opening up our eyes to whole new levels.”

“Malcolm Smith and his staff’s commitment to reorganizing Albany on a 21st-century platform, with a commitment to transparency for constituents, is the most significant political event in the past 30 years and has the potential to be not thought of as evolutionary but revolutionary,” said Mr. Rasiej, who is also technology advisor to online government watchdog initiative Sunlight Foundation. Mr. Hoppin and his team “have the right DNA to change Albany.”

 

MR. HOPPIN a Brookline, Mass., native, studied planetary sciences and environmental science, policy and management at Brown University and Berkeley. He was a tech entrepreneur in New York before he founded a local group in the draft–Wesley Clark movement, New York for Clark, in 2003. He joined Mr. Clark’s presidential campaign in Little Rock, Ark., and helped manage the campaign’s voter data and the nation’s first open-source campaign software volunteer program—called Clark Tech Corps. After Mr. Clark withdrew from the race, Mr. Hoppin joined the new-media masterminds behind Howard Dean’s campaign to help manage CivicSpace Labs, which developed open-source software to aid political and charity communities for online organizing and advocacy. The group’s work became “the godfather model for organizations like Blue State Digital,” the company that became famous for their new-media work with President Obama, Mr. Rasiej said.

So being right in “the belly of the beast” in Albany, as Mr. Rasiej put it, is new for Mr. Hoppin. He spends about two or three days a week in Albany, and the rest of the time with his team in Mr. Smith’s New York City office.

“These new technologies will help senators be able to post ideas and issues that they want more minds on. That shouldn’t be hard, that shouldn’t be a huge process or a discreet process, once you create it right the first time,” Mr. Hoppin said. “Conversations in the corner of the room are always going to happen. But things can be moved through technology and communication mechanisms so there are more opportunities to see what we’d like to see in terms of transparency and efficiency and accountability, improvements in process.”

Mr. Hoppin said that once antiquated software is replaced and new Web-based applications and training are in place, senators and their staffers will have more time and money to work among, and for, their constituents.

Mr. Rasiej added that by releasing raw data—stats, ideas, process paths and money trails—the government allows technologists, organizations and citizens to create new ways to present information that might be more useful than the senate’s official format. “Making a document available to the public in as real time as possible is the only way that the government fulfills their mandate for an openness and transparency and serve their constituents,” he said. These changes will not only refashion Albany’s image as corrupt and outdated, but also empower people, Mr. Rasiej said.

“People underestimate the power of data,” he added. “It’s like letting the genie out of the bottle.”

“For me, as a human being, that’s the most empowering experience I can have—is having the opportunity to really contribute to somebody or something that is really important to me,” Mr. Hoppin added. “If we all had that opportunity in our town, our state or from above, we’d all be enriched by that. We’d become more educated about our government; we’d become more empowered to exercise oversight into our government and contribute to our communities.”

greagan@observer.com