Uber taps former Patrick, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe to take on the taxi industry

Former Obama advisor David Plouffe. (CHRIS USHER/CBS NEWS/GETTY IMAGES/FILE)
Former Obama advisor David Plouffe. (CHRIS USHER/CBS NEWS/GETTY IMAGES/FILE)

Uber is in the midst of  a fierce campaign to win over regulators with its taxi-alternative business model. And now it’s hired one of the country’s biggest political campaign managers to wage that fight.

Uber said Tuesday it has hired David Plouffe, who headed President Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, as a senior vice president. Plouffe also previously worked on both of Gov. Deval Patrick’s successful election campaigns, in 2006 and 2010. Patrick, whose state has seen strong concern about Uber in cities including Cambridge, had favorable things to say about Uber today after the Plouffe announcement, which struck one political thinker as premature and odd. In a quote for Politico, Patrick said:

David Plouffe and Uber are a natural match. From my insurgent campaign in 2006 and since, David has shown an interest in and an appetite for challenging established ways — and winning. As we have seen in Boston, one of its first cities, so has Uber.

That sentiment for Uber by Patrick may be a bit premature, said Michael Kryzanek, a political science professor at Bridgewater State College, considering that Uber is facing stiff pushback from taxi drivers who want Uber drivers to have the same regulatory oversight as taxis. “For the governor to say that seems a little unnecessary … This is clearly a car service that is not institutionalized, accepted — it’s running into a number of roadblocks,” Kryzanek said. “I don’t see what purpose [Patrick’s statement] serves other than something that’s not related to Uber, but may be related to David Plouffe and the Democratic Party and future elections.”

A spokeswoman for the Patrick administration referred questions to John Walsh, executive director of Patrick’s political action committee. Walsh told BetaBoston the Patrick statement doesn’t represent an outright endorsement of Uber. “I think the governor’s statement is overwhelmingly a statement about his affection for David,” Walsh said. “I don’t think he’s saying anything about Uber, other than they’re smart to hire someone like David.”

Still, wonder if taxi drivers around here like hearing their governor praise a big decision by Uber when they are fighting against Uber so hard?

Plouffe, according to the New York Times, “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 chief executive Travis Kalanick wrote on Uber’s blog:

Cities and governments around the world have started to embrace the change Uber delivers. California, London, Chicago, Seattle, Houston and DC, are just a few examples.

But our mission has become a surprisingly controversial topic … Earlier this year, I made it a top priority for Uber to find a leader who could help cities and citizens understand the Uber mission.

He later added:

We needed someone who understood politics but who also had the strategic horsepower to reinvent how a campaign should be run – a campaign for a global company operating in cities from Boston and Beijing to London and Lagos.

So today we are pleased to announce that David Plouffe will be joining Uber as our Senior Vice President of Policy and Strategy. Starting in late September, David will be managing all global policy and political activities, communications, and Uber branding efforts.

Launched four years ago in San Francisco, Uber makes a smartphone app that riders use to hail a private driver. The app has been available in the Boston area since the fall of 2011.

Kyle Alspach has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since 2005 and was one of the original staff writers at BetaBoston.
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