Welcome to the Data-Driven Mayoral Campaign

Will a color-coded app get NYC’s Bill de Blasio re-elected?

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio watches a presentation about ShotSpotter, technology designed to locate gunshots, in 2015. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

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Will the mayor of the largest U.S. city be re-elected for a second term? As is the case with so many everyday questions, there’s now an app for that.

More specifically, there’s a collection of data on promises Mayor Bill de Blasio has made to the public, which flows from the tablets to the computers and smartphones of his top aides, the New York Times reports. That data, which includes 228 pledges he made when he campaigned the first time and over 1,000 total, is color-coded according to whether he’s made good or not: “Red is a bad sign, green is a good one, and a check mark is the goal,” according to the Times.

Those coveted check marks could be de Blasio’s key to re-election, at least in the minds of some administration officials. According to City Hall, which shared an annual synopsis of the mayor’s commitments with the Times, de Blasio has either delivered or begun work on 94 percent of the promises he made while campaigning in 2013.

“Provide free lawyers for tenants in housing court? Check. Sign up thousands more seniors and disabled New Yorkers for rent breaks? Mission accomplished. Increase the city’s use of solar energy? In progress,” according to the Times. But the article notes that grading tends to be done favorably:

Take, for instance, the mayor’s promise to provide advanced placement classes in every city high school. Presented by the mayor as “A.P. for All” in news conferences, the goal as tracked by City Hall is more modest: “expand advanced placement programs.” In that, the administration has been successful. Dozens of high schools now have courses they did not have.

With chief data officers in so many cities that reports can now be published on the subject, de Blasio’s high-tech approach to campaigning shouldn’t be surprising. From New Orleans to Chicago, municipal departments are increasingly using numbers-first approaches to issues from fire safety to schools.

But the internal-facing data — the way de Blasio’s team uses external data to evaluate its own performance — does seem to be a burgeoning trend in municipalities. Last year, Andrew Zaleski covered a similar approach for Next City taken by Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, who uses a “daily data dashboard” that updates in real time. Simply put, he uses a large screen on his office wall (that he can also access from two phones) showing him information, like how many people are placing 311 calls about beetle infestations.

“Having data is one thing, but using it to actually implement new policies or change how departments function is another,” Zaleski wrote. “Somerville has managed to do both since it has started automating data.”

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Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian

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Tags: mayorsbig databill de blasio

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