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Behind the scenes of Uber’s blistering political attacks

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

Courtesy Tusk Holdings

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."

"[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."

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