Why did Levenson release the email?

The Atlanta Hawks released a statement today announcing that owner Bruce Levenson was stepping away from the NBA team, two years after he sent an email that touched on matters of race in a discussion of game day operations and fan attendance.

Levenson stated that his informal strategy memo to Hawks president Danny Ferry “was inappropriate and offensive,” and apologized to the team family and fans. He characterized his decision to sell his majority stake in the NBA franchise as being in the best interest of the team, the city and the league. His statement along with the complete text of the email were both published on the Atlanta Hawks website today.

In the email, Levenson shared thoughts and posed questions about boosting season ticket sales. Having been told that white males age 35-55 are the primary season ticket subscribers around the league, he speculates that a largely black attendance base and cheerleading squad, coupled with the hip hop and gospel music played at the games, was limiting the team’s appeal with this demographic.

Levenson himself had provided the email to the NBA and an investigation commenced, which is still ongoing. It seems an odd supposition that his furnishing of this document would have been unprompted, so the real question is: why did he do it?

That’s what the real reporting will attempt to answer in the next several days. Did any of the minority-share owners having anything to do with the document’s disclosure, and was Levenson pressured to release it, perhaps to preempt its release by another, hostile party?

At least four people knew of the email at the time of its writing: Bruce Levenson himself; its recipient Danny Ferry; and Todd Foreman and Ed Peskowitz, both of whom were Ccd on the email. It’s also possible of course that IT personnel or anyone with access to the computers or email systems of those four individuals could have seen the message as well. And, naturally, any of them could’ve forwarded the message to anybody.

It’s interesting that Levenson sent the message close to midnight on a Saturday night, from his iPad (as recorded by the time stamp in the email at the top, and the signature block at the bottom). Is it possible he was just tired enough or just uninhibited enough to say things in writing that he might otherwise normally not have?

The other whole angle here is of course the nature of public discussion of race, the intricate (but well defined) protocols that dialogue has developed and the strangely formulaic shape the process has assumed. Part and parcel of that part of the story is how the media has covered this issue, and how they have characterized Levenson’s statements. But that is for another day and another post.






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Violence on Lake Shore Drive mars July 4th celebrations

On Independence Day, scores of youth descended en masse on Chicago’s lakefront in a scene that erupted in a mob-style beating on the lakefront trail and another group attack that spilled into the southbound outer lanes of Lake Shore Drive.

The holiday weekend and inviting weather kept the lakefront busy throughout much of the city yesterday. More than 125,000 visitors were expected at Navy Pier, where officials closed the gates two and a half hours before the 9:30 p.m. show because crowds had already reached full capacity. Just north of Navy Pier, bicyclists and joggers were joined by a steadily growing number of people strolling the lakefront or staking out spots along its raised steps to take in the show.

By around 7:00 p.m., large numbers of young teens were appearing on the lakefront, some in small groups and others in throngs of perhaps a hundred or more. As a whole the group was somewhat amorphous, sometimes coming together in a nearly singular critical mass, other times scattering and remaining in smaller, separate units before reuniting again.

In multiple instances, members of the group surrounded bystanders seated on lakefront’s concrete steps waiting for the fireworks to begin. It was unclear whether the assailants wanted only to intimidate the victims – or to rob them, flash-mob style. Groups of a dozen or more suddenly sat down on both sides of victims, while standing in front of them and also walking up behind them. Within moments, an individual, couple or family would be surrounded by a large, unknown, menacing group of teens. Some got up and walked away, clearly shaken, and others bravely held their ground.

People walking, jogging or biking did not seem to face harassment, other than the obstruction of walking and biking lanes by certain members of the group who swaggered arms-length apart down the lakefront, taking up an outsized portion of the walkway.

Around 7:20 or 7:25, the first fight broke out, several hundred yards north of Navy Pier in front of 850 N. Lake Shore Drive. It happened quickly: there was a commotion near the sidewalk (on the raised, western edge of the lakefront) which quickly moved to the middle of the lakefront. A mob chased a young man into the middle of the lakefront, where he fell to the ground and they continued to kick him until several uniformed police officers on bicycle arrived.

Chicago Police officers interrupted an assault on the lakefront yesterday evening after 7 p.m.

Chicago Police officers interrupted an assault on the lakefront yesterday evening after 7 p.m.

At  7:38, another major assault erupted. Dozens of teens streamed across Lake Shore Drive itself and beat another victim until officers quickly approached and the crowd fled the scene. Others approached a stopped motorist at the intersection of Chestnut & Lake Shore Drive and appeared to harass or threaten the driver. Vehicles on the major north-south freeway braked and stopped to avoid the stream of people rushing across the lanes, or were alternatively stopped by police officers who followed them.

Updates with more information and analysis to follow…

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Law prof: Social, economic incentives already regulate Uber

University of Chicago Law Professor M. Todd Henderson.

University of Chicago Law Professor M. Todd Henderson.

Writing in the Chicago Tribune on Monday, Todd Henderson points out differences between traditional taxi cabs and app-based ride-sharing services, and says each should be regulated accordingly. Uber‘s passenger-generated rating system for drivers, for example, fulfills what would otherwise be a regulatory function to ensure safety and quality of service.

Henderson argues that right now consumers have a choice between heavily regulated taxi cabs, and lightly regulated options like Uber. That’s a choice he believes they should be free to make.


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Uber lowers rates in Chicago

Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 9.05.50 PMRide-sharing service Uber has cut its rates in Chicago by 25 percent. In an email to users last week, the company highlighted average costs for common routes like the $9 ride from “River to North to Wrigleyville,” or a $20 trip from The Loop to O’Hare. A gratuity for the driver is typically included in Uber prices, depending on the individual user’s settings.

The email offers free rides to new users and for those who invited them to sign up. Tapping social networks to expand its user base is a tactic that epitomizes the young tech-powered company’s rapid growth in the U.S.A. and internationally.

The message also boasts that the new prices make taking an UberX “40% cheaper than a taxi.” The price promotion could signal that the company is seeking to double down on their low cost competitive advantages, although the “fares may only be around for a limited time.”

The price drop should more than offset the recent one dollar surcharge Uber recently added to each ride. In a tweet on April 18, an UberChicago rep told me that the “Safe Ride Fee is simply a way for us to support the increased costs associated with our continued safety efforts.”

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Uber drives the “creative destruction” that moves our economy

John Fund writes in National Review that Uber’s technology-driven transportation service represents the type of creative destruction that  allows free market economies to flourish. The author notes several features that have earned the favor of a growing customer base: 

Uber drivers’ cars are often newer and cleaner than traditional cabs, and customers can easily request upgrades. Drivers are screened, and a passenger can see a picture of the driver and his or her customer-service rating before getting into the car. Low-ranked drivers can be and are removed from the system, an accountability system that’s missing from most cab companies. 

The taxi cab industry has responded by pressuring lawmakers to impose a raft of regulations that would hobble its fledgling competition. 

The cab companies and their allies have scored some victories, but the political contests will likely continue for some time. Citing the company’s recent $18 billion valuation, Fund predicts Uber is not going away anytime soon.

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TaskRabbit speaks to ride-sharing cancellation

TaskRabbit emailed me today in response to my request for further explanation of their decision to disallow ride-sharing services to be exchanged on their website. 

The company confirms that legal concerns drove the decision in part, as well as potential liability issues. A number of cities and states, including Chicago and Illinois, have recently passed regulation targeting ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.

While those companies have been forced to adapt, an outfit like TaskRabbit, for whom ride-sharing only constitutes a small portion of its overall activity, appears to have found that complying with the new regulations is either not feasible or not worthwhile. It is easier to simply pull the service, leaving consumers with one less choice the next time they want to arrange a ride online. 

Here te is the full email from TaskRabbit.:


TaskRabbit Support (TaskRabbit Support)
Jun 15 12:54

Hi Brian,

Thank you for contacting TaskRabbit!

Our Policies Team has made the decision based on the fact that transporting passengers for hire in any TaskRabbit owned or non-onwed vehicles puts our company and the individual TaskRabbit at risk if an accident does occur. Also, we want to comply with various legal requirements about certain for-hire regulations in the major metro areas where we are active.

Please let me know if you have any other questions or if you need further assistance.

Best Regards,
Josh A.

TaskRabbit Member Services

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TaskRabbit abruptly cancels ride-share service

In an email to users at 8:02 p.m. last night, TaskRabbit announced it will no longer allow ride-sharing services to be facilitated through its odd-jobs hiring website. The change is effective as of today. While the company did not explain the reasoning behind the decision, it comes at a time when several major cities have recently passed or are currently considering restrictive new regulations on ride-sharing services.

I have emailed TaskRabbit’s policy team to ask for further explanation of the move.  A Google News search did not turn up any relevant articles on the development at one of the emerging stars of the “sharing economy.”

Here is the full email:

An email from TaskRabbit.com to registered users on Friday, June 13 at 8:02 p.m. CST.

An email from TaskRabbit.com to registered users on Friday, June 13 at 8:02 p.m. CST.

In an interview with xconomy.com on Thursday, founder Leah Busque also notes that within the larger sharing economy, the transportation category is probably “getting over-saturated.” A comparison of the companies’ websites confirms that Uber operates in eighteen out of the nineteen U.S. cities that TaskRabbit does (all but Portland, Oregon), and Lyft does business in sixteen out of nineteen (all except New York, Philadelphia and Portland).

With new regulations in place from Chicago to San Francisco that would all but make it impossible for TaskRabbits (the affectionate name for people who land odd jobs through the site) to offer rides, plus the competition of specialized providers like Uber and Lyft, it’s no surprise that TaskRabbit had to pull this feature off the road.

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