Ralphie Report: Friends in big places

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Ralphie Aversa

Perhaps it was not merely a coincidence that on the week I turned the big 3-0, I interviewed a gentleman who gave me one of the biggest breaks of my young career.

Of course at the time, he wasn’t trying to throw some 20-year-old know-it-all living in Wilkes-Barre a bone; rather he was attempting to help elect Barack Obama to the White House. And we all know how that story ends.

David Plouffe re-wrote the history books and how-to manuals on elections in the 21st century as President Obama’s Campaign Manager in 2008. He now serves as the Senior Vice President of Policy and Strategy for the car service Uber. On the app’s fifth anniversary of existence, Plouffe made the media rounds, including a phone call on “Ralphie Tonight,” to chat about the present state of the company and what the future holds for it.

“UberPOOL, our car pooling service, is only in four cities now,” Plouffe explained. That particular feature allows different users to share the same car as opposed to calling separate cars; benefits to the consumer include lower rates. “We want to bring that to as many cities as possible because it’s cheaper transportation, the driver makes more money because they’re always on a trip and it really can help reduce congestion and reduce emissions and pollution.”

In addition to expanding services within the cities in which Uber already operates, the company also has its eyes set on breaking in to new markets, both domestically and internationally. Another stated goal of Plouffe’s is to break up the monopolies that taxi and black car companies have in certain cities. Las Vegas was a topic of conversation; both Uber and Lyft will be allowed to operate in Vegas starting next month.

“(Monopolies) don’t foster innovation. They don’t serve the public,” Plouffe lobbied. “But what you see is most people who use Uber are making a choice not to drive themselves. So it’s not that it’s a small pie that’s now going to be divvied up between Uber and taxi; the overall pie grows.”

Oh, and regarding that big career break: I covered both the Democratic Primary and General Election for my radio station. My perseverance at the campaign rallies paid off: then-Senator Obama’s camp began throwing a number of celebrity surrogates my way. Suddenly this kid who had been in NEPA for just over a year had the likes of Cynthia Nixon, Fran Drescher, Adam Levine, Maggie Gyllenhaal and more calling in to his show. Those interviews gained me national press, which led to my show entering syndication.

“Well that’s a great story,” Plouffe responded when I filled him in. “I’m glad we could provide that opportunity.”

And you can say that the Wilkes Barre/Scranton market has been good to Plouffe. This past February, more than seven years after NEPA helped elect President Obama and Scranton’s own, Vice President Joe Biden, the area became the latest to join Uber.