Below is a re-post of my City Council office's final government newsletter. The original can be found at BenKallos.com.
I wanted to take this last opportunity to thank you for the opportunity of a lifetime and send one final report on what we’ve been able to accomplish together over these past 8 years.
As New York City faces Omicron, our top priority is a recovery from this pandemic that can only come from a government that is transparent and accountable. Despite closing our physical office during the height of the Pandemic, we continued to serve you by phone and online before re-opening in person. Our monthly newsletter never stopped, First Friday moved to Zoom (and our parks), and we even held a virtual State of the District to keep residents informed.
Just as we have done every year since I have been in office, we continue to report to you with a comprehensive list detailing over 140 issues we have worked with residents and local leaders to fight for or win over the past 8 years. We’ve summarized them below in a narrative and listed them out in a table of contents you can skim. If you want to learn more, just click the link for more information than you or anyone else probably wanted in our full 175-page report. Thanks to our partnership, we’ve accomplished so much more than anyone could have ever imagined.
Even before becoming a new father, education has always been a top priority for me, that’s why we’ve focused on expanding pre-kindergarten, school seats, school buses, the homework gap, gifted and talented, youth programs and jobs, as well as youth hunger.
When children were being turned away from our neighborhood schools, even though we were surrounded by new construction, there was no new budget for school seats, so I wrote the law to force transparency and won funding more than $93 million for 824 new local school seats. When the Mayor promised “universal pre-kindergarten” and didn’t give the Upper East Side any seats, we worked together to add more than 1,000 seats. When the Mayor began offering pre-kindergarten to 3-year-olds, but again left the Upper East Side out, we won Universal 3K for our district and the entire city for 2021. My daughter now attends the city’s free pre-kindergarten program, and I couldn’t be prouder.
We've invested $69 million rebuilding our schools, $25 million on STEM education, and building new gyms and green roofs for schools. We listened to parents to help schools open safely during the pandemic and launched a new French dual language pre-kindergarten. We carried legislation that we passed into law for students to offer LGBT support in schools and for parents to put GPS tracking on every school bus along with stop arm cameras to keep our students safe.
With the digital divide exposed by the pandemic, we introduced legislation to guarantee every student a laptop with digital textbooks that aren’t racist and outdated and even proposed desegregating online learning.
As a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, I fought to expand equity and access to the city’s best schools by proposing legislation to offer every student the exam together with free preparation.
We won funding for Summer Youth Employment as we fought for Universal Youth Jobs. We co-sponsored legislation to offer every child who needs it free summer camp, and then the Mayor did it. As a student who was too ashamed to stand on the poor lunch line, I am proud that we moved breakfast after the bell, won free school lunch, and fought to end youth hunger by serving dinner as part of universal after school.
We’ve been focused on jobs and our city’s local economy by expanding world class academic centers, helping small businesses and nonprofits, bridging the digital divide, offering retirement plans to the private sector, and proposing to give government benefits automatically.
We cut the ribbon on a new half-billion-dollar campus expansion of Rockefeller University and the brand new Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island. With new expansion, we will be repurposing old space to grow jobs right here at a new biotech incubator at Rockefeller University, which we’ve been working on since my first day in office.
At the height of the pandemic we fought for outdoor dining and won, then co-sponsored the law to make outdoor dining permanent, and authored the law to make it easier for new businesses to open with a sidewalk cafe. We even proposed legislation to offer funding to help businesses retrofit for improved ventilation and accessibility. As Chair of the Contracts Committee, I have fought to increase the share of our City’s contracts that goes to businesses owned by women and people of color and restored Asian-American professional services providers to the program. I also secured $120 million to fully fund non-profits and proposed raising wages for non-profit workers doing business with the city for a worker-led recovery.
During my first campaign I promised to take on the digital divide, and we won affordable high-speed internet for low-income New Yorkers and put forward proposals for Internet to be included in every apartment in New York City with a universal Internet guarantee so that everyone can work or learn from home.
In one of the wealthiest cities on the planet, in a country where we pay farmers not to farm, hunger isn’t a question of resources, it is a question of distributing resources, which is why I continue to push my legislation to make government benefits barrier-free with Automatic Benefits. I wrote the law to offer retirement accounts to workers who don’t have them at no cost to employers with Retirement Security for All.
Parks are more important than ever as we seek refuge from tiny apartments that weren’t built for a pandemic. Working alongside Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney as Co-Chair of the East River Esplanade Taskforce, we have now secured $920 Million for a resilient waterfront. We also secured $30 million for parks throughout the neighborhood including $9 million for a new Ruppert Park, $10 million for St. Catherine’s Park, a $3.4 million renovation of Carl Schurz Playground, a $2.9 million expansion of Sutton Place Park, and $1.65 million for a new pool, river overlook, and basketball courts at John Jay Park, $1.7 million for a new comfort station at 24 Sycamores Park, $1 million for Honey Locust Park, and reopened Clara Coffey Park. We’ve worked to secure funding for a conservancy for almost every park in the neighborhood and even opened indoor tennis for free or low-cost access year round. We also made our parks safer with $1.4 million in security cameras for hard to patrol parks and passed a law authored by kindergarten students to ban toxic pesticides from being sprayed in our parks.
Affordable Housing & Over Development
As a lifelong tenant, I know firsthand that even with thousands of vacant apartments, the affordable housing crisis persists.
We were able to build or preserve 1,000 affordable housing units in the neighborhood and 6,000 units citywide as a land-use subcommittee chair. We’ve also won four rent freezes for one million rent-regulated tenants. I wrote the law to stop illegal short-term rentals and get those units of housing back on the market. When a whistleblower shared that real estate developers were getting billions in tax breaks without offering the affordable housing they promised, I wrote the law to get hundreds of thousands of affordable homes back on the market. My law has already gone into effect and you can find affordable housing and apply right now at HousingConnect.nyc.gov.
We continue to fight overdevelopment that is displacing rent-regulated affordable housing and threatening our communities. We managed to stop the march of supertall buildings for billionaires into residential neighborhoods by winning the first of its kind rezoning. Following that momentum, we closed the mechanical voids loophole in residential districts and even won a proposal to make voids illegal in commercial districts that includes Billionaire’s Row. We forced a developer to fix a cynical 4-foot-wide lot they created. We beat the Mayor’s plan to build luxury housing on public housing land instead of the affordable housing we need. Then we beat the Jetsons tower on stilts. I even kept my promise to vote “No” on the Blood Center’s proposed Longfellow Commercial Tower.
With all the construction everywhere and all the noise that came with it, I wrote the laws to count every life lost on a construction site and to turn down the volume on after-hours construction noise.
In New York City there are more homeless children in our shelters than single men—together with their families they make up two-thirds of our homeless population. That’s why I co-founded the Eastside Task Force for Homeless Outreach and Services (ETHOS), getting faith-based organizations, nonprofits and City agencies together to build and support more services for the homeless in the neighborhood. Together we’ve opened supportive housing for women and children, a new supermarket style food pantry, and won a near-unanimous resolution in support from Community Board 8 to build a new Safe Haven, all within blocks of where I live, and I couldn’t be prouder. With more vacant apartments than homeless families, I’ve proposed renting or buying vacant apartments to end homelessness for families.
Big money has had a stranglehold on politics, leading to a corrupt government that has failed to serve the people. One prominent example is corrupt politicians saying they will do something about the affordable housing crisis while raising all their money from real estate developers. That’s why I think elected officials should follow my lead by refusing big money from real estate, corporations, and lobbyists and why I wrote the new full public matching campaign finance system that matches every small dollar you give with 8 public dollars so candidates can run the right way and win. The new system worked, with more candidates running and refusing real estate money,, and we will have a City Council that is majority of women for the first time in history.
Our government was so corrupt when I started that I had to write the laws to make it illegal for Council Members to earn outside income from people with business before them and to ban the Speaker’s “lulu” slush fund, used to buy Council Members’ loyalty, too. We amended the Charter not once, but twice, winning reforms at the ballot to pave the way on campaign finance along with term limits and urban planners for Community Boards, as well as limiting the revolving door for elected officials who become lobbyists. We even investigated the Rivington scandal and scrutinized $380 million in no-bid software contracts.
We need to make it easier to vote. That’s why I authored laws to let you request your absentee ballot online and make sure it is counted. I also wrote the law to let you register to vote online, which was blocked by a corrupt Albany legislature.
As a software developer we used an agile approach to pass laws to put the city record and law online and put forward proposals to make government work better with a smart city, a new office of digital services, adopting open source and collaborative software purchasing, APIs for government services, and even putting legislation online for comment.
You should know where your tax dollars are going, which is why we’ve had participatory budgeting and why I wrote the law to put the budget online. I used that law to find $15 billion in fat to trim from the budget.
Public Health & Safety
Over the years we've focused on public health with laws to improve access to healthy food and take on diseases.
We've worked to connect New Yorkers with the benefits they need automatically. We took on the obesity epidemic by making happy meals healthy. I also wrote the law to create the Office of Food Policy, carried legislation to adopt good food purchasing, and passed the law to establish an Office of Urban Agriculture so we can grow our food right here.
We’ve taken a balanced approach to public safety with reforms to policing and keeping military-grade robots off our streets, adding cameras to hard to patrol parks, a new mobile command center, and our bike safety program.
We’ve been proactive in responding to public health threats. I wrote the law to stop unnecessary deaths from Legionnaires' disease. When the Covid-19 pandemic started, the first thing we did was try and help our city and state secure hospital beds, which were in huge demand early on. We succeeded and were able to open 550 new hospital beds in the district. We also launched a supply clearinghouse, and we continued distributing masks, sanitizer, and food.
Getting around our district has improved immensely over the past eight years. Thanks to the vigilance of Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, we finally opened the Second Avenue Subway. We also won new transit options including ferries (with an expansion), bike share, faster buses through Select Bus Service, and even renewed the tram. We used Bus Time data to secure new buses and improve service. As part of Vision Zero, we asked residents where our most dangerous intersections were, invested in infrastructure to make our streets safer and launched a bike safety program that made it safer to be a pedestrian. We made the 59th Street bridge safe for pedestrians and cyclists to cross, funded snow plows for bike lanes and pedestrian intersections, and secured funding for dedicated bike lanes for the Brooklyn and Queensboro Bridges.
I believe in climate change and evidence-based governance. That's why I authored and passed a resolution making New York City the largest city on the planet to declare a climate emergency and overhauled our city’s Environmentally Preferable Purchasing program to direct $20 billion in City spending to save the planet. The following year, the Mayor adopted our ban on the sale of single-use plastic bottles in parks. Through Grow NYC we funded Fresh Food Boxes and green markets, to offer locally sourced sustainable farm-fresh produce to thousands of residents in the district. I spent years fighting to expand composting, only to see it canceled by the Mayor, then we won the fight to bring it back. I helped pass the law to reduce the carbon footprint of dirty buildings, build green energy infrastructure right here like Renewable Rikers and most recently the city announced $191 million for offshore wind. Taken together, we will have a recovery that puts climate first.
Quality of Life
Cleaning up doesn’t just mean corruption in government, it also applies to the neighborhood. We fought hundreds of miles of scaffolding, some of it almost old enough to vote, with legislation to force repairs so it comes down quickly. We even put a new, covered trash can on every corner and worked with Wildcat to keep streets clean.
As you can see from this report, we have accomplished a great deal in eight years and have left New York City a better place to live than when we started. There is still much work to be done, and I wish my successor Julie Menin a great deal of success. You can still reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org and you will be able to reach her at JMenin@council.nyc.gov. Thank you again for the honor of representing you for the past 8 years.
Yours in service,
BY THE NUMBERS
Introductions: 183 Authored, 51 Passed into Law (28%)
Resolutions: 27 Authored, 10 Adopted (37%)
All Legislation Sponsored: 2,142 Sponsored, 1,401 Passed (65%)
City Council Attendance: 98%
Constituent Service: 15,792 cases
Petitions: 8,816 signatures
Events: 291 with 8,652 registrations
Reusable Bags Distributed: 4,900
First Fridays & Ben in Your Building: More than 100
Free Legal Clinics: 2,400+ Hours
Masks Distributed: 30,000+
Surge Capacity Secured: 550 beds
Food Pantry Distributed: 2,000 households
Funding for Esplanade: $920 million
Fair Student Funding: $1.6 billion
Funding for New Schools: $92.85 million
Funding for Non-Profits: $120 million
STEM Funding for Public Schools: $17.5 million
Participatory Budgeting: $11 million
From the Graphic
1,932 School Seats Secured or Funded for the Neighborhood
568 New Trash Cans on Every Corner
98 Years of Waiting Ended by Opening the Q Train
79 New Buses
46 Ferries a Day and 2 Ferry Stops
Ranked Best Law Makers 1st and 2nd Term by City & State
- Added More Than 1,000 New Pre-Kindergarten Seats for the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island Along with Better Pay for Teachers
- 3-K for All Expanded Citywide to include Upper East Side
- 824 New K–8 School Seats Secured for the Upper East Side
Youth Services and Hunger
- Took on Youth Hunger with Breakfast after the Bell and Free Lunch
- Fought to End Youth Hunger with Universal After School Complete with Dinner
- Won Summer Youth Employment Funding and Fought for Universal Youth Jobs
- Won Universal Summer Camp
- Equity for Specialized Schools and Free Test Prep
- Launched Dual Language French Pre-Kindergarten
- Passed Gender Sexuality Training Law Authored by Middle School Students
- 5 Annual Public School Student Art Show at Sotheby’s
Homework Gap and Online Learning
Investing in Schools
- $24.75 Million Invested in Schools: STEM, Green Roofs, Playgrounds, and Laptops
- $69 Million Spent Rebuilding Award-Winning Public Schools
- $8.2 Million Building Retrofit and New Open Space for P.S. 77 and P.S. 198
- New $6.5 Million Gym for Eleanor Roosevelt High School
- $2.5 Million Play Roof for P.S. 151
- $1.75 Million Green Roof for P.S./I.S. 217
- $1.4 Million Maker Space and Dance Studio for East Side Middle School
- New $600,000 Hydroponics for P.S. 183
- New $212,000 Library for Eleanor Roosevelt High School
- New Gym Secured for P.S. 151 and P.S. 527
- New School for Children's Academy
- Got Remote Learning Centers (Learning Bridges) Off the Ground
- Secured School Nurses for a Safe Reopening
- Opened New $7.8 Million Library for Roosevelt Island
- $2.5 Million Renovation for East 67th Street Library
JOBS & ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
- Won Affordable High-Speed Internet for Low-Income New Yorkers
- Internet as a Utility Introduced to Help Close the Digital Divide
- Universal Internet Guarantee
- Opened Rockefeller University’s New Half-Billion Dollar Campus
- Rockefeller Incubator
- Opened and Collaborated with Cornell Tech
- Opened the Tata Innovation Center
- Opened a “Big” Hotel on Roosevelt Island
Government Benefits & Retirement
Private and Non-Profit Sector
- Won Outdoor Dining
- $120 Million Secured to Fully Funding Non-Profit Human Service Providers
- Proposed a Worker-Led Recovery by Raising Wages for Human Service Workers
- Representation of MWBE in City Contracts
IMPROVING AND CREATING NEW PARKS
Investing in Parks
- Secured $927.5 Million for a Resilient East River Esplanade
- $80 Million for John Finley Walk
- $10 Million for St. Catherine’s Park
- $9 Million for Ruppert Park Playground
- $3.3 Million Reconstruction of Carl Schurz Playground Completed
- $2.9 Million Expansion of Sutton Place Park
- $1.7 Million in Renovations for John Jay Park
- $1.7 Million for Twenty-Four Sycamores Park
- $1 Million for Honey Locust Park
- $1.4 Million for New Security Cameras in Hard to Patrol Parks
- A Quarter Million Dollars to Support Our Conservancies
Opening and Improving Open Spaces
- “The Girl Puzzle” Monument Unveiled on Roosevelt Island
- Unveiled the FDR Hope Memorial on Roosevelt Island
- James Cagney Place Recognized as Official Pedestrian Plaza
- Clara Coffey Park Reopened
- Free Summer Tennis and Discounts Secured at Sutton
- 100 Opportunities to Play in Our Parks
AFFORDABLE HOUSING & OVERDEVELOPMENT
- Forced Affordable Housing Back on the Market
- Stopping Illegal Short-Term Rentals
- More than 1,000 Affordable Apartments Built or Preserved in the District
- 6,000 Affordable Homes Built or Preserved on City Land
- Won Four Rent Freezes and Three Historic Lows
- Protected Quiet Side Streets from Overdevelopment and Won Mandatory Affordable Housing for New Neighborhoods
- Ended Downsizing of Seniors into Studio Apartments
- Opened New Free and Affordable Art Spaces with ChaShaMa
- Tenant Safety Protection Laws
- Rezoned Sutton to Stop Supertalls
- Won Citywide Rezoning to Close Voids Loophole
- City Planning Proposed Removing Voids from Billionaire’s Row
- Fought Gerrymandered Zoning Lots
- Defeated Tower on Stilts
- Lowered the Volume on After-Hours Construction Noise
- Safer Construction with Law to Count Every Life
- Reformed the Board of Standards and Appeals
- Defeated Mayor’s NYCHA Infill Plan at Holmes Towers
- Voted Against Longfellow Commercial Tower Proposal by the Blood Center
- Opened Up Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS)
HELPING THE HOMELESS
- Co-founded the Eastside Taskforce for Homeless Outreach and Services
- Welcomed Supportive Housing for Women and Children to the UES
- Welcomed New Supportive Housing to the District
- Opened A New Food Pantry for the Upper East Side
- Supported a “Safe Haven” for Homeless New Yorkers on the UES
- House Homeless Families in Vacant Apartments Now
Campaign Finance Reform
- Authored the New Public Campaign Finance System to Get Big Money Out
- Weakened the Influence of Special Interest Money in Politics
- Eliminated Outside Income and Legal Bribery
- Charter Revision 2019: All Five Questions Passed
- Charter Revision 2018: Won Term Limits for Community Boards and Urban Planners
- Online Voter Registration and Voter Information Portal Laws
- Absentee Ballot Tracking Implemented by the Board of Elections
Management and Budget
- Opened the City Budget to the Public
- Focused on Better Management
- Millions for the Community Voted for by Residents in Participatory Budgeting
- Demanded Answers on the Rivington Nursing Home Scandal
- $15 Billion in Cuts to Trim Fat from the Budget
- Scrutinized $380 Million in No-Bid Software Contracts
- City Record and Law Online
- Councilmatic Makes City Council More Transparent Than Ever
- Smart City Legislation
- Free and Open Source Software Legislation
- GovAPI Legislation
- Opening the Legislative Process to Comments Online
- Tech “Moonshot” Division Proposed for City Government
PUBLIC HEALTH AND SAFETY
- Healthy Happy Meals Law
- Created an Office of Urban Agriculture
- Established the Office of Food Policy & Fought for Good Food Purchasing
- Fresh Food Box
- Legionnaires’ Disease Prevention Law
- Coronavirus: Opened New Beds, Expanded Testing, Gave Away Masks, and Distributed Meals
Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
- Opened 2nd Ave Subway
- Select Bus Service for M79 and M86 with Automated Bus-Lane Enforcement
- Bus Time Data for Faster Service
By Air & By Sea
- Ferry Service for the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island Secured
- Roosevelt Island Tram Approved for Another 50 Years
Bike & Pedestrian Safety
- Bike Safety Program Got Results Improving Safety
- Brought Bike Share to the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island
- Won Dedicated Bike Lanes on Queensborough and Brooklyn Bridges
- Bought Snow Plows for Bike Lanes and Pedestrian Intersections
- Made Our Most Dangerous Streets Safer for Pedestrians
- Declared A Climate Emergency
- $20 Billion in Spending to Save the Environment
- Revitalized the Waterfront Management Advisory Board
Eliminating Toxins and Reducing CO2 Emissions
QUALITY OF LIFE
- Inspect All Scaffolding to Keep Pedestrians Safe and Planning to Take Down Unnecessary Scaffolding
- A New Trash Can on Every Corner
- Cleaned up the Neighborhood with Wildcat Service
- Improved Quality of Life Enforcement
- Fought the Marine Transfer Station
- Taking on Loud Vehicles with Automatic Noise Enforcement
- Best Council Members
- Power Politicians: The Officials Who Call the Shots on Real Estate
- City and State’s Power 100 for Non-profits and Manhattan
- Team Kallos
Added More than 1,000 New Pre-Kindergarten Seats for the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island Along with Better Pay for Teachers
The Upper East Side now has more than 1,000 pre-K seats, compared to just 154 seats in 2014. As you may have read in The Wall Street Journal, we secured these seats following the passage of Local Law 72 of 2018, and our constant advocacy as a community, including a rally with elected officials from all over the city. I’ve been proud to join the School Construction Authority, elected officials, real estate developers, and the workers who built the sites to open 90 seats at 1683 Third Avenue and 144 seats at 252 East 57th Street in 2018, and 180 seats at 355 East 76th Street in 2019.
Thank you to the parents and families who have worked with us to open more than 900 new pre-k seats since I took office.
My Office did everything possible to hold the City accountable to open more Pre-K seats. We held rallies and press conferences when children were not offered seats in the neighborhood and we worked with childcare centers and building owners to identify and open new sites.
One challenge since the beginning has been that teachers working for community-based providers were paid less than their counterparts at public schools, making our expansion more challenging. I was proud to advocate for and win equal funding for these programs.
We won a 3-K for All expansion to include our district along with the rest of the city after a seven-year fight. In March I joined Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter in announcing that 3-K for All will expand to the 16 remaining community school districts for the 2021-22 school year, extending the program to up to 16,500 three-year-olds across New York City.
I spent years fighting for Pre-Kindergarten for four-year-olds and three-year-olds, which here in New York City we call 3K. This included finding funding streams for 3K, advocating with the Mayor and Schools Chancellor, launching a petition, and building support for the program from Central Harlem to Brooklyn and Queens. When I pressed Mayor de Blasio to keep his promise to roll out 3K for All on time in 2021, he said he could only do it with federal funds. When Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney delivered billions from the city from Washington, D.C., we called the Mayor on his promise and we got it done.
Thank you to Mayor Bill de Blasio for staying true to his word in making Universal Pre-Kindergarten, and now 3K for All, a reality by 2021. For more information, read the release, see coverage in Bloomberg, Our Town and Patch, or watch the announcement on YouTube.com.
Since I ran for office, countless residents have shared that we don't have enough K–8 school seats, especially with all the new residential construction.
That's why I focused over the past eight years on advocating for more school seats. As you may have read in the New York Times, when the City was unresponsive, I wrote two laws that required the Department of Education and the School Construction Authority to provide more transparency around where the city planned to build new school seats and how they determined need, and to share how many children apply and get denied entrance at their school of choice (Local Law 167 of 2018 and Local Law 72 of 2018).
In 2018, following the passage of the law, we won $92.85 million for 640 new school seats. Then, when the law went into effect, we won an additional 184 school seats. Thank you to the parents and community leaders who fought to reduce overcrowding in our schools, and thank you to the DOE, SCA and the Mayor for making this commitment. Now it’s our job to make sure the promise is kept and we see a school being built soon. For more information, read the release at BenKallos.com/press-releases or the coverage in the New York Times and Our Town.
Youth Services and Hunger
The New York Times covered how after years of advocacy with organizations like Lunch5Learning and Community Food Advocates, all 1.1 million children who attend New York City public schools now have access to universal free lunch. No child enrolled in a New York City public school should go hungry in one of the wealthiest cities in the world. That is why I authored and passed Local Law 215 requiring the Department of Education (DOE) to set a goal of ending youth hunger by providing dinner and to report on all school meals. We continue to ensure every one of our kids has the food they need, and recently won funding in this year’s budget for Breakfast After the Bell. For more information, check out the coverage on CNBC and in The New York Times.
It is far less common for children to have a stay-at-home parent than it was a generation ago and far more common for parents to work late, with New Yorkers on average working some of the longest hours in the nation. In New York there are 584,597 children in K–12 schools who are left unsupervised during after-school hours. We know from research that after-school programming keeps young people positively engaged during the hours of 2pm to 6pm when they are most at risk of getting in trouble with the criminal justice system. Taken together with universal youth jobs, afterschool programs can help stop the schools to prison pipeline.
Additionally, any afterschool program is entitled to dinner paid for with federal funds. We could end youth hunger by guaranteeing that every child has all three meals a day, now that we’ve won breakfast and lunch.
Thank you for fighting to help us win Universal After School and end youth hunger by signing the petition at BenKallos.com/UniversalAfterSchool
I am proud to share that after years of tireless community advocacy, we finally won a restoration of funding for the City’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) from 30,000 to 70,000. Just days prior, I led a rally with Public Advocate Jumaane Williams to organize a virtual rally calling for the passing of our joint legislation establishing a universal youth employment program, alongside Youth Services Chair Debi Rose, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Council Members Carlina Rivera and Carlos Manchaca, United Neighborhood Housing, Chinese Planning Council and more. I told New York County Politics:
“At this point we can’t blame the virus anymore. Our city is making decisions and young people are paying the price.”
Since it was established in 1963, SYEP has provided employment and paid internships for youth ages 14 to 24, particularly those who are low-income. The program, which employed 80,000 youth at its peak, is invaluable and remains vital to the livelihood of tens of thousands of families in New York City. This was a hard-fought victory, and I intend to hold Mayor de Blasio accountable for his promise to fund 70,000 slots as we fight to guarantee every young person a summer job. For more information, watch the rally or see full coverage by New York County Politics.
As a working parent, I understand that finding childcare can be extremely difficult. Many families with school-aged children struggle to find a safe place for their children to go during the summer while parents continue working. In 2020, Council Member Debi Rose and I introduced legislation to combat this problem and provide Universal Summer Camp to all students in New York City free of cost. Universal summer camp can provide students with healthy meals, prevent summer learning loss, and keep kids engaged and out of trouble.
I was happy to see Mayor de Blasio announce Summer Rising, a free, in person summer program for any students K-12 who want to participate. The program started in summer 2021 and ran in four time frames depending on students’ age and learning needs. For more information on how to enroll visit NYC.gov.
Every vehicle has an app, whether it’s Uber, an MTA bus, or even using Waze on your own car, I can’t believe it is so hard to do the same thing for our fleet of public school buses. That’s why in 2019 I wrote the law to require a GPS on every public school bus and an app for parents and teachers so they know where their children are.
In 2019, as reported by CBS 2 and PIX 11, the rollout of GPS devices on buses was rough. The New York Daily News even reported that the city’s Education Department promised parents could get real-time information by calling a hotline, but when parents got through to an operator, the Department still couldn't track the whereabouts of all buses. Nearly 700 buses reported delays on the first day of the Fall 2019 semester. As of 2021, things still haven’t gotten any better with children missing hours a week of class room instruction according to CBS 2.
The Department of Education has failed at every level to live up to its promise of getting the GPSs in school buses and continues to make excuses as to why it is still not done. We have fought alongside rideshare app Via to get the city to finally offer parents an app that will show where their kids are in real-time while simultaneously improving bus efficiency. See recent coverage of the issue from The City, CBS 2, Fast Company, Staten Island Advance and the New York Daily News, FOX 5, New York Post.
The New York Daily News covered legislation I introduced that passed into law to force the Department of Education and the New York City Office of Pupil Transportation to install stop-arm-cameras on New York City school buses. This use of automated enforcement through cameras would issue electronic fines after a police officer reviewed footage of the violation.
As the New York Post reported, my legislation also increases first-time fines from $250 to $275 and $300 for second and third offenders. With this escalation of punitive consequences for illegal passes, my hope is that drivers will think twice before they decide to act recklessly near stopped school buses.
For more information about the Stop Arm cameras, read the release on introduction and passage, my Op-ed in amNY, or see coverage in The New York Daily News, New York Post, Staten Island Advance, Patch, NY1, CBS 2, and ABC 7.
As a proud graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, I want all students to have equal access to our specialized schools that offer a world-class education. Currently our city’s best schools are underrepresented by Black and Latinx Students, which is why with Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, former Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus Co-Chair Robert Cornegy, and I introduced legislation aimed at increasing equity and access to our top schools. The legislation would require the Department of Education to end the practice of requiring students to register for the SHSAT and instead to automatically give every eighth grader the exam unless the opt-out. It would also require the DOE to offer every student free test prep.
Public Advocate Williams graduated from the Brooklyn Technical High School starting in 1992 when demographics included 13% Hispanic, 16% White, 32% Asian, and 38% Black, whose Black student population has been in free fall by a factor of five to only 7% as of 2016. Council Member Kallos graduated the Bronx High School of Science starting 1994 when demographics included 10% Hispanic, 12% Black, 38% White, and 40% Asian, whose Hispanic and Black student populations have more than halved to only 9% as of 2017. This legislation seeks to fix 30 years of failed academic policy that has led to a dramatic decline in enrolment in these schools by Black and LatinX students.
After an 8-month fight, I was proud to cut the ribbon in celebration of the very first French dual language program for pre-K students on the Upper East Side, which was covered by TAPinto, New York County Politics and Patch. The French dual language classes began on September 21st, 2020 with seats for 36 pre-K students. The Department of Education is operating these classes using a side-by-side instructional model where it will have one Early Childhood-certified teacher who is fluent in French and who has or will work towards a bilingual extension, alongside a second Early Childhood-certified teacher.
Our fight first began in December of 2019 when I joined Community Education District Superintendent Donalda Chumney in a meeting at Stanley Isaacs Neighborhood Center, during which dozens of parents expressed the need for a French dual language program. After the meeting, I worked with organizers to host a petition that more than 200 parents signed, pledging to send their children to the program. When I shared the results of the petition, the Department of Education (DOE) agreed to meet with the Francophone community on March 3rd, 2020, again at Stanley Isaacs Neighborhood Center, where French-speaking parents from New York City, Canada, Africa, and even France itself made their case for a French dual language program to a receptive DOE. A week later, we announced the creation of the two French dual language classes at the pre-K center located at 355 East 76th Street. In November 2020, after an 8-month fight, I was proud to cut the ribbon in celebration of the very first French dual language program for pre-K students on the Upper East Side, which was covered by TAPinto, New York County Politics and Patch.
I was disappointed to see the city refuse to expand the program at the last minute despite hundreds of empty school seats in the neighborhood. I am hopeful that the francophone community will one day win an expansion of the French dual language program beyond pre-kindergarten. Thank you to the hundreds of families that signed our petition at BenKallos.com/petition/french-dual-language
The New York Daily News covered legislation authored by students from East Side Middle School and the Manhattan Leadership Council that I introduced and passed. This new law authored by middle school students is aimed at helping LGBTQ students in New York City schools who may be subject to bullying. The law expands the number of gender sexuality alliance clubs in schools by mandating lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, and gender non-conforming (LGBTQGNC) training. Student testimony and personal stories were crucial in getting this passed, and I thank those who were brave enough to share their experiences. For more information on the law read the release or coverage in The New York Daily News.
I love art and I am proud to have sponsored and hosted our Annual Public School Art Shows at Sotheby's. Students got to see their own work hanging on the same walls that have also hung works by famous artists such as Picasso and Rembrandt. Each year we featured hundreds of pieces of art by student artists from nearly a dozen public schools on the Upper East Side, with participants ranging from grade school to high school seniors. Thank you to the P.S. 183 PTA and teachers who helped lead the initiative and to the students. You can see their artwork for yourself at Facebook.com/BenKallos/photos
Homework Gap and Online Learning
With every single one of New York City’s 1.1 million public school students learning online partially or fully in the fall of 2020, the Department of Education estimated that there were still upwards of 77,000 students in need of internet-capable devices, despite repeated assurances from Mayor Bill de Blasio that “every student who needs one gets one.” Legislation I authored with Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, then-Borough Presidents Eric Adams, and Borough President Gale Brewer, would force the city to give free laptops and tablets with Internet to all public school students and to report on the quantity, costs, distribution and demographics of students receiving devices.
Since the start of the pandemic and the transition to remote learning, parents and students have expressed their inability to access to high-speed internet and a lack of adequate remote learning devices, allowing for the exacerbation of racial disparities in student engagement with remote learning. In April of 2020, the Department of Education spent over $269 million on 300,000 iPads, equipped with T-Mobile LTE for $10 a mobile. The number of devices distributed, the number of students who received devices, and the number actually used, remain outstanding. In September 2020, the City Council even had to subpoena the Department of Education for remote attendance data.
The legislation would also mandate that devices come loaded with culturally responsive open digital textbooks. This comes on the heels of an opinion editorial that I wrote with Silicon Harlem’s Clayton Banks in which we proposed saving $84 million and rooting out racial injustice in the classroom by doing away with textbooks that too often perpetuate notions of white supremacy through a narrow focus on the achievements of white men.
At one point as many as three-quarters of New York City’s 1.1 million students were going to school remotely over the two school years. That’s why former Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus Co-Chair Council Member Robert Cornegy and I authored a letter demanding a desegregation of online learning, initially covered and then endorsed by the New York Post as an opportunity to “make remote learning into a winner for many kids.”
We proposed the creation of a new desegregated citywide school district to serve every student enrolled in all remote learning. The virtual schools within this new district would be organized around learning style, enrichment, and even common interest. Initial online diagnostics or results from remote learning earlier this year would help identify how students learned, so we can best match them with teachers and virtual classrooms filled with diverse groups of students who learned the same way. Enrichment programs like gifted and talented programs or those tailored to specific interests and remote learning styles could finally be offered to every student who qualified, with additional classrooms opened for students who may not have qualified or even known to take the test but who deserve the access and opportunity nonetheless.
Imagine the public education system we can create together, with the ambitious goal of taking on systemic racism and segregation, all while providing a historic opportunity for students of every race and ethnicity. There would be no more lotteries. No more geographic preference based on racist red lining. No more false constraints created by generations of disinvestment in communities of color. Parents and students could simply apply and be guaranteed a seat in the virtual classroom of their choice. Equal educational opportunities for all.
Investing in Schools
As a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, I have invested over $24.75 million in discretionary funding from my office to support STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education.
- P.S. 6 - $100,000 Security cameras + technology
- P.S. 59 - $100,000 Auditorium upgrades
- P.S. 77 - $1,520,000 Playground*, A/C*, & laptops*
- P.S. 151 - $2,463,000 Rooftop play space* & laptops
- P.S. 158 - $564,000 Security cameras, technology, & laptops
- P.S. 183 - $1,654,000 Hydroponics lab*, A/C*, & laptops*
- P.S. 198 - $1,520,000 Playground*, A/C*, & laptops*
- P.S./I.S. 217 - $1,590,000 Green roof*, new gym & technology
- P.S. 225 - $275,000 Technology & laptops
- P.S. 267 - $135,000 Technology & laptops
- P.S. 290 - $2,430,000 Green roof*, restrooms*, smartboards, & laptops*
- P.S. 527 - $1,300,000 Auditorium, cafeteria lighting, security cameras*, & technology*
- Hunter Elementary & H.S. - $200,000 Glass box campus addition
- M.S. 114 ESMS - $1,108,000 Tech lab, whiteboards, & laptops*
- M.S. 177 Yorkville East - $415,000 Security cameras, technology, & laptops*
- Bronx Science H.S. - $70,000 Technology
- Brooklyn Tech H.S. - $35,000 Technology
- Eleanor Roosevelt H.S. - $1,286,000 New library, new music room, water fountains, whiteboards, & technology*
- Life Science H.S. - $275,000 Bathroom renovations, new lighting, technology & laptops*
- Manhattan International H.S - $275,000 Technology and laptops*
- Talent Unlimited H.S. - $330,000 Auditorium improvements, technology, & laptops
- Urban Academy H.S. - $383,000 Technology & laptops
- Vanguard H.S. - $275,000 Technology & laptops
*Funded by Participatory Budgeting
Since I’ve been a council member, the School Construction Authority has rebuilt multiple schools in the district replacing facades, roofs, and windows. With many of these beautiful school buildings over a century old, it is important that we retain their historical character while modernizing them for 21st century education and meeting the challenges posed by completing construction without disrupting the school year. During my time in office, P.S. 158, P.S. 183, and P.S. 77/198 have all seen major over $69 million in renovations, with the first two winning historic preservation awards in 2019.
Parents, students, teachers, and administrators have also been fighting for new playspace, and their efforts won $500,000 through participatory budgeting for a new playground at P.S. 77 and P.S. 198. For more information visit BenKallos.com/ press-releases
It’s no secret that there's not much space for children to play and get exercise on the Upper East Side, let alone in schools. When parents and students at Eleanor Roosevelt High School came out advocating for new gym space, we got the Mayor's attention. As you may have read in Patch, a student-led petition on my website that got over 5,000 signatures, we secured $6.5 million dollars for a brand new, double-height gym. The new gym will occupy the 6th floor of a new pre-k center located at 355 East 76th Street. The new gym will open in early 2022.
In November, we announced the start of construction of Yorkville Community School’s (P.S. 151) play roof. The students at YCS do not have an outdoor play space at this time, but the play roof will soon allow them to get exercise and sunlight during the school day. Construction began during the pandemic and is expected to be completed next year. Learn more in our release or in coverage in Patch.
This November we celebrated the completion of the much anticipated Green Roof at P.S./I.S. 217 on Roosevelt Island with a ceremonial planting and ribbon cutting. The project received $1 Million in funding from my office through participatory budgeting in 2015 and 2016 thanks to the Roosevelt Island community’s advocacy and organizing. Principal Mandana Beckman welcomed us and we were joined by Congresswoman Maloney, Borough President Brewer, Assembly Member Seawright, PTA leadership and community activists. Learn more in our release or in coverage in TAPInto and the Roosevelt Islander.
East Side Middle School Principal David Getz and I announced $1.4 Million in funding to convert part of the school’s library into a maker space and their basement to a dance studio. The students at East Side Middle School always amaze me and I can’t wait to see what they accomplish in these new spaces. Learn more in our release or in coverage in TAPInto.
In October 2019, we cut the ribbon on a new $600,000 hydroponics lab for P.S. 183 that was funded with money I allocated after the project won Participatory Budgeting in 2017 with 1,514 votes. A special thank you to Principal Martin Woodard, PTA member and PB delegate Michael Ekstract for this project and to the teachers, staff, parents, and kids who will bring it to life. For more information on the new lab, read the release or watch the ribbon cutting at BenKallos.com/Videos
Last March, I also joined Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and students and school administrators at Eleanor Roosevelt High School to cut the ribbon on $212,000 worth of equipment and upgrades to the school’s library, including new LED lighting, new flooring, furniture and even new podcasting equipment. For more information on the new gym, read the release or coverage in Patch and Our Town. For more information on the new equipment and renovations, read the release or watch the ribbon-cutting at BenKallos.com/videos
We worked with Mayor de Blasio and the School Construction Authority to find gym space for all of our public school students on the Upper East Side. As reported by Our Town, I have also successfully worked to arrange a deal with the Spence School so that when it opens its 54,000-square-foot athletics complex on East 90th Street, it will allow physical education classes for P.S. 151, the Yorkville Community School, and P.S. 527, the East Side School for Social Action. Now that the Spence 412 Athletic and Educational Facility is open we can’t wait for our students to share the facility. For more information on the new gym, read the release or coverage in Patch and Our Town.
During construction, a remnant of an orphanage was uncovered which led to advocacy from Father Boniface Ramsey, the pastor of the nearby St. Joseph’s Church, which caught the attention of the New York Times. My office hosted a meeting between Spence School and St. Joseph’s Church where we were able to find a solution to commemorate the past use of the site with a plaque on the outside of the building.
Children’s Academy is a K–12 nonprofit school serving children with speech and language delays on behalf of the Department of Education. I was proud to join them as we cut the ribbon on 50 new K–12 seats at their new location at 317 East 50th Street. We've worked closely with the school to ensure that parents and the school are reimbursed by the city in a more timely manner and most recently to get through the bureaucracy necessary to open a new educational facility. Thank you to Deborah Blenman-Green, Head of School, for welcoming my office to the ribbon cutting and for all the great work her team did to get the location open. It has been my privilege to work with schools, families and of course children receiving a special education in the neighborhood.
Throughout 2020, my office supported parents, teachers, principals and, most importantly, students as they expressed concerns with the city’s plan, or lack thereof, to safely reopen our schools. During that time, we advocated for an initial delay, followed by phasing students in based on age, both of which were adopted for the Fall 2020 semester.
Over the summer, I had proposed setting up remote learning centers throughout our city, everywhere from closed private and parochial schools to libraries, community centers and even empty storefronts for supervised, socially distanced learning. Shortly thereafter, the Mayor announced the City’s Learning Bridges program, a remote learning plan to provide a place to go for up to 100,000 students in pre-K to 8th grade on days when they are not learning in-person, which I supported in concept, but initially criticized in a letter and in the New York Post for not having enough planned seats.
During several weeks in September through October 2020, New York City students who opted for in-person learning returned by age group until all grade levels reopened. Just as I feared, only 3,600 remote learning seats were available on the first day of reopening, a far cry from the initial promise of 100,000 and from the subsequent guarantee of 30,000 by the second week.
In November 2020 we learned that there was only one Learning Bridges site in all of Community Board 8 at a hearing with the board, with 60 seats to serve 9 elementary schools with more than 4,000 students. Roosevelt Island didn’t have a site at all, with students as young as three assigned to the Vanderbilt YMCA and forced to commute nearly 30 minutes in each direction by train or tram to midtown. As you may have read in Patch and TAPinto, we held a rally with parents, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, and acting RIOC President Shelton Haynes, and immediately following our rally, we won 400 seats at Sportspark on Roosevelt Island.
When our kids finally returned to school for good, there was a full-time nurse on campus to support students through the remainder of the pandemic. That’s all thanks to the parents, families, caregivers, and children at P.S. 290 Manhattan New School who launched a petition for the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Education (DOE) of New York City to provide a stable and permanent school nurse. I reached out to the DOE to bolster their demands and continued to call attention to this need ahead of schools reopening, sharing with the New York Post my fear that a medical professional will not be present on campuses to perform proper diagnoses and other health services. The Community Education Committee of District 2 passed a resolution, and ultimately Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza announced that the City would hire 400 new nurses to guarantee that every school building has a nurse.
In January 2021, I joined Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright for a first walkthrough of the brand new, much larger Roosevelt Island branch of the New York Public Library, which replaced the former one-room branch. My office helped to retain $1.7 million in funding originally allocated by the City Council and get it built after being stalled for half a decade. As I shared with Patch:
“Roosevelt Islanders have always loved their public library and now they are going to love it even more.”
The new branch includes:
- A separate children’s area with glass doors and partition to uphold an outdoor feel;
- A teen area;
- A reading room for adults;
- 16,000 books to browse;
- 29 dedicated computer workstations or laptops for children, teens, or adults<
- A community room for programming;
- A landscaped entry area with an exterior book drop (which will not be accessible until the branch opens fully to the public);
- Outdoor bench seating that will also serve as a local bus stop; and
- An audio induction loop to help the hearing impaired.
The City’s Department of Design and Construction, also in attendance at the ribbon-cutting, broke ground on the $7.8 million project in October of 2018. I am glad to see its completion at a time when residents need it most. For more information on the ribbon-cutting at the Roosevelt Island Library visit visit BenKallos.com/press-releases. See coverage by Patch and Time Out New York and the Roosevelt Islander.
I kicked off 2020 by cutting a ribbon to commemorate the 67th Street Library’s reopening after much-needed improvements. We celebrated the 114-year-old building’s $2.5 million makeover, which included a new roof, HVAC system, façade, and technology upgrades. The event was personal for me, because this is the library where I got my first library card and checked out books for class research when I was in elementary school at Park East. Thank you to Speaker Corey Johnson for providing the $1.5 million in funding that I requested and to Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York Public Library for the remaining $1 million.
As a proud graduate of the State University system, I have supported the Excelsior Scholarship since its inception. Students whose families make $125,000 per year or less now qualify for free college tuition at all City (CUNY) and State (SUNY) two- and four-year colleges in New York State as long as they live in-state. When I ran for office in 2013, one of the "fresh ideas" for which the New York Times endorsed me was providing a debt-free higher education for CUNY students where the City would forgive student debt for every year the student remained in New York City after graduation, so that the taxes from their increased income would pay for their education and more. For details on the Excelsior Scholarship, visit HESC.
JOBS & ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
In 2013, I promised to secure affordable broadband for low-income New Yorkers from our Internet franchisers. In 2015, when Charter Communications sought to merge with Time Warner Cable, I joined now-Attorney General Tish James in testifying at hearings and advocating for the Public Service Commission to require any company acquiring Time Warner Cable to help bridge the digital divide by providing low-income residents with low-cost, high-speed broadband Internet.
In March of 2017, I fulfilled my promise as we announced Spectrum Internet Assist, a new low-cost, high-speed broadband program, alongside James and Charter Communications. I believe this initiative will help close the digital divide by providing nearly one million people with affordable high-speed Internet access for the first time.
Spectrum Internet Assist
$14.99 per month for 30 Mbps downloads and 4 Mbps uploads, email and more.
No contract, no cost for modem and no activation fees.
Eligibility: Families with children in public schools who receive free or reduced-cost lunch & Seniors (over 65) who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
What we won from Spectrum became the template for the state, and Altice Advantage internet and Spectrum are available to those living in the service area by visiting AlticeAdvantageInternet.com.
Expanding access to broadband has been essential for the City’s education system in the fight against coronavirus. In April of 2020, in collaboration with Silicon Harlem, I advocated with Charter Communications and a week before remote-learning began, they announced that Spectrum would offer free broadband and Wi-Fi access for 60 days to households with K-12 and/or college students who do not already have a Spectrum broadband subscription with installation fees waived.
My office has been fighting to close the digital divide for years. This is a battle that has not been won yet and it is embarrassing for our City that in 2021, one out of every four homes in East Harlem, right here in Manhattan, does not have internet.
A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control found a "strong association" between households with access to broadband and vaccination rates. Given the number of constituents our office helped secure an appointment, we know how important an Internet connection is to getting a vaccine and beating this Pandemic.
Here in New York City, there are 500,000 households without Internet access. That's more people than live in Atlanta. Imagine if no one in Atlanta had Internet, it would be a national embarrassment, and a priority. But here in New York half a million people without Internet go ignored.
Under legislation I authored, every apartment in New York City would offer broadband Internet for free. All new residential buildings, as well as those undergoing renovations, would be wired for gigabit Internet. Existing buildings with ten or more units would have to provide broadband Internet to their tenants for free. Tenants could still choose to pay for a faster Internet from a different provider. This would make it so that we treat the Internet as a utility just like heat, hot water, electricity, and phones.
Whether we pass this legislation and put the burden on landlords here in New York City or the FCC finally steps in and forces cable and phone companies to provide affordable Internet to every household in America, all that matters is that we answer the moral imperative to give everyone broadband Internet.
I joined Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to announce the release of a new white paper titled “Bridging the Digital Divide for Every New Yorker with a Universal Internet Guarantee.” The report notes how a reliable high-speed Internet connection has become a basic need for every New Yorker for remote learning, working from home, virtual socializing, and more. This need became especially acute amid a deadly pandemic that placed severe limitations on people’s ability to safely gather in-person. I spoke with Gotham Gazette about how to address this challenge:
“A revenue-first approach to the internet, whether through a franchise or a kiosk, is not the model we should have...We should have a model that prioritizes connectivity.”
To deliver truly Universal Broadband, we need several fixes at once. We could start with rezoning to require affordable internet through Mandatory Inclusionary Internet, just like we required affordable housing with Mandatory Inclusionary Housing. We could offer incentives for 5G providers to offer affordable access. We can require cable providers to expand affordable Internet offerings we already won to every single low-income New Yorker. And if the providers won't do it, we can take over their networks and do it ourselves by establishing a Municipal Broadband network. We can upgrade existing infrastructure by speeding along the conversion of old payphones into free Internet kiosks and adding WiFi to bus stops. We can even open up the city government’s wireless network to the public.
The pandemic has shown us the importance of giving every public school student who needs one a laptop with affordable broadband in the home to eliminate the homework gap and give a whole new generation a real chance at equity. Where all else fails, for those we still haven’t reached in low-income communities of color, we must invest the millions promised by the Mayor in businesses owned and operated by women and people of color to spur innovation and connect every last New Yorker.
Over the years, Borough President Adams and I have both been vocal about the City’s and private sector’s failures to provide Internet access to the communities that need it most, and we see our new report as a comprehensive roadmap for achieving universal Internet access in New York City. For more, read our press release at BenKallos.com/press-release or see coverage by Kings County Politics and Gotham Gazette.
I joined Rockefeller University in opening the Stavros Niarchos Foundation-Rockefeller River Campus and cut the ribbon with Congress Member Carolyn Maloney, Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, and Rockefeller University Executive Vice President Timothy O’Connor. The $500 million research facility contains 160,000 square feet of both bio-medical and bioscience laboratories, which fits sleekly along the river-edge of their campus, rather than towering over the community. This will help New York City compete with cities like Boston and states like California for jobs in this field. Rockefeller University boasts 25 Nobel Laureates in the fields of medicine and science, which I must finally admit is more than my alma mater, the Bronx High School of Science, which has 8 (which still has the most for any high school in America!). It has been exciting to see this project advance from when it came before me at the City Council in 2014, to the groundbreaking in 2015, to joining university officials in 2017 as they lowered large sections of the building onto the FDR from a barge in the East River overnight.
As part of this project, we formed a public-private partnership between my office and the University, that included a $15 million investment in the East River Esplanade from 63rd Street to 68th Street, which Rockefeller University will maintain in perpetuity.
I consider this world-class institution a true asset to the Upper East Side, the city, state, country and world at large. For more information on the new building, read the release or read the commitment letter from the University at BenKallos.com/Press-Releases
On my first day as an elected official, New Year's day 2014, I met with Rockefeller University. I can still remember the frosted grass on their lush campus crunching under my feet. At the meeting they proposed building a new Life Sciences Campus over the FDR with a promise to invest what would become $15 million in rebuilding the Esplanade from 62nd to 68th Street, the first investment of its kind in generations. They shared that they would be moving Nobel Laureates who were using antiquated academic labs into the new proposed life sciences building. I asked what would happen to the old space and if we could create a new biotech incubator?
We worked together in the seven years since that day on a new biotech incubator to retain top talent and grow jobs right in the district, and I am proud to share $9 million in funding from the city to do just that. Rockefeller University will convert 26,000 square feet of academic research labs to expand the Tri-Institutional Translational Center for Therapeutics, an incubator for commercial life sciences, which will serve as the first of its kind on the Upper East Side. These new facilities will also seek to convert the scientific potential of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Weill Cornell Medicine into local high-growth companies. Read more in Upper East Side Patch.
In 2017, I joined City leaders and residents, including former and present mayors Michael Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio, as well as Governor Cuomo, at the official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of Cornell Tech’s campus on Roosevelt Island. The state-of-the-art facility was made possible in part by a generous donation on behalf of Mayor Bloomberg’s charity, Bloomberg Philanthropies. The campus will not only take part in critical technological advancements, but it will also create hundreds of new jobs on Roosevelt Island.
By diligently working with community organizers and the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, my office ensured that the construction project was done by barge and stayed on track without harming the Island. Cornell Tech will grow jobs and educate the next tech leaders right on Roosevelt Island, making sure the next big thing is “Made In New York.” Cornell Tech is now in the process of attracting millions in investment on Roosevelt Island and in New York City. Since Cornell Tech opened, they have collaborated with my office on a number of events, including the "Ignite My future Initiative" and the Launching of the TCS $50 Million Investment in Cornell Tech to Advance K-12 Digital Literacy in New York City Schools. For more information, read the release at BenKallos.com/Press-Releases
In late 2017, I was excited to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Cornell Tech to celebrate the announcement of a $50 million dollar investment from Tata Consulting Services (TCS) and open the new innovation center. This generous investment by TCS will bring academia and industry together under one roof in a new innovation center on Cornell Tech’s campus. The collaboration between TCS and Cornell Tech presents exciting opportunities for the students at the university. Thank you to Ratan Tata for his generosity and work towards creating a campus that is at the forefront of technological innovation.
In June 2021, I was proud to join Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, and Cornell Tech to celebrate the grand opening of the first-ever hotel on Roosevelt Island, Graduate Hotel. I had a lot of fun in their “Big” room, a replica from the movie.
Government Benefits & Retirement
In October 2021, Governor Kathy Hochul expanded the ‘Retirement Security for All’ law that I authored statewide. The law will help millions of private-sector workers in New York who do not have access to retirement savings plans through their jobs to get enrolled automatically at no cost to their employers.
Every New Yorker deserves the right to retire. In New York City, two-thirds of workers, more than 2 million people in 2009, did not participate in employer-sponsored retirement plans, largely because their employer didn’t offer one, according to a 2011 report by then-Comptroller John Liu. More than one-third of households led by a member who will become a senior citizen in the next decade will either be unable to retire or have to live entirely or primarily on Social Security income, according to the same report. The National Institute on Retirement Security predicts a United States retirement saving deficit of as much as $14 trillion.
This was a long fight, starting with authoring and introducing legislation in 2015 with Public Advocate Tish James to implement the program. In February of 2016, I joined Mayor de Blasio and Public Advocate Tish James to announce and introduce the legislation. Later that year, we worked with a national coalition of state and city governments to advocate before the White House and the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) to secure new regulations for states and municipalities that would allow our program to proceed. In 2017, when Trump entered the White House, his chief advisor Steve Bannon put stopping our legislation on a top ten list on his whiteboard at the White House. Among the first acts of the 115th Congress and the President was the passage of House Joint Resolutions 66 and 67 to roll back the Obama Administration’s regulations intended to make it easier for states and municipalities to offer retirement savings plans. While the regulations simply confirmed that ERISA did not preempt state- or city-facilitated IRAs, New York State and City attorneys didn’t want to risk litigation with the Justice Department in the notoriously strict 2nd Circuit.
With a new White House in 2018, Governor Cuomo passed a state-sponsored IRA, and I re-introduced my auto-IRA legislation. But in September 2019, Cuomo still hadn’t even begun steps to implement a state IRA. That month I joined Mayor de Blasio and Council Member I. Daneek Miller at City Hall at a rally in support of our legislation, which was covered by the New York Daily News, WCBS 880, and ABC 7. Following the rally, dozens of supporters from AARP crowded into the City Council Chambers to testify in support, as did one of the only existing state facilitated auto-IRAs, OregonSaves, along with national experts to testify at the City Council.
On May 11, 2021, my “Retirement Security for All” auto-enrollment IRA bill was signed into law. The law applies to employers with 5 or more employees who do not currently offer a retirement option, though smaller employers and individuals will have the option of joining. Once implemented, employees over the age of 21 who do not already have access to retirement through their employer will have 5% of their paycheck automatically deducted from their payroll. Employees will be able to drop their enrollment and withdraw initial funds or adjust withholdings up to the Federal maximum of $6,000 (or $7,000 at age 50 or above). The auto-IRA will be portable between employers and likely even jurisdictions. The auto-IRA will be low-fee to participants and no-fee for employers. In October, Governor Kathy Hochul signed a law authored by my good friend, then-Assembly Member Robert Rodriguez to expand the program statewide.
I have been fighting to implement a plan like this since before I was an elected official. I helped craft the Retirement Security for All platform for Bill Samuels’ EffectiveNY when I was the executive director of the good government and policy group. Thank you to Mayor de Blasio for taking this issue on and working to get it passed into law. For more information read the release on introduction, rally, hearing, passage, and expansion, my op-eds in Crain's New York and the New York Daily News, coverage from Gotham Gazette, The Chief Leader, City & State, Politico, New York Daily News, WCBS 880, and ABC 7, and CBS 2.
No one should go hungry, lose their home, or go without healthcare in New York City, one of the wealthiest cities in the world. We are a City with hundreds of programs designed to help those in need.
As you may have read in the New York Times, I worked with experts in the Federal government, academia, non-profits, and the private sector to advance legislation and research the regulatory framework to legally provide benefits automatically, so New Yorkers can get barrier free benefits. In our work, we have secured millions in funding to research Automatic Benefits policies and even helped make the software necessary freely available to the public. In December of 2017, the City Council passed a measure to study the feasibility and possible effectiveness of implementing my Automatic Benefits legislation.
The city’s study was completed in 2018 and proved that my Automatic Benefits proposal could bring billions to our local economy and help those who need it most. In 2019, the City’s first-ever Benefits Screening API was released, allowing for better access to more than 30 social service benefits that are available to residents through the city. For more information read the release, our research, check out the software, the report on Benefit Access from the city, coverage in the New York Times, or get screened for benefits now at Access.NYC.gov.
Private and Non-Profit Sector
As the Wall Street Journal reported, in September of 2020, I introduced two bills to help small businesses stay open and keep them afloat as New York City fought through the worst period resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. The first bill I authored creates a low-interest, small grants and loans program that would provide restaurants with up to $250,000 in funding to make restaurants compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The funding could be used for infrastructure changes, ventilation improvements, as well as other public health upgrades to assist those who are at greater risk for developing serious complications from the coronavirus.
The second bill was passed by the City Council in December 2021 and will streamline the process for restaurants to obtain or renew a sidewalk-cafe license and will also allow for licenses to be transferred should an establishment undergo a change of ownership. The law simplifies the process by issuing operating licenses to applicants for a sidewalk café license if the plans for the new sidewalk café are identical to the plans for a previously operating sidewalk café at the same location. This bill would also allow the Department to issue a temporary operating license to new sidewalk cafe applicants whose petitions have been approved but are pending registration by the Comptroller.
This legislation is especially beneficial for small businesses given Mayor de Blasio’s announcement that the City’s “Open Restaurants” program, which emerged in response to the pandemic and allows businesses to use street space for outdoor dining service, will be extended year-round and made permanent.
The process to obtain a sidewalk cafe permit takes months and involves a vote by the local community board and the entire City Council. This process can often get expensive and cost a small business a lot of money. With these two pieces of legislation, we aim to give small businesses the helping hand they need by saving them time and money on sidewalk cafe licenses and circumventing ADA-compliance lawsuits. For more information on the bills, read the release or see coverage by the Wall Street Journal.
On the day before Thanksgiving 2020, nonprofits on the frontlines of this pandemic who are struggling to feed the hungry shared the devastating impact of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s retroactive and prospective cuts of tens of millions of dollars. As chair of the Committee on Contracts, I held a hearing on cuts to nonprofits where we were joined by dozens of providers and residents who were struggling through the holiday season. InApril 2020, Mayor de Blasio’s Executive Plan cut indirect funding by nearly 40% to $34 million under the guise of a “right-sizing,” assuring providers that reimbursements from that fiscal year would be completed. Human service providers are now in trouble, having already spent funds expecting this reimbursement, which was reduced to 10% of contract value or 60% of actual costs, and they must continue through this pandemic without the city paying for indirect costs as promised.
As you may have read in the New York Daily News, months prior in August 2020, I joined 20 council members to demand the restoration of these funds by letter. Then, in September 2020, I joined the Human Services Council, Borough President Gale Brewer, council members and providers to lead a rally demanding a restoration of these funds.
Finally in April 2021, our advocacy paid off when the Mayor fully funded an initiative to restore $120 million to non-profits so they can get paid for their essential work keeping New York City healthy and moving throughout this pandemic. Learn more about the $120 million that was restored in NY Nonprofit Media or in our release.
As the Daily News reported, I proposed legislation that would facilitate a worker-led recovery by raising wages for 200,000 human service employees who work at non-profits that are contracted to the city.
New York City provides services to millions of youths, seniors, homeless, and veterans in poverty through human service nonprofits whose government contracts ironically pay workers poverty wages. Per my legislation, the Comptroller would work with the human services sector to determine the average wage or adopt a collectively bargained wage for new contracts. Once prevailing wage rates are adopted, the city would be required to fully fund wage increases as part of new contracts, modifications, or renewals increasing overall funds to non-profits providing vital human services.
“We need to actually invest in paying our Black and Brown human service workers and women of color a prevailing wage so that they can afford to live in the city,” I told the Daily News.
Currently, we are operating in a system where social workers, case managers and other human service professionals, sometimes even with advanced degrees, earn significantly less than building services workers or security guards at the same organization. Pay is so low that 60% of those working in the human services sector were utilizing or had a family member utilizing some form of public assistance benefit, such as Medicaid or food stamps. This is because some of the job titles that have benefited most from prevailing wage laws served predominantly blue-collar workers who are mostly male, exacerbating the gender pay gap.
It is time for the City to finally pay these service providers and their workers the wages they deserve. For more information, read the release, legislation, or see coverage by TAPinto and the New York Daily News.
Although women and people of color represent more than a majority of our city’s population, they face discrimination in obtaining city contracts, which is why New York City created a narrowly tailored preference for the businesses they own. As Chair of the Contracts Committee, it was my responsibility to make sure this program did a better job in meeting its goals.
We collaborated with Silicon Harlem to host a training and job fair in order to connect women and people of color with these business opportunities. At the fair, people learned how to get certified, find out about contracting opportunities, get jobs as subcontractors to help prime vendors meet their goals, and even just get jobs.
A decade ago, Asian Americans in the business of providing professional services were doing so well in getting subcontracts on city jobs that a 2012 City of New York Disparity Study found there was no longer a need to include them in the city’s Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) program, and they were taken off in 2013. In the years that followed, Asian American-owned professional services lost their market share to the point that the 2018 City of New York Disparity Study found that for professional services, “Asian American-owned firms were underutilized, with a substantial and statistically significant disparity.” In June 2019, I held a hearing in the Contracts Committee on the disparities study including Int. 1293, which I co-sponsored with Council Member Deborah Rose, that would add Native Americans and restore Asian American-owned professional services to the MWBE program.
The most recent study is a stark reminder of how difficult it is for businesses owned by women and people of color to compete for city subcontracts. It is embarrassing to see professional service companies owned by Asian Americans losing so many city subcontracts that they are returning to the city’s MWBE program. Our MWBE program took three steps forward and now must take two steps back. City programs should provide enough support to businesses owned by women and people of color so that they will one day no longer need a preference. Following our hearing, the Council passed Introduction 1293 as Local Law 174 of 2019.
At that same hearing, we also heard legislation I authored, Int. 1624, that required key data points already tracked by the disparities study to be updated in real-time so that impacted communities need not wait so many years to find relief. In December 2021, we passed the law to track and update data quarterly on MWBE’s in City contracts so we can have real-time data on the discrimination they face. Having a clearer picture of this discrimination will give us tools to better combat it and increase the representation of MWBE’s receiving City contracts. You can read more in the release or coverage from NYN Media.
If you own a business and may qualify as an MWBE, you can learn more here: www1.nyc.gov/nycbusiness/description/minority-and-womenowned-business-enterprise-certification-program-mwbe
IMPROVING AND CREATING NEW PARKS
Investing in New Parks
During my time as your City Council Member, I have Co-Chaired the East River Esplanade Taskforce with Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. We have fought tirelessly to make investments in the Esplanade all the way from East Midtown to East Harlem. We have now secured a total of $927.5 million dollars for the East River Esplanade:
🛠 In construction for 2023Esplanade, 53rd - 60th St., $154 MillionWe broke ground in 2019 on a $100 million extension of the East River Esplanade from 60th St down to 53rd St
✅ Completed 2019 Sutton Place Park, 56th - 62nd St., $2.8 MillionWe connected Sutton Place Park with the pocket park at 56th St. We also invested $171,000 from our office for new security cameras to keep parks safe
Andrew Haswell Green Park, 60th - 61st St.
✅ Completed in 2017, Phase 2A, $4.7 Million
🛠 In construction for 2022 Phase 2B, $33.6 Million
💲 Funded, Structural Rehab, $18 Million
In November 2017, we celebrated the completion of Andrew Haswell Green Park Phase 2A, a $7 million project that sits underneath the famous Alice Aycock “East River Round About.” Phase 2B will continue the Esplanade for 2 blocks, adding a hill with a green space to enjoy waterfront views.
✅ Completed 2019 Rockefeller University, 64th - 68th St., $15 Million
Our first public/private partnership with Rockefeller University stemming from their new river campus resulted in $15 million for a new resilient Esplanade, repaired seawalls, and a $1 million trust for maintenance in perpetuity.
🛠 In construction for 2022 Esplanade, 68th - 70th St., $2 Million
After public-private partnerships funded renovations for much of the Esplanade, we invested capital dollars from our office to fill this gap.
Hospital for Special Surgery
✅ Completed in 2019 70 - 72nd St, $1.8 Million
💲 Funded 72nd to 78th St., $6.6 Million
We formed a public/private partnership with the Hospital for Special Surgery to renovate 2 blocks of the Esplanade and develop a Master Plan to continue north to 78th St. The plan includes noise barriers, water fountains, and irrigation, along with maintenance in perpetuity.
✅ Completed in 2017 81st St. Pedestrian Bridge, 16 Million
We replaced the 50-year-old crumbling stairwell connecting the upper and lower Esplanades with a new accessible ramp including glass viewing portals, rest points and a garden below.
💲 Funded in 2021 John Finley Walk, 81st - 90th St., $80 Million
This project will renovate the esplanade between East 81st and 90th streets, which runs past Carl Schurz Park. Visible changes will include smoothing over uneven walking surfaces, replacing streetlights, benches and pedestrian railings, and improving drainage systems.
💲 Funded Brearley Overhang, 82nd - 83rd St., $1.5 Million
After years of neglect by the City, Brearley negotiated a public-private partnership with our office to take over the overhang, fund renovations, and maintain the overhang in perpetuity.
✅ Opened 2016 90th St. Pier
The 3,000 square foot 90th Street Pier was closed to the public, only visible through the bars of a gate. It is now a public park thanks to our advocacy alongside Friends of the East River Esplanade.
✅ Completed in 2020 Esplanade, 90 - 92nd St., $14 Million
I secured $35 million in 2014, long before this section of the Esplanade fell into the river and emergency work began in 2017 and was completed in 2020
💲 Funded Esplanade, 92nd - 94th St., $28.5 Million
💲 Funded Esplanade, 94th - 107th St., $187 Million
💲 Funded 107th St. Pier, $28 Million
💲 Funded Esplanade, 114th - 117th St., $38 Million
💲 Funded Esplanade 118th - 124th St., $69 Million
💲 Funded Harlem River Drive, $227 Million
Soon my community and I will finally be able to run, bike, or walk the entire length of my district from Midtown East to East Harlem.
As Co-Chair of the East River Esplanade Taskforce with Congress Member Carolyn Maloney, I am proud that we secured another $80 million for renovations to John Finley Walk, exceeding half a billion dollars in repairs for the Esplanade with the hope of getting ahead of more collapses. The new funding will be used to implement structural repairs to the underside of the deck, repair walls along the roadway, and replace concrete girders, as well as make important upgrades for pedestrians, eliminate uneven walking surfaces, improve drainage, and replace the pedestrian railings, street lighting and benches along the entire span. Thank you Mayor de Blasio, Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver and Transportation Commissioner Hank Gutman for working to secure this additional funding. Watch coverage of the press conference by TapInto.
In 2018, I allocated $460,000 to renovate the splash pad. Following my investment and advocacy from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, in 2021 the Mayor invested another $7 million to fully renovate St. Catherine’s Park for a total of $10 million for a new St. Catherine’s Park. You can track progress at nycgovparks.org/planning-and-building/capital-project-tracker
As you may have read in amNY, Ruppert Park will be getting an $8.9 million full renovation thanks to discretionary funding from my office, Assembly Member Dan Quart, Council Member Keith Powers, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and the City Council. Last month, they joined me in the park to celebrate the announcement along with Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Community Board 8, Parks Manhattan Commissioner Bill Castro, and community stewards from the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, Muslim Volunteers for New York, and nearby Knickerbocker Plaza.
On December 9, 2021, the Parks Department unveiled the proposed design for a new Ruppert Park. On May 20th, after providing the initial discretionary funding allocation of $2.5 million, I joined NYC Parks in hosting dozens of residents at a public scoping session to discuss details relating to the redesign of the park with the community and hear their input. Moving forward, a design plan will be presented to the public at Community Board 8 and the Public Design Commission in 2021. Ruppert Park, at the site of the former Ruppert Brewery, was built in 1979 by the City’s Housing Preservation and Development Administration and transferred to NYC Parks Department in 1997. The project is expected to begin construction in 2023.
As Patch reported, in late 2020 the $3.3 million in renovations to the Carl Schurz Park playground funded with $2.5 million from my office and $750,000 from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer are now complete. While it was cute to see my daughter playing on the same equipment as I did 30 years ago, my 3-year-old daughter and every other child deserved a new playground and now they have it. Thank you to the Parks Department for working with us to get this done within a year and to East River Esplanade Co-Chair Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney for joining me to officially open the new playground.
Upgrades to the playground include a reconstructed spray shower, swings, new play equipment for children ages 2 to 12, accessible ramps that connect to Catbird Playground, game tables, benches, plantings and pavers. We’ve been working on this project since long before I had a child and I am happy to finally welcome it to the neighborhood. For more information, read the release at BenKallos.com/press-release or read coverage in Upper East Side Patch.
The new Sutton Place Park is open! The long-awaited opening was attended by dozens of children and families, and members of the Sutton Area Community and Sutton Place Park Conservancy. The new park, which came at a total cost of $2.875 million, was built atop a deck over the F.D.R. Drive on what was once a private garden. It connects two small parks at 56th and 57th Streets, adding some 10,000 square feet of park space.
The new green space is the result of a collaboration between the Parks Department and 1 Sutton Place South, which subdivided its private garden in order to provide more park space for the community. I am proud of the work my office did to push the construction of this park along, but we must thank those who fought for years to make this happen. For more information on the new Sutton Place Park, check out the release at BenKallos.com/releases or read prior coverage in Our Town.
$1 Million for John Jay Pool
A nearly $1 million investment in John Jay Pool brought upgrades to this highly used public swimming spot at 77th Street and Cherokee Place. I joined Parks Department officials to cut the ribbon at John Jay Park's outdoor pool where the pool filtration system was replaced with a new state-of-the-art system that improves reliability and reduces energy use for years to come. For more information on the pool’s reopening, visit nycgovparks.org/parks/john-jay-park-and-pool
$650,000 for Updates to Sitting Area
Most recently we celebrated the Parks Department breaking ground on updates to the sitting area at John Jay Park. The area will be transformed with new pavement, drainage, benches and updating concrete areas to plant beds. The project was fully funded with $650,000 from my office. Thank you to the East 79th St Neighborhood Association for pushing this project forward. By this time next year, parts of the park will be brand new. Learn more in our release or from coverage in Patch.
Updates to Basketball Courts with $7,500 in Funding
When the basketball court at John Jay Park fell into bad condition, Upper East Side dad Greg Davis, whose two sons play basketball at the park, wouldn’t take no for an answer. Over the course of four years, Greg Davis had nearly perfect attendance at more than 40 monthly First Friday meetings with me from 8am to 10am. Each month, Greg shared with me the work he and my staff had done: several 311 requests and direct advocacy with Community Board 8 and the Parks Department. Greg succeeded in getting improvements done by the Parks Department, with newly painted playing lines, a smooth playing surface, and three new polycarbonate backboards with shooting squares and nets thanks to $7,500 in discretionary funding from my office. Read the release, watch the announcement, or read the coverage from Upper East Side Patch.
The City Council secured $1.7 Million in funding that was used to completely renovate the comfort station at Twenty-Four Sycamores Park. Construction was completed in the summer of 2021.
$1 Million in funding we secured from the Mayor and announced in 2018 will be used to fully reconstruct Honey Locust Park, located at East 59th St between 1st and 2nd Avenues.
As the New York Daily News reported, at the request of neighborhood organizations and residents, my office allocated $1.5 million funding for the City to install security cameras in hard-to-patrol public spaces along the East River Esplanade. The locations for the cameras were chosen in consultation with community organizations and the NYPD following a positive vote by hundreds of residents in Participatory Budgeting. Locations of new security cameras:
Hard-to-Patrol Parks - $160,000
- 64th Street and FDR Drive to cover pedestrian bridge and Andrew Haswell Green - $35,000
- FDR Drive at 65th Street and 68th Street to cover East River Esplanade - $90,000
- 70th Street to cover the East River Esplanade - $35,000
- $177,000 for five cameras in Sutton Place Pocket parks
Transit Hubs - $141,000
- 83rd Street and 2nd Avenue to cover Q subway station
- 86th Street at 2nd Avenue to cover Q subway station
- 86th Street at 3rd Avenue to cover 4/5/6 and Q subway stations
- 86th Street and Lexington Avenue to cover 4/5/6 station
Quality of Life Hotspots - $35,000
- 75th Street and 1st Avenue to cover local quality of life hotspotThe cameras are linked directly to the 19th Precinct using fiber optics and the innovative ARGUS system with the intention to provide immediate police responses to criminal activity. In fiscal year 2020 additional cameras were funded:
- $171,000 at there transit and traffic hubs
- $398,000 to cover 7 additional entrances to parks in the district
- $172,000 to cover 3 sites within the 23rd PrecinctFY21:
- $285,000 to cover 5 additional locations in the Upper East Side
There is less park space per resident on the Upper East Side than almost anywhere else in the City, which means we need to invest in and care for every inch. I’ve been proud to help fund or support numerous conservancies, including for:
- Sutton Place Parks ($80,000 since 2015)
- East River Esplanade ($68,500 since 2014)
- St. Catherine’s Park ($60,000 since 2014)
- John Jay Park ($60,000 since 2016)
- Upper Green Side ($42,000 since 2015)
Opening and Improving Open Spaces
In December 2021, I had the great privilege to take part in the opening of “The Girl Puzzle” Monument honoring Nellie Bly on Roosevelt Island. The monument is a striking collection of five womens’ faces, including Nellie Bly, and representing old, young, Black, Asian, and queer women.
What's special about "The Girl Puzzle" is Amanda Matthew’s choice to make the monument about more than just Nellie Bly. Just as Ten Days in a Mad-House focused on the girls and women who were committed to the Blackwell's Island Women's Lunatic Asylum where they weren't healed, but abused, and badly broken, so too does this work widen its focus.
Everyone on the Island and most New Yorkers know the name Nelly Bly—she is such a commanding figure in history. People will come to see Nelly Bly and be confronted by these four other faces. My hope is that curiosity will get the best of them, as they wonder who are these other women who deserve sculptures too, maybe they are famous? Only to discover through interacting with the exhibit that these are the faces of the forgotten women and girls of the Blackwell's Island Women's Lunatic Asylum and that they deserve to be remembered too.
When I was given the opportunity to fund accessibility for this monument, I couldn’t say no. When I visited "The Girl Puzzle," I saw that Amanda Matthews had used the money to add much more to the sculpture than I think anyone expected. Large sculptures can be inaccessible, especially ones that aren't meant to be interactive. She created a smaller version of each sculpture that visitors who are visually impared can feel and touch, but I found myself touching them too, and it helped me better connect to the puzzle.
Everything the artist did to make this sculpture accessible is not only going to benefit the disability community, but is going to benefit every visitor. Everyone is going to touch and feel the small sculptures as they view the larger ones: the audio will tell the stories of these women and girls that Nelly Bly once told.
You can read more about it in coverage by The Washington Post's Lily.
Roosevelt Island is one of the few places in New York City and the world that is entirely accessible, planned, and built a generation before the Americans with Disabilities Act. In July, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Hope Memorial was unveiled on Roosevelt Island celebrating the former president in a wheelchair, an image that is all too often omitted. I was proud to attend and share in the moment with Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright, and Shelton J. Haynes, President and CEO of Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC).
My office provided $100,000 in funding as a seed since, as many of you know, getting the money is just the start. From then, we worked hard alongside the Roosevelt Island Disabled Association, meeting with the Office and Management and Budget, the Parks Department, the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, and the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation to bring this memorial to reality.
Eight years ago when I was elected, I promised I would protect as much open space as possible on the Upper East Side. This is why I was proud to officially designate James Cagney Place, which has been closed off from traffic since I was a boy, as an official Pedestrian Plaza!
Thank you to Community Board 8 Members Rita Popper and David Rosenstein, R-Y Management, and the Department of Transportation for their partnership in making this happen. The Plaza now holds great events including a New Year’s Eve Fun Run. You can even watch the tree lighting and sing-along that I attended with Assembly Member Dan Quart. For more information on the work that went into accomplishing this, read the release or read the coverage in Our Town and Patch.
Earlier this month Clara Coffey Park reopened to the public. With Sutton Place Parks Conservancy, Council Member Keith Powers, and Council Member - elect Julie Menin we cut the ribbon on the new park. Years ago the park was in danger of being demolished and thanks to the advocacy of the Community and Sutton Place Parks Conservancy the park was saved. Read coverage of the ribbon cutting in TAPinto and Patch.
The Queensboro Oval now has expanded summer programming for the public and more affordable drop-in hours. The new programming began Father’s Day 2019 to mark the beginning of a more accessible Oval for all New Yorkers. The change comes after years of our advocacy alongside my fellow elected officials and Community Board 8. The Parks Department listened to our concerns that the prices at the tennis club were expensive and that public access should be the top priority when awarding the next contract.
During the 30-week Winter Season that will run from the day after Labor Day through mid-April:
- $10 per person drop-ins for 6 hours every day, one-third of the time it is open, weekday mornings (6am-8am), afternoons (1pm-3pm), and late evening (10pm-12am) as well as weekend mornings (6am-8am) and evenings (8pm-12am).
- Senior Citizens Tennis Clinics for $10 a person during certain weekday morning and afternoon hours and Cardio Tennis on weekdays from 7 am to 8 am. 6 players max per clinic.
- Thirty (30) Full Scholarships, ranging from $1,970 to $3,595 in value for Pee Wee and Junior Development for children ages 3 and up to get up to 34 hours of training over the course of 30 weeks on a rolling basis.
In addition, during the Winter Season, there will be the following community partnerships:
- City Parks Foundation (“CPF”) for up to 16 court hours per week with $5 per-person rate for its Play Today Program participants for advanced juniors.
- Yorkville Youth Athletic Association (“YYAA”) for 2 hours per week on four courts each with a professional tennis instructor.
- Hunter College Men’s and Women’s Tennis will get 75 hours of free team practice.
During the 22-week Summer Season that runs from April to Labor Day, there will be:
- Free tennis for NYC Parks tennis permit holders. Parks’ permits are available for $10 for children, $20 for seniors 62 and old, and $100 for all others, plus drop-in fee of $15 to reserve a court.
- Free Senior Citizen Clinics & Cardio + Pee Wee & Junior Development on two courts for one hour every day of the week.
We worked years to secure more open access to this vital public space starting with a rally at the space in 2016 organized by Community Board 8 members Susan Evans and Peggy Price. I also wrote a letter to the Parks Department in which I raised several concerns and testified before the Franchise and Concession Review Committee (FCRC) and the Parks Department. Now that Parks has awarded the new contract and listened to many of my requests on behalf of residents. You can learn more at BenKallos.com/press-releases
Over the last five years, we have worked with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation to activate our neighborhood's parks. We have done so by holding more than 100 events dedicated to entertaining families and children. With 18 Family Days, 12 Skate Nights, 26 Movie Nights, 30 Jazz in the Park performances, 3 Tangos at Sutton, and 5 seasons of Shakespeare in the Park, we have successfully gotten residents out of their apartments with their families and into our neighborhood parks for special events. I am proud of the work we have done to get our parks activated again and will continue to work to improve and expand programming. For information on office activities in our neighborhood parks, visit BenKallos.com/Events
AFFORDABLE HOUSING & OVERDEVELOPMENT
For the people who think that they can build their way out of the housing crisis with market-rate condos, the New York Times and The Atlantic recently shared that of all the condos built since 1995, half of them are sitting there empty. For those who have an oversimplified understanding of economics or who believe we just need to have supply exceed demand, it’s time to face the reality that developers would rather leave their condos empty than make anything affordable for everyday New Yorkers.
I supported Mayor de Blasio’s plan to build or preserve 300,000 units of affordable housing. But those units are only offered through a lottery involving tens if not hundreds of thousands of people for each one. Being able to afford to live in our great city shouldn't just be a matter of winning the lottery.
Worse yet, I learned from a hero and whistleblower, Stephen Werner at HPD, that more than 50,000 units of affordable housing might be getting billions in city subsidies while charging market rates. Working with him, ProPublica, and his union the Organization of Staff Analysts, we authored legislation to force landlords to register every city-subsidized affordable unit and to let middle-class and low-income New Yorkers apply for hundreds of thousands of units of existing affordable housing. As you may have read in the Wall Street Journal, this became Local Law 64 of 2018.
The New York Times reported on an estimated 2,500 apartments that will be up for re-rental on the NYC Housing Connect website starting in 2020, thanks to the law I wrote with now-Public Advocate Williams and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Now that the law is in effect, you will be able to set up a profile on the new Housing Connect that will match you with hundreds of thousands of affordable housing re-rentals.
Since I’ve been in the City Council we’ve built or preserved more than 1,000 units of affordable housing in the district, as well as overseeing more than 6,000 affordable units citywide. We are doing everything we can to build and protect affordable housing in our city. You might be surprised to learn that affordable housing is available for individuals making as little as $25,080 and families of five making as much as $212,685.
You can find new and existing affordable housing now thanks to the law I wrote at HousingConnect.nyc.gov.
In December 2021, I passed legislation to require more than 37,000 New York City homes on Airbnb to register with the City. As the city seeks to recover from the pandemic, New York City hotels sat empty losing $4 billion in revenue while Airbnb posted its highest ever revenue of $2.2 billion, thanks in part to 37,274 listings in New York City. 19,782 of Airbnb’s listings are for entire homes, many of which may be illegal and are only exacerbating the affordable housing crisis.
Housing should be for New York City residents and hotels for tourists. We need every home being listed illegally on Airbnb back on the market to help the affordable housing crisis.
Under the law, homeowners and tenants would be required to register their homes or apartments with the city. Applicants would be required to certify that they are the owner or tenant, to designate an area for guests, certify that hosting does not violate the terms of their lease or the law, and provide the URL for any listings. All advertisements would be required to include a valid registration number.
For hosts, the city would confirm that the home is not in public housing, a rent regulated apartment, or city subsidized housing, or on the “prohibited buildings list” where the owners or management have forbidden short-term rentals.
Platforms that list homes for registered hosts would also be required to register with the city, list registration numbers, verify registration numbers prior to processing transactions, and obtain a confirmation of verification for each transaction.
Fines for hosts would range from $1,000 to the lesser of $5,000 or three times revenue from illegal rentals. Fines for platforms would be limited to the higher of $1,500 or the total fees collected from illegal transactions.
Thank you to Tenants PAC and the Coalition Against Illegal Hotels for their expertise and assistance in getting this important legislation drafted and introduced.
Over the years I have supported the construction or preservation of more than 1,000 units of affordable housing in my district.
In 2021, it was my pleasure to cut the ribbon on 35 units of affordable housing by Ben Shalom Passive House with a building on East 86th Street. We also welcomed 11 more units of affordable housing within a Fetner building on East 94th Street.
In 2020, Patch reported on an affordable housing ownership opportunity I had the pleasure of working personally on and pushing through the council. I worked with developers to reduce costs for coop owners to allow residents the opportunity to own in comparison to what was initially proposed. The 10 newly constructed cooperative apartment units at 1402 York Avenue were offered to eligible buyers who qualified as low-income households, with estimated sales prices ranging from $23,972 to $64,437. The $9 million project came together as a result of my partnership with HPD’s Inclusionary Housing program.
As Patch reported during the summer of 2020, 313 units of mixed-income apartments came back on the market on Roosevelt Island. My office hosted an information session with New York City’s Housing Preservation Department’s (HPD) to educate the public on how to apply. The units were offered to residents earning 40, 50, 80, 130 and 165 % of the area median income. Classified by the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development as very-low income to middle income.
In July of 2019, L+M Developments announced it would be purchasing a portfolio of 2,800 New York rental apartments that were set to age out of affordability requirements. Thanks to a deal brokered with my office and the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation’s support, two-thirds or 1,800 of these apartments, including more than 500 on Roosevelt Island were preserved as affordable in exchange for tax breaks for L+M and Invesco the two companies that made the buy. These apartments had been developed under New York State’s Mitchell-Lama affordable-housing program but many had left the program and were no longer subject to rent restrictions.
In May of 2019, I worked with Extell Development and HPD to build 28-units of affordable housing starting with incomes of $36,858 for individuals to $96,800 for a family of six (at 70% to 80% of the area median income. The properties are located on 1768 Second Avenue at 91st Street across the street from his district office. The new buildings also offer private childcare on the ground floor operated by Alef Bet Preschool.
In August of 2018, I collaborated with supportive housing organization Win and construction companies RiverOak & Azimuth Development to open up a seven-story building located at 316 East 91st Street, which contains 17 one- and two-bedroom apartments dedicated for homeless women and children. That same year in May, I also partnered with Urban Pathways to open the Howard Amron House, an 11-unit building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. That facility houses formerly homeless individuals and offers residents supportive services like case management to encourage independence and wellness.
In February of 2018, I worked with Azimuth Development and HPD to open a 21-unit residential building located at 321 East 60th Street in the Lenox Hill section of Manhattan. All of the units in the building are 100% permanently affordable to low-income households earning at or below $53,440 annually.
You can find new and existing affordable housing now thanks to the law I wrote at HousingConnect.nyc.gov.
As chair of the Land Use Subcommittee on Planning Dispositions and Concessions, I had the opportunity to help create and preserve six thousand units of affordable housing. My favorite part of the committee was asking developers to share where residents watching at home could get jobs as part of their local hire requirements.
During my time chairing the committee, we:
- Exposed high subsidies on affordable housing properties that almost had to pay the Mansion Tax
- Took on the homeless crisis by sponsoring legislation to mandate a 15% homeless set aside for all subsidized affordable housing
- Questioned whether low wages on city-subsidized projects was making the affordable housing crisis worse and introduced legislation to pay construction workers better
- Stood up for small businesses and secured affordable storefronts to support mom and pop shops
- Pushed for real affordability for local residents by consistently raising concerns that developers were receiving government subsidies to build housing set for incomes that would gentrify low-income communities of color
- Introduced legislation to force affordable housing developers to disclose their relationships with politicians
Over the past eight years I have rallied alongside tenants from around New York City calling on the Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) to roll back rents or issue freezes for all 1 million rent-stabilized tenants. Before I got elected rent regulated tenants saw increases that were as high as 8%.
In 2014, we won the lowest rent increase in history at 1%. In 2015, we won the first-ever rent freeze from the RGB, and in 2016, we won a second consecutive rent freeze from RGB. In 2017 through 2019, we were able to win additional historically low increases of only 1.25% and 1.5%. In 2020 we won our third rent freeze during the height of the pandemic, and in 2021 we won a freeze for the first 6 months of leases followed by a low 1.5% increase for the second half of leases.
These were huge victories that translate into real savings in the pockets of everyday New Yorkers. They are only a small respite for tenants who lived through far-too-high increases over the previous 20 years when rent has outstripped inflation by 14%. The increases were particularly burdensome during the Bloomberg Administration when rent increased significantly despite the economic recession. We need a rollback to correct for these increases so the more than 1 million rent-stabilized apartments continue to be affordable for the residents living in them. With the pandemic further exacerbating economic conditions for New York City renters there is no more adequate time for a rent roll back than right now in 2021.
Protected Quiet Side Streets from Overdevelopment and Won Mandatory Affordable Housing for New Neighborhoods
When the Mayor’s housing plan called for adding height to the contextual height caps that protect the East Side’s quiet side streets, I opposed the measure with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Senator Liz Krueger, so developers wouldn’t tear down rent-stabilized buildings to get more height. The Department of City Planning heard us and agreed to protect the midblock.
As amended and passed by the City Council, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (MIH/ZQA) requires new affordable housing to be built whenever developers are given additional height or density to build in Manhattan.
In ZQA, I fought for and won:
- No height increases in R8B districts, protecting the quiet midblock with a 75-foot height cap on the East Side.
- Reduced height increases, bringing the maximum R10A increase from 50 feet to 25 feet with different heights for narrow and wide streets of 210 feet and 235 feet.
- Protected seniors from being squeezed into 275 square foot micro-units.
- Protected the Sliver Law, which prevents towers narrower than 40 feet wide from being erected.In MIH I fought for and won:
- Housing for lower-income New Yorkers at 40 percent of Area Median Income (AMI): $31,000 for a family of three.
- An additional option for 20 percent at 40 percent of AMI.
- A requirement that HPD track, register, and monitor new affordable housing as would be required by Introduction 1015, legislation I authored.
We rallied together with tenants to demand a moratorium on Section 8 Downsizing, a policy that was pushing seniors and disabled families into smaller homes, including single parents into studios with their children. Since then, we have won a huge victory, successfully ceasing HPD’s downsizing of elderly couples and families from one bedroom to studio apartments. Learn more from the release or coverage in the Observer and New York Daily News.
With a blight of empty storefronts, I have partnered with nonprofit arts organization ChaShaMa to turn empty storefronts throughout the city into art spaces. We cut the ribbon on a new art space at 340 East 64th Street in the spring of 2019, featuring work by young immigrant artists. Additionally a performing arts rehearsal space at 403 East 91st Street with two rooms, which may be booked separately has been generously provided by Eli Zabar. Read more on the gallery’s opening at BenKallos.com/Press-Releases
A package of legislation totaling 12 bills, one of which I authored, aimed at stopping landlord-tenant harassment in New York City became law in 2017. Whether it is unreasonable construction noise or safety violations by landlords putting tenants at risk, this is a pressing issue in our City that needs to be stopped. My legislation, Int. 931, would force landlords and property owners to actually respond to the violations and summonses they are given by the City for failing to make repairs, or else face the threat of foreclosure on their properties. For far too long some landlords and building owners have neither fixed recurring problems on their properties nor paid the fines that come with those violations, leaving tenants in unsafe conditions sometimes for years on end. With my bill, we can finally hold landlords accountable. For more information on my bill and the rest of the package of legislation, read the Stand for Tenant Safety release and coverage in City Land.
After years of out-of-control, out-of-scale over-development, I wanted to put residents over real estate, and we did. In late 2017 we accomplished what many described as impossible. We won the first of its kind grass-roots community rezoning in this City for the Sutton Area.
With the invaluable help of the committed members of the East River Fifties Alliance, we stopped the march of super-tall buildings for billionaires from 57th Street into the Sutton Area. The rezoning initially removed the grandfather clause and will protect the Sutton Area East of First Avenue from 52nd to 59th st. from future supertall towers by limiting zoning lot mergers, limiting the width of towers, and forcing most of the air rights to be used in the base of a building.
We were able to accomplish this thanks to the support of residents like you. Heroes like Herndon Werth and Charles Fernandez stood up to buyouts and threats from billionaires. Leaders like Dieter Seelig, former President of the Sutton Area Community got us started and Alan Kersh, Robert Shepler, Jessica Osborn, Lisa Mercurio, and others put countless volunteer hours into ERFA.
Following our historic rezoning the Board of Standards and Appeals grandfathered the building despite all the illegal conduct of the developer. When we appealed the BSA ruling asking the courts to uphold the law, they refused. We sought to continue our fight in court with a motion to reargue. However, it’s been sitting unanswered for years, meanwhile the building has topped out. One thing I can say for sure, is that if it were not for the rezoning we accomplished more than one other supertall would be up by now and more could be on the way.
Thank you for joining the fight against overdevelopment at BenKallos.com/petition/StopSuperScrapers
We won another victory against supertalls by strengthening and passing a zoning text amendment addressing empty spaces in buildings that are used to prop up apartments to give billionaires better views.
During February of 2019, I toured nearly every Community Board in Manhattan to share the importance of a proposed zoning text amendment from the Department of City Planning to stop super tall buildings that use empty voids to gain height solely to build apartments for billionaires.
Advances in construction technology combined with a real estate market incentivizing apartments for billionaires led to buildings like 432 Park, which got 25% of its super tall height by exploiting the mechanical voids loophole. Voids are large spaces in a building meant to house mechanicals, but when abused are mostly empty and used to add height to the building because they currently do not count as zoning floor area. Rafael Viñoly, who designed 432 Park, also proposed 249 East 62nd, which has a base of 12 stories and 150-foot mechanical void to raise up 11 stories above. Another proposed building, at 50 West 66th Street, uses a 161-foot mechanical void to reach a height of 775 feet.
We made the following changes to discourage the construction of empty Mechanical Voids:
- Discourage Tall Voids: Voids taller than 25 feet will count as zoning floor area.
- Discourage Clustering to Pad Building Height: Voids within 75 feet of each other will count as zoning floor area.
- Prevent Voids in Mixed-Use Residential Buildings: Non-residential mechanical space will be subject to the same 25-foot limit if non-residential uses occupy less than 25% of a building.
Following my election in 2014, I've held numerous public meetings on overdevelopment and invested member item funding into community-based non-profits focused on preservation and planning to address the issue. In June 2017, I wrote to the Department of City Planning (“DCP”) to close “loopholes” such as mechanical voids. In October 2017, I joined Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts (“Friends”) for a meeting with DCP to share their research and proposal. In January 2018, Mayor de Blasio committed to closing the loopholes at a town hall that I hosted in response to a question from Friends. In July 2018, Friends and I joined Borough President Gale Brewer and LANDMARK WEST! to form a borough-wide coalition to close the loopholes. On January 25, 2019, DCP wrote to Brewer and I with a proposal to close mechanical voids in residential districts and a promise for a new proposal governing commercial districts in the summer. This is supported by Congress Member Carolyn Maloney, State Senators Liz Krueger and Jose Serrano, Assembly Members Richard Gottfried, Harvey Epstein, Daniel O'Donnell, Dan Quart, Robert Rodriguez, and Rebecca Seawright, and City Council Members Diana Ayala, Keith Powers, and Carlina Rivera. The City Planning Commission (CPC) certified the residential application on January 28, 2019, marking the beginning of a public hearings process at Community Boards and Borough Boards, which will conclude on March 8, 2019. CPC will take public testimony at a citywide public hearing that will tentatively be held on March 13, 2019.
As Crain's and City Limits reported, the text amendment had public hearings in Community Boards around the City. Many Community Boards approved of the text amendment for their area including ways to improve the text that I support.
Many joined the fight against super talls with mechanical voids and signed the petition at BenKallos.com/voids
Following our victory to protect residential districts from buildings for billionaires propped up on unlimited empty voids in response to my advocacy City Planning committed to bringing a similar text amendment to commercial districts. City Planning has proposed a 35-foot limit on mechanical voids in residential or mixed-use buildings in commercial districts. Unfortunately the amendment is currently stalled with a failure of City Planning to calendar the item for a vote of the Mayoral controlled Commission. All the work is done, but it will take further advocacy so that when we build, we are building usable space for New Yorkers, not propping up billionaires’ views.
Thank you to everyone who fought alongside me and signed the petition at BenKallos.com/CommercialVoids
We called on City Planning to ban “gerrymandered” lots that enable developers from slicing off tiny slivers of land to abuse loopholes that otherwise would trigger zoning and height caps. One example is 180 East 88th Street, where the developer created an unbuildable zoning lot to exempt the building from the residential height restrictions it would otherwise have to follow. I sent a letter to City Planning asking them to move forward with this issue, and am pleased that they have committed to doing so.
As I told Curbed: “The BSA’s explicit approval of this tactic has given developers looking to evade zoning regulations a new tool. If it is broadly realized that simply slicing off a portion of a zoning lot can insulate a development from certain zoning regulations, the sky will literally be the limit to the at-will sculpting of zoning lots that serve no legitimate purpose.”
When we first discovered the irregularities at 180 East 88th Street, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and I sent a letter to the Department of Buildings, who issued an immediate stop work order in response, as covered by the New York Times. The Times continued its coverage of the case, with an exploration of how this loophole is used to avoid the zoning. After the 4-foot lot became a 10-foot lot and the Department of Buildings rescinded its stop work order, Council Member Kallos, Borough President Gale Brewer, Senator Liz Krueger, and a coalition of community groups including Carnegie Hill Neighbors and Friends of the Upper East Side Historic District sued the Department, and then appealed the case to the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA).
As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Carnegie Hill Neighbors, Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, the Manhattan Borough President's Office and State Senator Liz Krueger and I, fought against 180 East 88th Street, with a rally, testimony before the BSA, and finally we appealed the decision of the BSA to approve 180 East 88th Street in court. My office also wrote a letter signed onto by more than a dozen Council Members and other elected officials to the BSA urging it to reconsider the abuses that were allowed to occur by the Department of Buildings at this location. We are simply asking that the BSA and the Department of Buildings make sure developers are playing by the rules that are already in the books. If these tactics continue without being checked by the City, then what is the point of having them? You can read more about the efforts to curb these zoning lots in our release or coverage of the press conference from Our Town, Politico Pro, Manhattan Times and Manhattan Express.
We won! When we first saw the “Jetsons” building at 249 East 62nd St., which was a 32-story building that turned out to be 510 feet tall because of a 150-foot void, we led a citywide rezoning to stop empty spaces in buildings. No sooner did we do that than the developer took the walls off to create a second loophole for buildings on “stilts.” Now the plan for the “Tower on Stilts” has been scrapped, too. I told Our Town:
“While it’s a win for the community, it doesn’t stop the next developer from coming around and trying the same loophole.”
Thank you to Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Council Member Keith Powers, Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts and everyone who supported us in doing the right thing and stopping this tower on stilts from taking up space that could be used to house real New Yorkers. A “Survey of Unenclosed Spaces in New York City Buildings” by City Planning did not find grounds to move forward given the defeat of the Jetsons Tower and suggested continued monitoring. For more information, see coverage by Our Town.
A new law I authored to limit the amount of noise in New York City went into effect in January 2020. As Fox 5 reported, noise has been New York City’s top 311 complaint for years. Construction at all hours of the day and morning and sometimes night is something too many New Yorkers are familiar with. In 2017, The New York Times covered what was then a bill to require the city to respond to noise complaints about nightlife and construction within two hours or on a subsequent day within an hour of the time of the complaint. The law is designed to increase the likelihood that inspectors will identify the source of the noise, issue a violation, and restore quiet. For more information, read the release, or coverage in the The New York Times and New York Daily News.
From 2015 through 2017, a record 33 construction workers have been killed on the job in New York City, but the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Department of Buildings (DOB) does not count all of them, especially non-workers who are injured. The New York Daily News reported on the Construction Safety legislation I introduced, which recently became law. Under Local Law 78 of 2017, construction companies will be forced to report on all details surrounding injuries and deaths at construction sites or face fines up to $25,000. We must count every injury and every life, so that we will know the who, what, where and why to help make construction in our city safer. For more information, read coverage in the New York Daily News or watch NY1.
Legislation I authored designed to reform and improve the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) became law in 2017. In the past, developers have been able to circumvent city zoning laws that restrict building forms, use, height and density by using the BSA as a rubber stamp. The changes and variances have been approved by the BSA despite objections from local Community Boards and elected officials. I am proud of this legislation for how it changed the way that applications, decisions, notifications and staffing are done. It has also improved transparency at the BSA.
The BSA is a five-member body tasked with reviewing requests for variances and special permits related to affordable housing and city planning in the zoning law. The legislative package included nine bills and featured bipartisan support from sponsors such as Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer, Minority Leader Steven Matteo, Council Members Karen Koslowitz (D-29), Donovan Richards (D-31) and myself. For more information on the legislation, read the release or coverage by Queens Chronicle, Sunny Side Post, Staten Island Advance, and the Commercial Observer.
Since Mayor de Blasio’s NextGen NYCHA in-fill program was announced as part of the 2015 NYCHA Annual Plan. Since then Congressmember Carolyn Maloney, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and I joined tenants to expressing concerns with the project that proposed to build a private luxury tower on public land. The process never took sufficient input from tenants, community members, and local elected officials and did not provide enough resources to NYCHA. The proposed luxury tower would have taken light and air, as well as a playground from NYCHA residents, while the money for repairs they were offered in return was nowhere near worthwhile.
In 2019 NYCHA withdrew it’s Section 18 application and promised to restart their community engagement process. I am proud that the advocacy of the community prevented this project from moving forward.
The fight over the Longfellow Commercial Tower proposed by the Blood Center came to a vote in the City Council in November 2021. This fight was never about Blood or the Blood Center, but how high the for-profit Longfellow Tower would go above it. I am grateful for the support of elected officials, Community Board members, local activists, and so many others who have fought this project and helped reduce its height by 100 feet, along with securing $3.6 million for JREC and $10.65 million for St. Catherine’s Park.
The Mayor’s conflict of interest (N.Y. Daily News), a $450 million giveaway to a for-profit developer (N.Y. Times), the fact that the Blood Center doesn’t treat or distribute blood from the UES location (Crains), our argument against 18 foot ultra-luxury ceiling heights in the Longfellow Commercial Tower propped up on 30 feet of space to make it more valuable (N.Y. Daily News), not to mention a looming investigation (NY1), fell on deaf ears. Last ditch litigation to forestall the vote until a protest that would require a super-majority 75% vote of the Council could be adjudicated also failed (N.Y. Daily News). I was proud to stand with the community, and though in the end we did not have the votes, I kept my promise to vote NO.
As PIX 11 reported in 2017, the landlords of more than 538 privately owned public spaces or (POPS) that are attached to 329 buildings must now provide the amenities they promised or face steep fines for not following the rules, thanks to legislation passed by the council that I helped to author. The specific law I authored requires additional signage at all POPS, detailing amenities and hours of operation, as well as a website where the public can find more information and complaints can be registered. The current list of real POPS in within our city is now published for the public. To learn more about the legislation we passed to achieve this read the release or coverage by the Wall Street Journal.
After marking the 50th anniversary of the landmarks law during my first term, the law came under attack, first with a proposal to remove hundreds of buildings from protection without review, and then with legislation that would have created a five-year moratorium incentivizing historic communities to be razed. In response and in opposition, we forced the Landmarks Preservation Commission to review each and every site in the backlog, and while a version of the counter-legislation did pass in 2016, after my advocacy along with the landmarks community the legislation was amended to remove the moratorium and add more time. You can learn more about what happen from my statement or coverage in Crain’s, YIMBY, and the New York Times.
As a result of the work I have done in order to preserve buildings in our City, I was honored to receive a Grassroots Preservation Award from the Historic Districts Council (HDC). I have great respect for HDC because of the work they do to keep New York quintessentially New York. HDC has been a valuable partner while I have been in office, contributing to our fight for historic preservation. In the eight years since I took office, I have worked with HDC on more issues than we ever could have expected, including:
- Protecting the First Avenue Estates’ landmark status from appeal;
- Stopping the Landmarks Mass De-calendaring;
- Fighting Introduction 775, the bill that would shorten the landmarking timeline and institute five-year landmarking moratorium;
- Protecting the Sliver Law, Mid-Block, and Historic Districts from MIH/ZQA;
- Landmarking the Wooden House at 412 East 85th Street;
- Authoring and passing into law reforms to Board of Standards and Appeals that will make it harder to have laws that protect landmarks waived for developers;
- Landmarking First Hungarian Reformed Church of New York
- Landmarking The National Society of Colonial Dames in the State of New York Headquarters
Thank you to the preservation community for fighting for our city’s history, our city’s soul, and for the people who actually live here.
As Patch recently reported, I was proud to cut the ribbon on the newly renovated Blackwell House alongside Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) President and CEO Shelton Haynes, Roosevelt Island Historical Society President Judith Berdy and Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright. The Blackwell House is incredibly rich with history as the sole surviving building on Roosevelt Island that dates back to when the island was still privately owned by the Blackwell family. During that time, from the late 17th century until 1828, the island was mostly farmland.
The renovation of Blackwell House is a project that I have been waiting to get finished for over six years, dating to before I took office when former Council Member Jessica Lappin allocated funds back in 2007. Once I became Council Member, I had to fight for the funding every year as the former Speaker tried to take it back and reallocate it since it could not be spent just yet. The awarding of the money had been held up for roughly eight years due to executive changes at RIOC and the City’s Offices of Management and Budget and Department of Cultural Affairs. We also spent years pushing agencies to spend the money and get the renovations underway.
Ultimately, I was able to join RIOC and the DCA in contributing $364,000 to the $2.9 million put forth for renovations, which include the installation of new partitions, stairs, ceilings, doors, trimming, a new heating and ventilation system, as well as electrical, plumbing and fixtures. It is also now equipped with an ADA-compliant access ramp that provides access next to the newly upgraded front porch.
There is no reason this type of project should take 13 years to finish but we are happy to have it completed and available for residents to enjoy. As Contracts Chair, I’ve been working to get these projects done faster. Roosevelt Island really is a diamond in the crown of our City so having this piece of history finished and ready to be experienced by the public will do a lot for the Island once in-person contact is encouraged again. Watch my statement at the ribbon cutting at BenKallos.com/Videos, read the press release at BenKallos.com/press-release or see coverage by Patch.
HELPING THE HOMELESS
The City’s homelessness crisis continues with 55,000 homeless as mid-July. The faces of our homeless crisis are 18,918 are children, 14,195 parents, 12,933 single men, and 4,481 single women. In 2016, I launched the Eastside Taskforce for Homeless Outreach and Services (ETHOS) with Borough President Brewer, Senator Krueger, Department of Social Services (DHS), community and faith leaders and service organizations.
In just 5 years we’ve been able to:
- Open supportive housing in the district for single adults along with women and children.
- Open a new supermarket style food pantry.
- Support opening a new “safe haven” shelter.
- Helped countless people off the street with the help of our members.
Our goal has always been and continues to be to get every unsheltered person living on the street the help they need. If you see one of our City’s most vulnerable on the street, please call 311 or use the NYC 311 App (Android/iPhone) to ask them to dispatch a “homeless outreach team.” They will ask where you saw the person, what they looked like, and offer a report on whether the person accepts our city’s offer of shelter, three meals a day, health care, rehabilitation, and job training. By connecting our dedicated nonprofits and religious institutions with city services, ETHOS is really making a difference. To learn more you can read the release of watch coverage on NY1.
One of the best ways we can take on the homeless crisis is by building supportive housing. That's why we supported WIN in the construction and opening of 17 apartments on East 91st Street across the street from where I live. Read the announcement press release or watch the press conference.
In 2018 I had the pleasure of cutting the ribbon on 11-units of supportive housing at the Howard Amron House operated by Urban Pathways. The 11-unit building is home to formerly homeless individuals living at the highest level of independence. The Howard Amron House will offer tenants supportive services including case management, as well as individualized services to maximize independence, and wellness self-management. Learn more about Urban Pathways and the new WIN facility from the release, or watch the ribbon cutting, or read coverage in Patch.
In late 2020, I cut a ribbon welcoming the new Urban Outreach Center on the Upper East Side dedicated to feeding and caring for residents in need, alongside members of the Eastside Taskforce for Homeless Outreach and Services (ETHOS), including Avenue Church NYC Senior Pastor the Rev. Beverly Dempsey, Urban Outreach Center Executive Director the Rev. Jordan Tarwater, Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, and Commissioner for Homeless Services Steve Banks.
As amNY reported, the site located at 1745 First Avenue features a supermarket-style food pantry allowing individuals the comfort of choosing from available foods just as if it were a regular supermarket, which we know adds dignity and a sense of normalcy for people receiving fresh produce and other supplies from the food pantry. For more information, read the release or see coverage by ABC7, AMNY, New York County Politics and Patch.
To donate to or volunteer at Urban Outreach Center, visit uocnyc.org.
As CBS 2 News and Curbed reported, I was proud to stand alongside Community Board 8 in support of plans to open a safe haven site with 88 low-entry beds for homeless residents in our community. The decision to bring this resource to our neighborhood would not have been possible without the work of my partners in the Eastside Taskforce for Homeless Outreach and Services (ETHOS) and co-founders Senator Liz Krueger and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. In January of 2021 plans for building the safe haven passed multiple votes in Community Board 8 with overwhelming support, demonstrating the coalition of residents that understand why this is needed and will be an addition to our neighborhood.
The planned safe haven will be on a block zoned for manufacturing and heavy commercial use. The old Art Farm building at 419 East 91st Street will be renovated to accommodate seven floors, recreation space, and a private garden rooftop. Goddard Riverside, which is already the homeless outreach provider for the Upper East Side, will operate the site which will serve both men and women. A full cohort of services will be provided including case management, housing assistance, wellness groups, medical and psychiatric care and three meals a day plus snacks. Once operational, there will be staff and security in the building 24/7, with security on the street from a minimum of 8AM to 6PM.
My office worked to bring a resource like this to the neighborhood for the last seven years in order to be able to help get homeless individuals living on the street into housing. I am proud to have the support of the local clergy via the Reverend Beverly Dempsey, Pastor at Avenue Church NYC here on the Upper East Side. Just as important, it gives me great joy and hope for the future to have the support of teenage students Ahana and Dale at East Side Middle School, just steps away from where the safe haven will be located. For residents who have mentioned security concerns I can say that the site will be bringing security to a street that does not have it right now all while helping homeless individuals off our streets.
Safe Haven beds offer a lower barrier to entry than shelters and are a critical tool in helping homeless off the street, with a preference for homeless in the neighborhood. They are a critical tool that outreach workers can offer chronically homeless people in a neighborhood with fewer restrictions that mirror more independent living, along with a bevy of on-site and referral services including assistance with daily living skills, psychiatric and medical care, medication management, substance abuse counseling and more. The beds are prioritized for chronically street homeless adults and they can be helpful in getting them off the street. See coverage in CBS 2 News, Curbed and Upper East Side Patch. For more information, visit BenKallos.com/press-release.
As you may have read in AMNY, New York is not dead, but tens of thousands of apartments here are empty. This presents an unprecedented opportunity to house every New Yorker experiencing homelessness. As a city, we have a moral mandate to permanently house our homeless now. We can do so by creating tens of thousands of affordable housing units in existing empty apartments, including in our tallest buildings and wealthiest neighborhoods. No matter what neighborhood we live in, we can all welcome unhoused New Yorkers onto our block and into our buildings.
More than 16,000 children wake up in a city shelter every day. Just over 10,000 families account for a 30,000 person majority of those living in shelters. With over 15,000 vacant Manhattan rentals and 4,100 vacant condominiums dating back before the pandemic, we now have more vacant apartments than homeless families. The city should buy these vacant condominiums and secure long-term leases on vacant rental apartments to provide transitional and permanent housing for the homeless. Opening up space in family shelters would then allow single adults experiencing homelessness to utilize buildings currently used as family shelters, enabling social distancing and providing greater privacy than the dormitory-style shelters, where the majority of single adults currently reside, sleeping in rooms with many people close together.
Prior to the pandemic, New York City paid $3.2 billion a year on costly shelter beds and commercial hotels. We pay far more to shelter families than it would cost to supplement their rent and provide them with a permanent home. According to the Mayor’s Management Report, it costs over $6,000 per month to provide shelter for a family with children, and approximately $3,900 per month to shelter a single adult, and those costs will rise this year to accommodate Covid-19 public safety measures. Meanwhile, the average length of stay in shelter has only gotten longer. According to last fiscal year’s reporting, families with children average 443 days at a shelter and single adults average 431 days—despite the thousands of vacant apartments waiting for renters.
New York City needs to be bold and start using these empty apartments to house our homeless. For my full proposal, read the op-ed at AMNY.
Campaign Finance Reform
For more than a decade, I have been fighting to get big money out of New York City politics. Finally, in the spring of 2019, the City Council passed Local Law 128. This law expands the new campaign finance laws that were overwhelmingly adopted by 80% of the voters on November 6, 2018, from only matching 75% of contributions to matching them at 89.89%.
The 2021 election proved that my law worked and we are now seeing more women, people of color, and LGBTQI+ run, and win, than ever before. As Sludge reported, in the 2021 elections the number of women in the New York City Council increased to 29 from 14 and people of color increased from 26 to 35. Sludge said:
“The analysis also found that the system produced race and gender equity in fundraising across every competitive contest in primary elections, which are important because virtually every primary winner goes on to win the general election contest.”
The legislation follows Local Law 1 of 2019, which I also authored. That law applied Ballot Question #1 from the 2018 election to the Public Advocate election. The results of the election demonstrated that the new system works. As reported by the Gotham Gazette, my legislation has flipped how campaigns are financed upside down, big money no longer makes up three-quarters of campaign cash and has been replaced by small dollars that now make up almost two-thirds of campaign cash. For the first time, a candidate won citywide office with a pledge not to take real estate money.
My full public matching law did the following:
- Full Public Match – increases match from 75% to 89.89% to match every dollar, indexed to the public dollars multiplier which was 6 and is now 8.
- Retroactive Contribution Limits – requires candidates who choose new system to return contributions over the new lower limits.
- Ballot Access – more candidates would make the ballot because they could use campaign funds to pay to defend legal challenges to petitions (funds would not cover challenges to other candidates).
- Public Funds Available for Publicly Funded Opponents – candidates otherwise only eligible for a partial public funds payment, would be eligible for a full public funds payment if an opponent qualified for public funds.
- Updates Dates for June Primaries – changes payment dates and conflicts of interest filing deadlines with a first payment December 15, the year before the election.
- Cleans Up Conflicts – moves languagefrom the Charter placed there by the Charter Revision Commission to update the Administrative Code.
- Keeps Campaign Finance Constitutional – removes provisions held unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court.
On January 2nd, 2019, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed Local Law 1 of 2019 that authored to apply new campaign finance laws overwhelmingly adopted by 80% of the voters some 1.1 million on November 6 to the upcoming special election for Public Advocate and municipal elections that follow through 2021.
Local Law 1 of 2019 extended the first ballot question on campaign finance reform from applying only in 2021 to providing that same option for special elections and the elections that follow (which already halve existing limits) in the interim:
- Lowered contribution limits from $2,550 citywide to $1,000, $1,975 for borough president to $750, and from $1,425 for city council to $500.
- Increased public matching of every small dollar of $175 and under with 6 public tax dollars to 8 public dollars and small dollars of $250 and under for citywide with 8 public dollars.
- Increased public grant from 55% to 75% of the spending limit.
Unlike, question 1, lowered contribution limits and increased matching are retroactively applied to candidates that select this option.
In addition to applying ballot question 1 to the special election Local Law 1 went further by lowering thresholds for debates and minimum funds raised to qualify for a public grant by half, just as other limits are halved. The threshold for Mayor is halved from $250,000 to $125,000 and for Public Advocate and Comptroller from $125,000 to $62,500. Only the first $250 of an individual New York City resident’s contribution is applied toward meeting dollar amount threshold. Participating candidates must still collect the same number of contributions of 1,000 for Mayor and 500 for Public Advocate and Comptroller.
On November 8, 2018, 1,151,775 votes were cast for the campaign finance reforms proposed by ballot question one according to the Board of Elections unofficial election night results. A staggering 80.25% of 1,435,210 votes, a 4 to 1 margin. The numbers show that nearly 75% of all voters who voted for Governor in New York City “flipped” their ballot to the fourth page (1,928,280). Almost as many voters supported campaign finance reform as voted for any candidate for Mayor in the 2017 General Election (1,166,313).
These results were preceded by my advocacy in favor of all three ballot questions following their adoption by the Mayor’s Charter Revision Commission on Democracy. I weighed in favor of Questions 1 and Question 3 in the NYCCFB’s Voter Guide. Actively participated in the Democracy Yes coalition that included recruiting many existing supporters of Int. 1130 of 2016. Authored opinion editorials one with Patriotic Millionaire Morris Pearl in City and State and another in Medium. Traveled around the borough of Manhattan securing endorsements of all three from the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, as well as Question 1 from the Lexington Democratic Club, Four Freedoms Democratic Club, Downtown Independent Democrats, Uptown Community Democrats, among many others. I even debated other elected officials on all three questions at forums by New Downtown Democrats and Downtown Independent Democrats as well as Community Board 8 Manhattan. As acknowledged at the last debate, by Charter Revision Commission member John Segal, in discussing ballot question 1, noting my advocacy for this reform dating back to 2008 when both served on the NYC Bar’s Election Law Committee. Ballot Question 1 even received the endorsement of Senator Bernie Sanders and the New York Times.
Prior to the Charter Revision Commission, I spent my first term seeking campaign finance reform when I authored Int. 1130, as originally written it increased the public matching grant from 55% to 85% of the spending limit and increased the amount of dollars matched from $175 to $250. Though I secured 32 sponsors and used my Chairmanship of the Committee on Government Operations to force a hearing on April 27, 2017, and even though it had a majority of Council Members as sponsors, it did not pass. In 2018, I reintroduced the legislation as Int. 732 with 30 sponsors. When Mayor de Blasio called a Charter Revision Commission on democracy I testified in favor of campaign reforms on May 9, June 19, July 23, and August 9 including reducing contribution limits, increasing matching ratios, and increasing public funds payments all of which were in part or in whole adopted.
After more than a decade of fighting to get big money out of politics, I am particularly proud of winning full public matching, its impacts on the 2021 election, and the potential to release the stranglehold real estate has on New York City politics. Thank you to everyone who joined the fight to get big money out of New York City politics at BenKallos.com/BIGMONEYOUT. You can learn more from the release, or coverage from The New York Times, Gotham Gazette (impact & passage) City Limits, and Sludge.
New York City’s model campaign finance system was protected and improved by a package of legislation the Council passed into law in December of 2016, as reported by the New York Daily News and the Gotham Gazette.
We passed the following key laws:
- Closing Campaign for One New York Loophole (Law 181 of ’16, co-prime sponsor) – by limiting contributions to nonprofits controlled by elected officials and disclosing donors.
- Quelling Special Interests Dollars (Law 167 of ‘16) – by ending the practice of matching funds bundled by lobbyists and special interests with public dollars.
- Early Public Fund Payments (Law 168 of ‘16) – to help campaigns that take public dollars get on the ballot and reach voters.
- Better Debates (Law 169 of ‘16) – by only including campaigns that are spending money to win.
- Save Paper and Money on Voter Guide (Law 170 of ’16) – by allowing voters to opt-out of receiving mailers.
- Same Day and Online Registration Advocacy (Res. 1061 of ’16) – to pass state constitutional amendment.
When I ran for office, I promised to work for you full-time without taking money on the side from private employment as a lawyer. I also promised to work for you, not the Speaker of the City Council, foregoing the common practice of receiving tens of thousands in personal income called a “lulu” for being a Committee Chair, which the Daily News has long called “legal grease.” Forty-seven council members were offered a stipend of between $5,000 and $25,000 for serving as committee chairs or other leadership roles. 34 council members made a pledge to Citizens Union as council candidates in 2013 to limit stipends to the Speaker and Minority Leader. Despite their pledges, only 10 members refused the money in 2014 and for their entire terms, with two more joining in 2015. I kept my pledge, and the Daily News saluted my integrity, calling me a “hero.” Most importantly, I wrote the law that made outside income and lulus illegal so that from now on, all city elected officials work exclusively for their constituents.
On November 5, 2019 all five questions on the ballot, which I had testified in favor of and advocated for were adopted by New Yorkers with more than 70 percent of the vote. Now that the five ballot measures have passed, the City Charter has been amended to make the following changes.
QUESTION 3: Two Year Revolving Door Ban For Elected Officials & Citywide Office Dedicated to Contracting with Women and People of Color.
QUESTION 4: Budget Independence for the Public Advocate and Borough President
QUESTION 5: Early Involvement for Community in Neighborhood Planning
Over the entire process, I proposed 72 recommendations for amendments to the Charter, 16 of which were included in the City Council Report to the 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission, with 9 of my recommendations included in whole or in part by the Preliminary Staff Report. On May 9th, I submitted a final fifteen recommendations on ethics, city budget, land use, elections and redistricting, and empowering the offices of the Public Advocate and Borough President.
I am particularly proud to have recommended questions 3, 4 and 5, which will all help improve our City’s government. Question 3 bans high-level officials in City government from lobbying the City for two years after they have left government and cements into law the existence and funding for the office of Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE). Questions 4 and 5 empower the Public Advocate's Office as well as the offices of the Borough Presidents to be able to stand up to the Mayor by funding them separately. These two questions also empower Community Boards through early ULURP notices and update the way our City’s budget is submitted by the Mayor as well as set up a rainy day fund for our City. For more information on the 2019 Charter Revision, visit Benkallos.com/charter2019
In 2018, I supported and advocated for the passage of all three ballot initiatives posed before New Yorkers. I am proud to have helped push them through. I testified multiple times before the Commission appointed by the Mayor, focusing on:
Getting Big Money Out of Politics by
- Lowering Contribution Limits by More than Half - lower limits citywide from $5,100 to $2,000, boroughwide from $3,950 to $1,500 and for City Council from $2,850 to $1,000.
- Making Small Dollars More Valuable - every small dollar below $250 for citywide and $175 for all others will go from being matched with public tax-payer dollars at a rate of 6 to 8.
- Matching More Small Dollars - only a little more than half of small dollars are matched, requiring candidates to seek millions in big dollars from special interests to fill a gap that can be smaller by matching 75%.
Improving Community Representation with
- Term limits of 8 years for Community Board members starting in 2029
- Urban Planners for Each Community Board
- Standardize Online Applications and Reporting
Thanks to the Charter Revision Commission many of the recommendations I made were placed on the ballot to restore a democracy of, by, and for the People. Ballot Question 3 imposed term limits on Community Board Members and gave community boards the ability and resources to hire urban planners and planning professionals to strengthen their voice and equip them with the expertise they need to stand up to developers. Term limits are crucial for democracy. I am glad we have them on the federal level for president and I know on the local level they will help get more New Yorkers involved. My advocacy for this measure goes back to before I was in office when I was a member of Community Board 8. In the City Council, I introduced Int. 585 of 2014 with Council Member Daniel Dromm to establish term limits for the boards, and I am pleased that New Yorkers have supported this measure on the ballot. For more information read the release at BenKallos.Com/Press-Release
In the 21st Century, democracy should be just one click away. CBS 2 and New York 1 covered my legislation to allow residents of New York City to register to vote entirely online. Thirty-six states and the District of Columbia offer different forms of online voter registration and now New York City is one of them.
Furthermore, following problems at the New York City Board of Elections (BOE) in the 2016 presidential primary, the City Council passed my Voter Information Portal legislation into law. This comes more than ten years after I launched VoterSearch.org, the portal to allow any voter to look up their voter registration status, poll site location, and voting history. It also allows voters to track the status of an absentee ballot from request to submission, ensuring that even if someone can’t physically vote at a poll site, they can still know their ballot was counted. We must still work to remove state limitations on my bill, Local Law 238 of 2017, to expand access to online voter registration in New York City. Learn more about this law by reading the release or see coverage by WNYC and the New York Daily News.
A month before the 2020 Presidential Election, the BOE finally implemented my absentee ballot tracking system to inform voters when their absentee ballot application is received, when the ballot is mailed out, and whether their completed ballot was accepted and how to fix it if it was not.
“Voters want certainty around their ballot and the absentee ballot tracker will provide that, [so] I am grateful that the Board of Elections finally saw it fit to do their jobs.”
I proposed this in 2015 when I authored a law to require the BOE to provide voters with absentee ballot tracking from their request, to when it gets mailed, and when it gets received. After the BOE mandated mail-in (or absentee) voting as an option in response to the pandemic, the need for an absentee ballot tracker became undeniable.
Even with those improvements, the New York City’s Board of Elections remains deeply flawed. As you may have read in Gothamist, I was the only Council Member to speak on approvals of two Commissioners of the deeply broken Board of Elections. I used my vote to secure promises from both candidates that they would:
- Reduce long lines
- Fix broken voting machines
- Expand the number of early voting sites
- Take on patronage at the Board of Elections
- Support the implementation of laws I authored to enfranchise voters, including:
State law mandates the number of early voting sites in any county, which does not take into consideration the population density of that county. With only 7 sites required and a current 16 early voting sites for all of Manhattan, each serving 100,000 people, and only one site for the Upper East Side and Harlem, it’s no wonder why residents have complained of blocks-long lines at the polls. As I recently told WCBS, New York state must update the early voting law to require early voting sites for specific numbers of people.
Instead of waiting for the BOE to initiate the change, as Gotham Gazette reported, I introduced legislation to create a temporary poll-site task force that would examine measures to improve access to poll sites and to make them more efficient. The task force would be responsible for studying the functioning of poll sites in the 2020 elections, the cost of running them, and the possible effects on the health of voters, and would recommend locations and the number of sites for future elections. For more information, read the release or see full coverage by Gotham Gazette.
Management and Budget
In late 2017, the way New York City spends its budget got a lot more transparent with legislation I introduced and passed which requires all documents that pertain to New York City’s budget to be released to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and posted onto their website. Since being elected, I have advocated that every New Yorker should be able to see how every penny of their tax dollars is being spent. The open budget law (Local Law 218 of 2017) requires budget documents that previously were excluded from being published online to be published and available for download and in a machine-readable format. For more information, read the release at BenKallos.com/press-releases
Since I took office, I have argued that the city needs to use the Mayor’s Management Report (MMR) effectively and transparently so that New Yorkers can judge for themselves how well our city is being managed. As the Wall Street Journal reported, I warned that the “bar was being set too low” in the MMR on important issues like public safety, public health, or helping homeless people off the streets. After three years of work on this issue as chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations, we made significant progress. In late 2016, the Mayor’s Office of Operations announced that agency rulemaking and agency spending would now be more transparent and accurate in its reporting. The Citizens Budget Commission supports my assertion that New Yorkers should have details on how their tax dollars are being invested in improving our city. The Mayor’s administration had made a commitment to continue to work together on getting our management reporting and the city back on track.
Since taking office I have taken part in the Council’s Participatory Budgeting (PB) initiative. PB is a hyper-local process in which residents directly decide how to spend part of their Council Member’s discretionary funds. During the last eight years winning projects have been allocated $6,405,000 and we have also spent $11,639,000 on the many projects that over the years have come in second, third or fourth place. Through PB our community has gotten the chance to decide how tax dollars are spent. PB is grassroots democracy at its best. It helps make budget decisions clear and accessible. It gives real power to people who have never before been involved in the political process. And it results in better budget decisions - because who better knows the needs of our community than the people who live there? Learn more at BenKallos.com/PB
As the former chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations, I held a series of oversight hearings, covered in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, in which we investigated and got many answers about what really happened at the Rivington nursing home. After deed restrictions were lifted, the property was sold and set to become luxury condos. By questioning City Hall officials under oath and in public, we got a detailed account of what went wrong and passed a law to prevent it from happening again. Now, as the Daily News covered, the City is putting deed restriction modification applications through a new review process that includes greater community input.
In a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio in June of 2020, I identified more than $15 billion in possible cuts and savings for the city budget, including $10 billion that could be gained by ending deals with and exemptions for developers, as the New York Daily News reported.
In the letter, I suggested the following as areas for potential savings in the City’s budget:
- Recover billions in real estate tax exemptions from developers who broke their promises ($10 billion, $5 billion in tax revenue and $5 billion in savings)
- Recoup funds from emergency pandemic procurements ($2.5 billion in potential savings)
- Recognize heat, light, and power savings ($176 million in potential savings)
- Recognize savings from reductions in sanitation and snow to save composting (potential savings of $126 million and spending of $24.5 million for net potential savings of $101.5)
- Recognize savings from canceled and reduced demand on city services ($84.5 million in potential savings)I also suggested eliminating wasteful spending by:
- Defunding the NYPD and reinvest the savings in communities harmed by over-policing ($1 billion in savings)
- Not registering non-essential pending contracts ($1 billion in potential savings)
- Cutting consulting contracts and bring the work in-house ($375 million in potential savings)
- Stopping the use of racist materials in the classroom by dropping white-centric and eurocentric textbooks in favor of free open education resources ($84 million in potential savings)
Taxpayers are on the hook for $380 million for two software contracts that will run through 2023. On November 29, 2021, I chaired a Committee on Contracts oversight hearing on these contracts, one of which was $43 million last year, but quintupled in June to $193 million, without a single competing bid, on the basis that despite the vaccine and everyone returning to work it was still somehow an emergency.
During the hearing we exposed the fact that the city was paying more than $300,000 a year for technicians through a vendor while advertising those same positions for $58,700 to $130,000. We asked questions about $500,000 spent on having a technology vendor prepare five Word documents and one Excel sheet. We also questioned another invoice that paid the vendor $1.3 million just to bill the city, something that one would think would be covered as overhead in existing contracts. We learned that the City would be seeking reimbursement from COVID relief dollars earmarked to cover expenses related to COVID-19. When asked about $14 million in work orders for 311, which included changes to deal with parking placards and the Asian Long-horned Beetle, I counseled the City against perjury or defrauding the federal government of these vital funds reserved for COVID-19.
As I said at the hearing, I want the City to bid out these contracts and even bring the work in house to save taxpayers hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars.
When I was first elected I was surprised to learn that if I wanted access to the laws I was elected to change, I would have to pay for access to them, and that if I wanted to know what was going on in the city I would have to read through a physical paper copy of the City Record every day. I thought that neither was good for government, for elected officials or constituents, or for democracy. During my first year as your Council Member I passed two landmark transparency laws that put both the City Record and the City Laws online.
It was no small feat. Entrenched vendors and special interests didn’t want us to have access to our own laws, let alone letting anyone know but a connected few what was actually happening in the city. To get this done I founded the Free Law Founders, a group of Open Government advocates and elected officials from coast to coast. I was proud to help lead this group as we pushed for a democracy platform to help legislatures work better, open information, and open “free law” for the public. Our effect caught attention from Government Executive, GovTech, Law.com and NationSwell, which helped us win our fight.
The City Record is the most important newspaper you’ve never heard of. It is how the city meets 19th century public notice requirements by publishing its own newspaper, that only elected officials and lobbyists knew you could subscribe to for $75 a year. Special interests then paid lobbyists to read through the fine print of the City Record each day to find billions in lucrative contracts and other public notices, assuming they didn’t get the contract through an inside track. Now you can search and get email notifications on public hearings, land use changes, agency rules, and opportunities for contracts online thanks to the law I authored. You can read the release from introduction, passage, the bill signing, and launch, as well as coverage from The New York Daily News, TechPresident, GovTech, State Tech, Capital New York, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, or see it for yourself at www.nyc.gov/cityrecord.
The second transparency bill, Law Online, introduced by Council Member Brad Lander, which I co-prime sponsored, put all New York City laws online, continuously updating, at nyc.gov. Before this the most accurate versions were only accessible through for-fee sites. I wrote an op-ed in City & State and even had to force the city to put out a new RFP to implement the law. You can read the legislation, release, coverage in the Epoch Times, Route-Fifty, and Gotham Gazette, or find or bulk download the city’s charter and laws online.
You can now engage the city’s legislative process through Councilmatic at Law.Council.NYC.gov. In 2009, I was the first to put Albany legislator’s voting records online for the public and the City Council followed suit later that year. With the votes available, we needed a website for the legislation to be accessible and for residents to participate. This began nearly a decade of partnership with David Moore of the Participatory Politics Foundation as we worked to open up the City Council’s legislative data to third parties through the recently announced legislative API and funding from my office for Councilmatic as a free and open source web platform as the official City Council website to make it easier to engage the legislation online.
As the New York Daily News reported, I have proposed legislation to transform New York City into a real smart city of the future. This plan would modernize how parking is found as well as prevent deadly gas explosions and monitor air and water quality in real-time. The technology now exists for our City to put sensors in places that will lead to a quality of life improvement to residents of New York City.
- Smart Water Meters - Would be used to track water usage and quality in real-time. It would save the City water by alerting City officials of potential leaks and when water is contaminated by lead or any other pollutant.
- Waste Water Sensors - Would be used to test water samples in dwellings and Commercial buildings for Covid-19 spikes.
- Smart Gas Meters - Would be used to regulate and track gas usage to prevent dangerous leaks and potential deadly explosions in commercial districts as well as residential neighborhoods.
- Smart Power Meters - Would be connected to the City’s electrical grid and would allow for solar power to be harnessed through panels to be monitored and throttled to keep up with the municipal needs on days of heavy consumption.
- Smart Trash and Recycling Sensors - Would help prevent overflowing trash cans and would transmit alerts to the Sanitation Department when recycling receptacles are full and need to be collected.
An up-front investment in these advances would save millions over time and create jobs in a much smarter City. For more reporting, read coverage from the New York Daily News.
As a free and open source software (FOSS) developer, who uses it everyday on websites like BenKallos.com and WhiteHouse.gov or with software that operates my phone like Android, I introduced the FOSS Act, Int. 366 and Civic Commons, Int. 366 which would mandate a preference for FOSS and provide for a FOSS software repository to save the city as much as $25 million. Sharing the ingenuity of our city and nation's coders will save money and create better programs, and I am proud to have support from some of the best technological minds in New York City, as well as advocates such as Representative Carolyn Maloney and Representative Darrell Issa, who has introduced a version of this at the federal level.
Thank you to the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT), the NYC Independent Budget Office (IBO), the Free Software Foundation, the Open Source Initiative, the Software Freedom Conservancy, Common Cause NY, BetaNYC and Participatory Politics Foundation for their testimony in support of this legislation. Gov Loop featured this legislation in its special printed edition 7 Open Source Myths Debunked. Learn more from the release or coverage in TechPresident, NextCity, Gotham Gazette, GovTech, and Slashdot.
Fortune, TechCrunch, and Gotham Gazette covered the GovAPI Act that I introduced to use apps to make government as easy as using Uber for car service or Seamless for food. The legislation, Int. 1594, would replace long lines, hold music, and bureaucratic forms with an app for that as the private sector innovates government. Any time a paper form, an operator, or website requests information like a name, email, income, or other details, that information could just as easily be provided by an app through an API. Similarly, any time the city shares information on whether you qualify for public benefits, are registered to vote, or owe taxes, that could just as easily be provided by an app through an API. An Application Programming Interface or API provides a set of definitions, protocols, and tools for building application software, or in general terms, it provides a translation dictionary for different software to communicate to make it easier for developers to program new applications. Read the legislation, the release, or coverage in Fortune, TechCrunch, and Gotham Gazette.
I introduced Resolution 1104 with former Technology Committee Chair James Vacca to allow New Yorkers to comment on bills introduced in the New York City Council. Currently, residents are invited to spend hours waiting to testify for two minutes at City Hall on a weekday during business hours. New Yorkers should be able to engage their government and improve upon legislation both offline and online. In the meantime, you can comment on my bills on BenKallos.com/Legislation, GitHub.com/BenKallos. Learn more from the release or coverage by Fast Company, Politico, Capital New York, GovTech, and Vocativ.
City & State reported on the legislation I authored with Technology Committee Chair Robert Holden to establish an Office of Technology and Digital Services complete with a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for the city. The purpose of this Office would be to drive down costs, build forward-thinking agency technology, and taking on "moonshot" challenges to bring city government into the 21 st Century. For more information, read our press release or additional coverage by StateScoop.
PUBLIC HEALTH AND SAFETY
As featured on NBC 4, a law I authored to make kids’ meals in New York City healthier went into effect in April of 2020. From the iconic McDonald’s Happy Meal to a kids’ meal at your local diner, all 24,000 restaurants in New York City with kids’ meals on their menu will now be required to make water, low-fat milk and 100% fruit juice the default beverage. Although parents can still order whatever they want for the kids, testimony from McDonald’s demonstrated that implementing this change resulted in half of kids' meals including a healthy beverage.
Obesity is an epidemic in New York City and according to NYC Health, with 1 in 5 kindergarten students entering school already obese. The American Heart Association recommends that children limit consumption to one or fewer 8-oz sugar-sweetened beverages per week. Moreover, according to the New York Academy of Medicine’s testimony, their scientific research shows that a “12-oz serving of regular soda [in a kids meal can contain] more than 9 teaspoons of sugar. An average 8-year old would need to walk 70 minutes, or the distance between City Hall and Time Square, to walk the calories off.
Under this law, parents can still choose soda or any other beverage, but healthier options will be “the new normal” and what is displayed in menus and advertisements. Changing the default meal option would have a positive impact on reducing caloric intake and obesity in children. For more information on the law, read the release or check out coverage in the New York Post.
During the pandemic we saw how the stress on our supply lines meant scarcity and price increases in everything from toilet paper to food. That's why New York needs a sustainable food supply, and that starts with urban agriculture. Working with Mayor-elect Eric Adams, I carried and passed Local Law 123 of 2021, to establish an Office of Urban Agriculture and an Agriculture Advisory Board.
The Office of Urban Agriculture will work with existing commercial urban farms, expand them, and remove barriers to entry across agencies through the lens of social and economic justice. The office will work with NYCHA’s building health communities to build farms on public housing land to offer our lowest income New Yorkers access to healthy food and economic opportunity. The Urban Agriculture Advisory Board will consist of thirteen members and will advise the Office of Urban Agriculture, the Mayor and the Council on issues relating to urban agriculture. You can learn more from my statement and coverage from Agritecture.
In one of the wealthiest cities in America, or even the world, there is no reason anyone should go hungry. Gotham Gazette recently reported on the passage of my bill, co-sponsored by Speaker Corey Johnson, that codifies the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy who will be responsible for coordinating initiatives among relevant agencies, conducting outreach to key stakeholders and promoting efforts that increase equitable access to nutritious food. Read more about my initial proposal in National Geographic, or see full coverage of the bill’s passage in Gotham Gazette.
In 2011, the City Council passed Local Law 50, authored by now-Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. The law sought to force the purchase of locally grown food by forcing vendors with the city to report on their efforts to buy local. Borough President Brewer found that few if any vendors were reporting on local food purchasing. Borough President Brewer testified at the hearing, reiterating that the expansion of access to healthy and delicious foods will increase economic development for our city and noting that the law is “only as helpful as the Administration’s directive to agencies and vendors that buying from New York state farms is a New York City priority.” We received a lot of expert testimony including from the Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center, which recommended mandating food agencies to provide sourcing information, incentivizing reporting on local food procurement data and implementing penalties for a failure to report. We will continue to push forward with strengthening the effects of Local Law 50 and our overall goal of local food procurement. Learn more about how I’ve worked to build a healthier and more environmentally friendly city in Edible Manhattan.
The Council District 5 Fresh Food Box began as a pilot program between my office and Grow NYC back in the spring of 2016, and became a fan favorite for residents. Over the past five years, the program has served hundreds of residents looking to get locally grown farm fresh vegetables at an affordable price.
GrowNYC's Fresh Food Box Program lets customers benefit from fresh farm-to-table produce from a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share, with the flexibility of week-to-week purchasing. Sign-ups begin every year in June and the season runs through November. Learn more visit grownyc.org/greenmarketco/foodbox
In 2017 an elderly woman died and six others were sickened as a result of a Legionnaires Disease cluster in my district. Thanks to a law I co-sponsored in 2015 we knew where the cooling towers were in order to test over 100 and clean them to prevent anyone else from getting sick.
In 2018, WNYC found that 20% of the cooling towers—over 1,000—in the city were not being inspected every 90-days as required. To correct the problem which I later found to be even more widespread at 44% of the cooling towers, I authored and passed Local Law 76 of 2019 which will require buildings to notify the city after every 90-day inspection and if they fail to do so, the Department of Health can immediately issue a violation and send out an inspector to keep us safe and prevent the spread of this deadly disease. For more information, read the release or press coverage from WNYC.
Since the initial outbreak of Covid-19 in New York City, my office did everything in our power to help residents survive Covid-19. Coronavirus has claimed the lives of more than 30,000 New Yorkers. At the height of the pandemic, our City was in desperate need of personal protective equipment and space to treat infected patients. My office was one of the first in the City Council to transition to working remotely on March 13th, 2020, and we quickly pivoted our priority to opening beds in the district including 350 beds at Coler Hospital on Roosevelt Island and 200 beds at the Hospital for Special Surgery on the Upper East Side. Ultimately, we were able to secure 550 beds, which is half as many beds as we received from the federal government when the U.S.N.S. Comfort docked in New York City harbor for a month.
From the beginning, my office pushed for increasing testing capacity. As reported by Our Town, we even teamed up with Dr. Christopher Mason at Weill Cornell to help cut red tape and develop new Covid-19 testing. We even launched mobile free testing for Roosevelt Island.
We initially established an email clearing house to secure personal protective equipment such as face masks, face shields and gloves to help health care professionals at local hospitals. James Patchett, President and CEO of New York City’s Economic Development Cooperation, the agency that the Mayor tasked with securing the City's PPE even recognized our efforts.
Once we secured sufficient masks, we began working with neighborhood and tenant associations as well as institutions of faith to distribute masks and sanitizer.
Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
In June of 2020, the New York City Council took its first steps towards meaningful police reform by passing a package of legislation that included a ban on chokeholds and kneeling on a person's neck. These are all bills that I sponsored last term and sponsored again this term:
- The Right to Record (Introduction No. 721-B) by Public Advocate Williams codifies your right to film police activities, prohibit interference or threats to those recording, and provide a private right of action.
- Ban on Chokeholds (Introduction No. 536-B) bans and criminalizes the use of restraints that restrict the flow of air or blood by compressing another individual’s windpipe or arteries on the neck, or by putting pressure on the back or chest, by police officer making an arrest. This would cover chokeholds, as well as maneuvers like placing a knee on a person’s neck. Any officer found guilty of using such a restraint could be found guilty of a class A misdemeanor.
- Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act (Introduction No. 487-A), would provide civilian oversight for surveillance technologies used by the New York Police Department (NYPD). The Department would be required to issue a surveillance impact and use policy about these technologies, including a description and capabilities, rules, processes and guidelines, and any safeguards and security measures designed to protect information collected.
- Display of Badge Numbers (Introduction No. 1962-A) requires officers to display their shield number or rank designation at all times when the officer is performing their duties with private right of action if an officer refuses.
- Disciplinary Matrix (Introduction No. 1309-B) creates a “disciplinary matrix” with a recommended range of penalties for each type of violation.
- Early Intervention (Introduction No. 760-B) expands categories of information included in the NYPD Early Intervention System to include information on types of arrests, incidents of excessive force, and ongoing disciplinary proceedings.
- Supporting the Eric Garner Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act of 2019 (H.R. 4408) (Resolution T2020-6256) urging the United States Congress to pass The Eric Garner Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act of 2019 (H.R. 4408) sponsored by U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries. If made law, this bill would make the use of chokeholds a civil rights violation. This would enable federal authorities to hold accountable police officers who use the deadly technique.
As the New York Times reported, the New York Police Department’s $94,000 contract for a robotic police dog has been terminated after I worked with Council Speaker Corey Johnson to subpoena records related to the device that many New Yorkers shared negative reactions to online. As I told the Daily News:
“Our city needs more community policing, officers connecting to residents, not scary military-style gadgets that scare folks.”
In our April 2021 newsletter, I shared how new legislation I introduced with the support of Human Rights Watch would ban the weaponization of remote or autonomous robots that interact with the public in the City of New York. After videos of the NYPD utilizing a robot dog in the Bronx went viral in February, New Yorkers debated the merits of utilizing military technology to police neighborhoods and how groundbreaking robot technology will affect the lives of New Yorkers. That’s why Int. 2240 would expand the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology or POST Act, requiring the NYPD to be more transparent on its surveillance and technology tools.
Currently, there is no policy or transparency on the current and future capabilities of technology loaned to or procured by New York City law enforcement. The NYPD’s exploration of utilizing military technology and weaponry in New York neighborhoods demands statutory oversight to formally ban certain controversial technology with weaponized capabilities. For more information, read the release or see coverage in the New York Times, New York Daily News, New York Post and Wired.
Between our annual hurricane season and unpredictable natural events that can occur from time to time, it is imperative that New York City residents are able to equip themselves with proper emergency preparedness tools to use at their disposal should they need them. That’s why my office has partnered with the City’s Department of Emergency Management and a host of local elected officials to offer virtual safety presentations and three free Go-Bag giveaways.
I joined Governor Cuomo, MTA Chair Prendergast, MTA Capital Construction President Horodniceanu, Manhattan Borough President Brewer, and Building Trades President LaBarbera to cut the ribbon on the 86th Street Second Avenue subway station. As reported by WABC 7, I also had the privilege of welcoming the New Year in 2017 with an inaugural ride with other elected officials and residents who had to live through the construction. After many years of construction and constant press conferences led by Congressmember Maloney to keep the progress on track, I am proud to finally have it open.
The M79 was an award-winning bus line, having the dubious honor of winning the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign Pokey Award in 2014 for the slowest speed with a 3.2 mile per hour crawl, slower than the Hawaiian lava flow. According to BusTurnaround.NYC, the M79 now averages 4.3 miles per hour, slower than most people walk. That is why in 2016, following great results from Select Bus Service implementation for the M86, I requested this service for the remaining crosstown routes in my district including the M79. In May 2017 I was proud to launch the M79 SBS.
Part of the work we have done to improve bus service includes working to get new buses for our neighborhood. In 2017, the Upper East Side received 79 new buses serving the M15, M101, M102, and M103 routes, as reported in Our Town. After years of advocacy and analysis of BusTime data, I identified the issue of “missing buses” with the help of BetaNYC, BusTurnaround.nyc, and TWU Local 100. I brought the issue to the attention of the MTA at a meeting convened by Senator Liz Krueger, where the MTA shared that bus lines based out of the Tuskegee Depot in my district were among the oldest in the system, leading to more frequent than usual breakdowns. The MTA agreed to prioritize these buses for replacement with new buses that are equipped with WiFi, USB charging, “next stop” screens, and pedestrian safety measures. For more information on our new buses, read our press release at BenKallos.com/Press-Releases or read coverage in Our Town, DNAinfo, or Upper East Side Patch.
As we worked to improve bus service we noticed that blocked bus lanes were a consistent problem. Riders shouldn't face delays because a truck or van is blocking the bus lane. As of October 2019, cars parked on M15 lanes will be captured on cameras mounted on the buses. Drivers blocking the Select Bus Service Route will be fined. The fines begin at $50 for a first violation and go up to $250 for a fifth violation and each subsequent offense.
When I took office bus service and slow or missing buses were one of the chief complaints of constituents. As a software developer, I knew that bus time data could help us understand bus service and what was going wrong, which is why I teamed up with BetaNYC to analyze the MTA’s bus service data. As a result, we were able to secure 79 new buses to replace some of the oldest buses in the City that were constantly breaking down and causing service delays.
By Air & By Sea
Following years of advocacy dating back to my first campaign, I am proud that we now have NYC Ferry service on Roosevelt Island and in the Upper East Side. The Soundview route runs from East 90th to East 34th to Stuyvesant Cove and Pier 11 by Wall Street for a 32 minute ride. The Astoria route runs from Roosevelt Island to LIC to East 34th to Brooklyn Navy Yard to Pier 11 by Wall Street for a 37 minute ride. In 2020 we expanded ferry service and celebrated the opening of a route that connects Astoria and the Upper East Side. I've been proud to reactivate our waterfront and add this transportation option that has boasted 14.9 million riders since its inception. The ferry service is perfect for visiting the City’s parks and attractions and commuting to and from work. For more information on the launch, see the release at BenKallos.com/Press-Releases or visit Ferry.nyc.
After more than 20 years of operating on interim agreements, the City Council approved a 50-year franchise agreement between the City of New York and the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC). The agreement was approved for two 25-year terms, granting the City the authority to negotiate with RIOC to continue operating the unique aerial tramway from Tramway Plaza on Second Avenue in Manhattan over the East River onto Roosevelt Island. As the Village Voice and Roosevelt Islander blog reported: “The Tram” has been managed by the State through RIOC since 1995, despite a bureaucratic quirk. The new agreement settles past issues that forced interim agreements to become the norm by allowing for the continuation of advertising on the interior of the cars and stations but prohibiting advertisements on the exteriors of the stations and tram cars. It is clear now that the Roosevelt Island Tram is here to stay and after 20 years of needless bureaucracy, we’ve protected it. To find out more about this deal read the release or coverage in the Roosevelt Islander or the Village Voice.
Bike & Pedestrian Safety
Over the past eight years we've seen meaningful reductions in traffic injuries and deaths. That's because we've focused on identifying dangerous intersections, investing in safer street infrastructure, education of bike riders, the distribution of safety equipment, and increased enforcement.
Since then, we have doubled bike lanes from just First Avenue and the 90th & 91st Street pair to include protected lanes on Second Avenue, 70th & 71st Street and 77th & 78th Streets in 2017, parking-protected bike lanes from 68th to 59th Street on Second Avenue in 2018. We also created safe crossing across the entrance to Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge with new bike lanes and crosswalks installed in 2019. The Second Avenue protected bike lane now stretches uninterrupted from 125th Street to 43rd Street. For more information on the bike lane improvements, watch the press conference or check out coverage from PIX 11 and ABC 7.
Following an expansion of the Upper East Side’s safe streets network, coupled with an increase in education, safety equipment, and enforcement, bike safety from 30th to 97th streets on Manhattan’s East Side continues to improve as a result of a program led by myself and Council MemberKeith Powers.
Since the launch of the bike safety program in 2014, the number of collisions involving cyclists has reduced each year, and fewer pedestrians and cyclists are injured in collisions, as covered by CBS, NBC, Our Town, amNY, and most recently Patch.
As a candidate to be your Council Member, bike share for the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island was one of my first campaign promises. The program was also the first resolution we passed together through Roosevelt Island Residents Association and Community Board 8. The Roosevelt Islander was first to identify a higher volume of requests for CitiBike from residents on Roosevelt Island than anywhere else in New York City.
During my first term, we worked with Citi Bike to open 25 stations on the Upper East Side in my Council District. Thank you to the hundreds of people who provided feedback, online and in person at community forums, working with the Department of Transportation and my office to find the right place for each station to benefit local businesses and residents. I wanted bike share users to be as safe as possible, so Citi Bike provided a monthly 90-minute bike safety class at my office with the offer of a free day-pass or an additional month on an annual membership.
As Citi Bike rolled out throughout the city, leaving out Roosevelt Island, I have worked and negotiated with multiple owners of Citi Bike to pursue this expansion while eliminating costs to the Island. We also secured permission from the New York City Department of Transportation and found a willing partner in Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation to help push the effort forward. It is great to see the years of work finally paying off as in June of 2020 we cut the ribbon on the first Citi Bike stations to be installed in Roosevelt Island. For more information on opening visit BenKallos.com/Press-Releases or watch Coverage by NY1.
You can find a Citi Bike dock near you at member.citibikenyc.com/map
As you may have read in the New York Times, I am proud to share that the City will be implementing a request from cyclists and pedestrians alike to close a lane on the Queensboro Bridge and reserve it for cyclists that Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and I have been supporting. This comes after years of our joint advocacy alongside community organizations for more space on the bridge for cyclists and pedestrians. In a long-awaited victory lap, I told Streetsblog:
“This is a moment to say we did it. Bike riders from Manhattan and Queens, rejoice. We won. It is good that the mayor heard the call and acted.”
Thousands of New Yorkers bike, walk, and run over the Queensboro Bridge each day. The bridge has nine lanes for car traffic, yet only a narrow path along the northern edge of the bridge is open for cyclists and pedestrians to share, causing conflicts, congestion, and in the age of COVID, dangerous crowding. As the Manhattan council members whose districts border the bridge, and whose constituents depend on this critical inter-borough connection, Council Member Van Bramer and I called on the city make more space for bike and foot traffic by opening the South Outer Roadway as a pedestrians-only lane, even offering to cover the cost of the project.
In an op-ed for AMNY, we also addressed the safety improvements that our proposal would require and “pledged to use some of our discretionary capital funding to help install fencing along a new South Outer Sidewalk.” A day later, Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg began working with our offices to move forward with the plan. I am proud to see the changes are finally underway.
Thank you to Transportation Alternatives, Bike New York, StreetsPAC, environmental activist Charles Komanoff and all of the other advocates who have rallied with me over the years in this push to make our bridges a space for people, not just cars. For more information, see coverage by the New York Times and Streetsblog.
Learn more about bike safety at BenKallos.com/BikeSafety
As Streetsblog reported in January of 2021, when the pandemic caused balloting for Participatory Budgeting (PB) to be cancelled we still listened to advocacy from residents who emailed us leading me to team up with Council Member Keith Power to fund two snow plows for bike lanes and pedestrian intersections.
However, due to needless bureaucracy and red tape the City won't use my money to purchase equipment. Worse even, the City has not made plans to produce funds for the plows, the absence of which left bike lanes completely unswept for days in December. As I told Streetsblog:
“It’s a $94-billion budget and the fact that the city can’t find $30,000 to buy a plow attachment to keep cyclists safe is a joke.”
Soon after taking office, we launched a "Livable Streets" program to promote safety for drivers, pedestrians, and bikers alike. We asked 60,000 families in my district to identify dangerous intersections and streetscape improvements and compiled responses into two reports on Livable Streets, highlighting our Dangerous Intersections and proposing Street Improvements, as covered by the Daily News. Following the report, the DOT and NYPD also released a Vision Zero Borough Pedestrian Safety Plan for Manhattan. They included priority corridors on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Ave, as well as intersections from my report: Lexington Avenue and East 86th Street, 2nd Avenue and East 79th Street, East 75th Street and 1st Avenue, East 62nd Street and 1st Avenue, 3rd Avenue and 57th Street, and 2nd Avenue and East 53rd Street.
To make our streets even more accessible for everyone, after hearing from seniors and disabled members of the community who couldn't cross the streets because sidewalk ramps were inaccessible for walkers and wheelchairs, I introduced legislation that would require landlords to fix crumbling curb cuts to ensure the 889,219 New Yorkers with disabilities and nearly one million residents 65 or older can cross the street safely.
To make the district even safer, my office worked with the MTS Community Advisory Group (CAG), fellow elected officials and the Department of Transportation (DOT) to make safety improvements to the intersections surrounding the Marine Transfer Station site, agreeing to adjust signal timing on the intersections on York Avenue. Leading Pedestrian Interval Signals (LPIS), where the walk sign shows before cars get a green light, have been installed at 19 of the intersections. This will allow pedestrians on these corners the opportunity to enter the crosswalk before cars begin to turn. Leading Pedestrian Interval Signals (LPIS) were installed along York Avenue at the following streets: 65th, 68th, 70th, 71st, 74th, 75th, 76th, 78th, 80th, 81st, 82nd, 83rd, 84th, 85th, 86th, 87th, 88th, 89th, and 90th. You can see our Livable Streets report at BenKallos.com/livable-streets
I believe that climate change is real, caused by humans, and that it is up to us to do something about it. That's why I authored and the City Council passed a resolution declaring a Climate Emergency, making New York City the largest city to do so as part of an international movement. The declaration was covered in the Huffington Post, CNN, The Hill, Gotham Gazette, The Nation and Patch. You can also watch my interview with the online news station, Cheddar.
Other cities around the world have already declared a climate emergency, making it important that the most populated city in the nation also declares a climate emergency. The more cities that declare a Climate Emergency, the harder it will be to deny the reality of climate change. The Council has also already taken a major step toward saving the environment by passing the Climate Mobilization Act, which will dramatically reduce the city’s carbon emissions from buildings.
Prior to passing the resolution Council Member Costa Constantinides Chair for the Environmental Committee and I joined Extinction Rebellion NYC and 60 activists from 350 Brooklyn, Indivisible Nation Brooklyn, and One Queens Indivisible for a rally on the steps of City Hall that you can watch at BenKallos.com/videos. For more information, read the release at BenKallos.com/press-releases or see coverage in XRebellion NYC and AM New York.
As we celebrated Climate Week this year, it was time to take action to save our planet. New York was the largest city on the planet to declare a climate emergency, in a resolution that I authored and the City Council passed 2 years ago. Now the City will have to use every dollar we spend to save our planet. When you say “Show Me the Money,” I am talking about 20 billion dollars, that’s billion with a "B." This Climate Week, the New York City Council modernized the Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program from 2005 and ten years ago in 2011. I haven’t even seen cassette tapes or mini-discs for sale in years, and we took them off the list of environmentally preferred goods. Answering machines too; we can use voice mail instead. We banned the purchase of halogen lamps, in favor of LEDs like every household in America. We added furniture, and a big piece for the fashion capital of the world (take that Paris), textiles.
We adopted tough standards to save our planet:
- Adopting EPEAT Standards on Electronics
- Eliminate Reliance on Virgin Materials
- Adding Improved Outdoor Air Quality
- Reduce the Negative Effects and Generate Positive Effects for Environment
The law will consider the social costs associated with the production of textiles, including the nature of labor conditions along the supply chain, whether such textiles are recycled or organic in whole or in part and the ethical sourcing and supply chain for textiles.
For more information on the new law visit BenKallos.com/Releases.
As sea levels rise and New York City continues to recover from Hurricane Sandy, we need to do as much as we can to protect our City from the dangers of climate change. In 2016, legislation I introduced to revive the Waterfront Management Advisory Board became law. This legislation reconstituted the board's role, ensuring it plays an important part in advising New York City on how to best revitalize and protect our 520 miles of shoreline. Under the new law, membership to the board is expanded to include more diverse voices, as well as every level of government. Read the law and release with the full list of benefits, and coverage by SiLive.com or Downtown Magazine.
Eliminating Toxins and Reducing CO2 Emissions
The New York Times reported that, thanks to a law I authored with the help of public school kids and a very determined, now-retired elementary school teacher, Paula Rogovin, New York City is finally banning the use of toxic pesticides such as RoundUp in our parks and open spaces.
The road to passing this bill has been long and involved multiple hearings in the City Council, where even school children sang and testified alongside experts like Jay Feldman of Beyond Pesticides. Over the years, successful lawsuits across the country against companies using glyphosate in their weed killers have bolstered support for our legislation. In late 2019, Bertha Lewis’s The Black Institute published a report titled Poison Parks highlighting the fact that New York City was spraying this potentially carcinogenic substance in far greater quantities in communities of color than in white neighborhoods.
Around the country and world, several cities and states have also banned glyphosate. However, the legislation we passed on Earth Day goes much further, banning all man-made pesticides in favor of natural herbicides and real land management techniques in our City’s parks. This legislation undoubtedly makes New York City a safer place to live for our children and pets, or anyone who enjoys City parks.
Thank you to organizations like Beyond Pesticides, The Black Institute, Grassroots Environmental, and the Church of the Stop Shopping Choir for their advocacy and energy dedicated to passing this law. For more information, read the op-ed in The Guardian, the release, watch the press conference, or see coverage in the NY1,Patch, CBS 2 New York,New York Daily News, or New York Times.
We marked the five year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy by joining Climate Works for All, which aims to fight climate change by reducing the carbon footprint of our city's number one polluter, our buildings, which contribute to 70% of emissions. Under Climate Works for All, we would:
- Mandate Energy Efficiency Retrofits in New York City's Largest Buildings
- Install Solar Energy on Rooftops of New York City’s 100 Largest Schools
- Replace New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Boilers with Combined Heat and Power Systems
- Upgrade New York City’s Energy Distribution Systems by Investing in Microgrids
- Fix Leaking Natural Gas Lines
- Expand the Green Jobs - Green New York Program in New York City
More recently, in October of 2020, I was proud to join ALIGN and NYC Environmental Justice Alliance for the launch of the Climate Works for All coalition, which offers a road map to create 100,000 jobs in the climate industry as we strive to meet the City’s 2050 climate goals.
As the Verge reported, in February 2020, Mayor de Blasio signed an executive order officially implementing my proposed ban on the sale of single-use plastic bottles in city parks, beaches, and even Trump's golf courses. City agencies will also no longer be able to purchase single-use plastic bottles. We were joined by local student organizers of the global climate strike at the signing of the executive order. Before it was repealed by the Trump administration, President Obama’s ban of the sale of plastic bottles in National Parks resulted in waste reduction of as much as 300 tons.
Compost On-the-Go is a program we launched several years ago with GrowNYC’s zero waste initiatives funded by the NYC Department of Sanitation. Compost On–the-Go increases access to food waste composting for New Yorkers in the Bronx and Northern Manhattan. As the New York Times reported, getting residents to compost has been really tough, so when the program was fully active these drop-off sites were conveniently located near many public transit and are staffed by friendly compost coordinators ready to accept fruit and vegetable scraps as residents head out to start the day. For more information, see coverage in the New York Daily News.
Due to the pandemic, the program was suspended. Right before the pandemic I allocated $90,000 for a new industrial grade composting machine to help residents on Roosevelt Island compost more efficiently. I joined the Save Our Compost campaign to push the City and Mayor to restore this organization's budget in order to keep them up and running helping green New York City. I am proud to say that we successfully won the relaunch of the program!
With New York City committed to closing the crumbling facilities on Rikers Island by 2027, I recently joined Council Member Costa Constantinides, WE ACT for Environmental Justice and so many others to celebrate our victory in passing the Renewable Rikers Act, requiring the city to study how building renewable resources paired with battery storage on the island can tie into the city’s long-term energy plan to phase out fossil fuel-fired power plants established as part of the Climate Mobilization Act.
“The answer my friend is blowing in the wind,” was sung as I led more than 150 New Yorkers, community groups and environmental justice leaders on the steps of City Hall in thanking Mayor Bill de Blasio for his commitment to power 100% of City operations with renewable energy. We also urged him to ensure that offshore wind power plays a major role in achieving that goal. We secured a $191 million investment in offshore wind turbines that will help the city reach a goal of 100% clean electricity production by 2030, reaching full carbon neutrality by 2050.I am proud to have stood next to organizations like the Sierra Club, the Center For Working Families, and NYPIRG to ask for more renewable energy to benefit NYC. Watch the press conference and sing along, or read more in our release or the Sierra Club.
QUALITY OF LIFE
In 2019, The New York Times reported on the shocking 1,400 buildings around the City with sidewalk sheds that aren't up because of ongoing construction but because they have failed to fix façade issues for which the Department of Buildings has issued a whopping $31 million in violations that have gone unpaid.
Since I was elected we've been working to pass legislation I authored to force landlords to make repairs and get sidewalk sheds down as well as force the city to inspect every sidewalk shed so they never fall on anyone else. In 2017, the City Council held a public hearing on my original scaffolding bill (Int 1389). This hearing was a pivotal step in getting the City to reform the laws governing the use of scaffolding. Under my bill, which is still undergoing changes and updates, landlords would have up to 90 days to fix dangerous facade conditions and an additional 90 days for owners to fix dangerous conditions upon extension. After the 180 days, the city would step in to do the work to correct the dangerous condition and bill the owner for all the costs. For more information on the bill see coverage in The New York Times, PIX11, FOX 5, New York 1.
In 2019, after the death of a pedestrian in midtown due to a falling piece of a building, Fox 5 covered my criticism of the fact that we are still inspecting building facades with centuries' old techniques such as binoculars, telescopes, and even feeling bricks with our hands. As reported by Fox 5 and the New York Post, this led to the City Council hearing legislation that I am co-prime sponsor of which would study the use of drones for facade inspections.
In December of 2019, the Department of Buildings adopted many of the reforms I have been pushing for when it announced facade inspection reforms doubling their façade inspection team staff, adding more frequent and thorough inspections of buildings, and following my legislative proposal for the city to make repairs and bill the owner for the most hazardous conditions. You can read more in Crain's New York and The City.
As reported by ABC 7, my legislation which I hope the next Council will enact would regulate how our City is using scaffolding. It would also make sure that the nearly 350 miles of scaffolding covering New York City's sidewalks are safe and not at risk of falling. As reported by New York Daily News and Gothamist under the current laws, scaffolding is self-certified for safety by the contractors who install it, without any independent inspection by the city’s Department of Buildings. Under my legislation, scaffolding would be required to undergo safety inspections by the Buildings Department every six months at the expense of the building owner with fees escalating to incentivize the scaffolding to go down.
We have cleaned up the Upper East Side with 284 new large trash cans covering 104 intersections, which I purchased with $154,780 in initiative funding from my office back in 2017. These new cans supplement the 38 I purchased in 2016 with $20,710 in initial funding as part of a successful pilot with the East 72nd and East 86th Street Neighborhood Associations. The East Sixties Neighborhood Association (ESNA) joined prior participants in requesting an expansion. The large cans feature a smaller opening designed to keep trash from spilling over onto the street with reports from the pilot of a decrease in litter and rodents. In addition to these efforts alongside DSNY, I worked to get a Business Improvement District (BID) organized that will help keep the streets clean in perpetuity. Learn more about the cleanup efforts by reading the most recent press releases on the 284 trash cans, watching the press conference or WNBC or reading coverage in the Patch and DNAinfo.
In fiscal years 2019 and 2020, my office allocated an additional $152,375 to replace missing and damaged trash cans and to ensure every street corner in my district that needed a trash can received one. I promised to replace every small wire trash can with a new large trash can.
We power washed the neighborhood block by block with Wildcat Cleaning services. Starting with East 86th, 79th, 72nd Streets and even Second Avenue. I even rolled up my sleeves and took the opportunity to lead the power washing crews at a few of the sites to help get the job done.
As part of our cleanup initiative, we have been able to win twice a day garbage pick up from the Department of Sanitation in areas that need it. We have bought hundreds of new domed trash cans to keep the streets litter-free. We also continued to work with Wildcat as they swept up streets, tree pits, and bike islands. They have been able to successfully remove old plastic bags that were stuck in tree branches.
For more information on our cleanup initiative, visit BenKallos.com/cleanup
As reported by the Daily News, more than $1.6 billion in quality of life violations are in the process of being collected by the City after legislation I introduced became law and went into effect. Environmental Control Board (ECB) or quality of life violations are issued to owners who do not clean or shovel sidewalks, leave out excessive trash, or engage in noisy construction before or after hours. Prior to this package of legislation becoming law, many of the fines would go unpaid or paid as a “cost of doing business.” Prior to my law going into effect, we offered an amnesty program through the Department of Finance to pay any outstanding violations without penalties or interest. This new law ensures that bad actors change their behavior or face the consequence of losing their license. For more information read the release at BenKallos.com/Press-Releases
Over the past eight years, we have stood our ground against the Mayor and his Marine Transfer Station (MTS), and we won several concessions for our community.
The administration promised that zoned trash pickup will not be tied to dumping at the MTS, we won funding for guardrails on every truck and even won a commitment to zero waste, which will make Marine Transfer-to-landfill obsolete by 2030. A new ramp will be constructed one block north at the request of Pledge2Protect and Asphalt Green to protect children playing on their soccer fields.
In 2018 prior to opening, as Our Town reported, the Department of Sanitation agreed to an “average of 40 to 50 trucks per day” instead of the over 200 trucks a day that were once feared. Our neighborhood saw such a dramatic reduction because we are producing 25% less landfill than a decade ago through reduction and diversion. My opposition to this facility remained steadfast because a garbage dump does not belong in a residential neighborhood. Join the fight at BenKallos.com/MTS
Any New Yorker can attest to hearing a rich cacophony of noises through their window each night, from cars blasting bass that shakes windows as they drive by to motorists leaning into their horn out of anger to roving motorcycle gangs revving engines as they speed down sidewalks. Residents have had enough and have come out to meetings with elected officials demanding they do something about it. I am answering the call with new legislation for automated noise enforcement using video cameras and microphone triangulation to catch the booming vehicles and mailing violations of up to $1,575. As I shared with the New York Daily News:
“I get these complaints all the time and I have my own panic response of picking up my daughter when I hear them. Every New Yorker knows how bad this is.”
Major cities around the world and other states have moved forward with automated enforcement including California, United Kingdom, Austria, France, Switzerland, and Canada. Technology has advanced to a point that noise can be isolated to individual vehicles in moving traffic. Video and triangulated audio would be captured automatically and reviewed by the police later with violations issued and mailed to the vehicle’s owner. Violations would be $150 to $525 for the first violation, $300 to $1,050 for the second offense, and $450 to $1,575 for third and subsequent offenses. For more information, read the release or see full coverage in ABC 7, Gothamist, and the New York Daily News.
- Prohibiting Outside Income (Law 20 of ’16) – The City Council now works full time for the people without the influence of other sources of income.
- Eliminating “Legal Grease”(Res. 980 of ’16) – Former Speakers used a slush fund to reward Council Member allies with payments in lieu of salary, or “lulus,” a practice that the Daily News called “legal grease.” My resolution banned it from the City Council.
Campaign Finance Reform
- Full Public Match Campaign Finance System(Law 128 of ’19) – raised the cap on public funds received by participating candidates to establish a full public match, further limiting the impact of “Big Money” in local elections.
- Getting Big Money Out of Politics (Law 1 of ’19) – making question 1 of the 2018 Charter Revision (8 to 1 match) effective for all special elections prior to 2021.
- Closing Campaign for One New York Loophole(Law 181 of ’16, co-sponsor) – by limiting contributions to nonprofits controlled by elected officials and disclosing donors.
- Quelling Special Interests Dollars(Law 167 of ‘16) – by ending the practice of matching funds bundled by lobbyists and special interests with public dollars.
- Early Public Fund Payments(Law 168 of ‘16) – to help campaigns that take public dollars get on the ballot and reach voters.
- Disclosing Conflicts in a Timely Manner (Law 211 of '17) - by requiring candidate to disclose within 25 days of filing to get on the ballot.
- Better Debates(Law 169 of ‘16) – by only including campaigns that are spending money to win.
Affordable Housing and Tenant Protection
- Affordable Housing Applications, Tracking, and Enforcement (Law 64 of '18) - centralized applications, waitlists, tracking, registration of units, and enforcement for all city-subsidized affordable housing.
- Short Term Rental (STR) Registration (Int. 2309 of ‘21) – requires host and platforms to register units and include unique identifiers in listings with notice and opt-out for owners.
- Stand for Tenant Safety in Buildings in Large Buildings (Law 153 of '17) - tenant protections from slumlords in large buildings.
- Stand for Tenant Safety Quality of Life Protections (Law 152 of '17) - any quality of life violation may be counted towards establishing a distressed property for transfer from a slumlord to tenants or a responsible owner.
- Good Cause Eviction (Res. 1840 of ‘21) – supporting a state law to prevent evictions without “good cause.”
- Students Admissions Tracking(Law 72 of '18) - counting every child who applies, is rejected or accepted, enrolls, and attends for every school.
- School Seat Need Transparency (Law 167 of ’18) – the basis for school seat need must be disclosed in order to ensure proper planning.
- End School Hunger (Law 215 of '17) - set goals and report on participation in breakfast, breakfast-after-the-bell, lunch, snacks, and supper.
- Students with Disabilities Services Transparency (Law 17 of ’20) guarantees that students with disabilities receive necessary services by increasing reporting from an annual basis to three times a school year.
- LGBT training and GSA (Law 231 of '17) - LGBT training for teachers to support GSAs.
- School Transportation Transparency(Law 33 of ’19) – bus routes for parents ahead and test runs ahead of the school year to avoid bad routes.
- School Bus Stop Arm Cameras (Int. 1729 of ’19) – automated enforcement for vehicles that fail to yield to school bus stop arms using cameras.
- GPS on School Buses(Law 32 of ’19) – GPS for parents and schools to track buses.
Food & Nutrition
- Automatic Benefits Study (Law 60 of '18) - to provide human services such as Medicaid, SNAP, rental assistance and more automatically using existing government information.
- Happy Healthy Meals(Law 75 of ’19) – children's meals must offer water, 100% juice, or milk as the default options on the menu.
- Office of Food Policy(Law 41 of ’20) – establishes office to oversee multi-agency food policy and promote access to healthy food.
- Office of Urban Agriculture (Law 123 of ‘21) - establishes office to support and expand urban agriculture.
- Cooling Tower Inspection Reporting(Law 76 of ’19) – landlords must report every 90-days during the cooling season in time to stop the spread of Legionnaires' Disease.
- Water Tank Inspection Electronic Filing (Law 85 of ’19) – water tank inspection and cleaning filings must be done online.
Economic Development & Small Business
- Retirement Security for All (Law 51 of ‘21) – city-sponsored auto-enroll individual retirement accounts (IRA) for employees who don’t have access through employers.
- Sidewalk Café Transfers (Int. 2096 of ‘20) – allows sidewalk cafes to be transferred.
- Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) Disparities Tracking (Int. 1624 of ’19) – tracks racial and gender disparities in city contracts quarterly.
Quality of Life
- Catching Scofflaws (Law 48 of ’16) – Information added to all quality of life violations will help identify who is responsible and collect fines.
- Stopping Repeat Offenders (Law 47 of ’16) – City agencies that issue quality of life violations are now required to deny, suspend, or revoke licenses and permits for unpaid fines or repeat offenders.
- Turning Down the Volume on Construction Noise(Law 53 of '18) - by half, eliminating requiring noise measurement from within a home, inspection at times when the noise is likely to occur, and the power to issue a stop-work order.
- Counting Every Life on the Construction Site(Law 78 of '17) - count every injury and every life, at construction sites, or face fines up to $25,000.
- Crane Modernization (Law 3 of '18) - retire cranes after 25 years to prevent equipment failure and collapse.
Protecting Neighborhood Planning from Overdevelopment
- Application Requirements (Law 103 of '17) - for developers to show why zoning laws should not apply to them with fines of up to $15,000 for knowingly falsifying information.
- Financial Expertise(Law 102 of '17) - provided for the city with a state certified Real Estate Appraiser to review and analyze developers' financials.
- Protecting Neighborhood Plans(Law 101 of '17) - by designating a coordinator at City Planning Commission to defend the city's plan from unnecessary variances.
- Reporting on Variances (Law 104 of '17) - including the number of pre-application meeting requests, number of applications, number of variances approved or denied, and the average length of time for decisions.
- Map to Prevent Rezoning by Variance(Law 105 of '17) - with an interactive online map of all variances and special permits granted since 1998.
- Opening Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS)(Law 250 of '17) - signage for POPS indicating amenities with 311 listed for complaints, a website listing POPS, and increased violation of up to $10,000 for repeat offenses.
- Online Voter Registration(Law 238 of '17) - register to vote online with a digital signature.
- Voter Information Portal(Law 65 of ’16) – Will empower voters to track an absentee ballot, find poll site location, view ballots, and verify registration status and that votes were counted.
- Pro-Voter Law Expansion (Law 63 of ’14) - requires 25 city agencies to provide voter registration forms and assist individuals with completing them, so everyone gets registered.
- Online Voter Guide(Law 43 of ‘14) - saving the environment and money, while increasing access to information in off-year uncontested elections.
- Save Paper and Money on Voter Guide(Law 170 of ’16) – by allowing voters to opt-out of receiving mailers.
- Same Day and Online Registration Advocacy(Res. 1061 of ’16) – to pass state constitutional amendment.
- Teens on Community Boards(Res. 115 of ‘14) – opens community boards to our best and brightest 16 and 17-year-olds.
Transparency in Government
- Online Budget (Law 218 of '17) - place all city budget documents online.
- Open Legislation (Res. 184 of ’14, co-sponsor) – as part of the Council’s rules reform process, I provided language requiring posting legislation online and public engagement.
- Open Mapping(Law 108 of ’15) - standardizes address and geospatial information so Open Data has location information.
- Law Online (Law 37 of ‘14, co-prime sponsor) – puts our city’s law online for you to search, download, and read.
- City Record Online (Law 38 of ‘14) – public notices from the city, previously published in a daily newspaper, are now online and fully searchable so you can learn what is happening in your community.
Environment & Climate Change
- A Declaring A Climate Emergency(Res. 864 of '19) - declaring a climate emergency and calling for an immediate emergency mobilization to restore a safe climate.
- Reforming Waterfront Management(Law 96 of ’16) – resuscitates an advisory board for advocates, experts, and all levels of government to use and protect over 500 miles of shoreline.
- Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (Law 111 of ‘21) – adopted higher standards (EPEAT), banned items (halogen), add items (furniture), set new goals (ending reliance on virgin materials), and requires positive impact on environment.
- Environmentally Preferable Purchasing of Textiles (Law 112 of ‘21) – creates task force and requires analysis of textile supply chain, disposal, and recycling.
- Toxic Pesticides Banned from City Parks (Law 56 of ‘21) – prohibits toxic pesticides like glyphosate from being sprayed in parks where children play.
- National Women’s History Museum (Res. 354 of ‘14) – supporting Congress Member Maloney’s successful passage.
As my first term wrapped up City and State created “a comprehensive ranking of the best – and worst – members of the New York City Council.” There are 51 Council Members that represent New Yorkers in the City Council who were rated on attendance, the number of bills introduced, the number of bills passed and even how responsive each office is to the press and to constituents. I am proud to report that whether it was best overallattendance, or bills introduced and passed into law, my office and I consistently ranked among the best Council Members for my tenure. Last year, I continued to be ranked as one of the City’s best council members. Read the complete lists and stories for 2017 and 2020.
I was honored to be named one of the five officials who call the shots on real estate by the Commercial Observer. They said:
If a developer wants a rezoning or a special tax exemption for its project, it has to convince the City Council that the development will benefit the neighborhood and New York City at large. The first step in that process is getting a “yes” vote from the subcommittee on planning, dispositions and concessions, which is chaired by Upper East Side Councilman Ben Kallos. Since taking over the gig in January, the second-term Democrat has adopted a more aggressive stance toward evaluating land use applications than some of his predecessors. He asks each developer how much subsidy they’re receiving from city, state and federal sources, what the cumulative value of their tax abatement is, whether they’re using minority- and women-owned businesses for construction, if they have a local hiring plan, and whether their workers are getting health insurance and earning a living wage.
“We’re squeezing as much affordable housing out of every dollar as we can,” Kallos said.
In December 2017, the council passed a bill he co-authored that would impose fines on landlords who receive the J-51 or 421-a tax breaks and flout the law by failing to register and offer stabilized leases for rent-regulated units. He also spearheaded a package of bills passed by the council last May that sought to reform the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA), the little-known body that grants zoning variances to developers who claim they are financially burdened by the zoning code. The legislation requires the BSA to write more thorough decisions, create a map of variances and notify local community boards, council members and borough presidents when it receives an application.
However, Kallos may have waged his fiercest battle last year against Gamma Real Estate, the developers of a planned 800-foot-tall residential tower at 3 Sutton Place. He helped pass a 10-block rezoning in the East 50s that will discourage projects like Gamma’s by forcing builders to adhere to “tower on base” standards, meaning 40 to 50 percent of the building has to sit below 150 feet. The developer is appealing the new zoning with the BSA, arguing its tower should be grandfathered in under the old, less-restrictive zoning.
I was honored to be recognized by City and State as one of the 100 most powerful Manhattanites and non-profit leaders, as they wrote:
"This Upper East Side reformer has carved out a niche as a fierce advocate for increased government transparency and bolstering the city’s campaign finance system. This year, Ben Kallos has been grabbing headlines for his push to implement larger matching funds for political candidates, a measure that was approved on the 2018 ballot. The second-term councilman is also a champion of education, affordable housing and public health – and he invites constituents to engage him in conversation."
Nonprofits are vital to getting New York City residents the services they need. As Chair of the Committee on Contracts, I get to work closely with non-profits and see better than anyone else how important the work they do is. That is why I have been committed to making sure nonprofits get paid on time by the City and that MWBE’s get their fair share. In late 2019, City and State recognized my work in this Committee by placing me in the top 20 powerful figures in New York City within the nonprofit sector.
If you’ve been to First Friday, you’ve heard my awful joke about how I do it all on my own, and as I say at each meeting, and bear repeating, I have an amazing team of staff, graduate students in social work, and interns. As I do at First Friday, I want to thank my team over the past 8 years.
Jesse Towsen, Chief of Staff, 8 years (2014 - 2021)
Thank you for spending the last 8 years running our office, guiding our staff and advising me every step of the way. I couldn’t have accomplished everything we have without your help.
Debbie Lightbody, Senior Director of Constituent Service and Social Work, 8 Years (2014 - 2021)
You have touched the lives of so many of our constituents through your service. Thank you for your dedication to helping our constituents and to mentoring Masters in Social Work Students.
Sushant Harite, Budget Director and District Office Manager, 8 Years (2014 - 2021)
You were responsible for millions of dollars of funding being distributed throughout the district and together we saw to completion many important projects.
Tirso Tavarez, Deputy Director of Constituent Service, 7 ¾ years (2014 - 2021)
You were on the ground working with our constituents for eight years and together we have improved so many issues from bus service to trash pickup.
Josh Jamieson, Communications Director, 6 Years (2016 - 2021)
Your commitment to our work was endless as seen in the thousands of pages of communications you crafted over the years, as well as countless TV stories, New York Times articles, blog posts, and so much more. Your perspective coming from the news world was a strong asset. Thank you.
Paul Westrick, Legislative Director, 5 years (2014 - 2018)
Your calm presence, and ability to navigate the legislative process helped advance measures that have made our government less corrupt, our elections more accessible, and improved the way New York City operates.
Wilfredo Lopez, Counsel, 4 Years (2018 - 2021)
Your passion for and knowledge of the job and the experience you bring from your impressive background have allowed our office to take on big, complex issues and make a real difference.
Taylor Benell, Deputy Chief of Staff, 3 Years (2015 - 2016, 2021)
You have shown an ability to juggle so many tasks and priorities at once, all while being a leader on our team and someone who has excelled in various roles as needed. Thank you.
Isabel Smith, Scheduler and Community Liaison, 3 Years (2016 - 2018)
You showed leadership and innovation as an intern helping to create our constituent service system. You brought that energy and intelligence to the scheduler role, helping to improve how our office functioned on multiple fronts.
Abby Damsky, Scheduler and Community Liaison, 3 Years (2018 - 2021)
Nobody got as much done as quickly as you. Thank you for managing my schedule with limitless energy and attention to detail, and for stepping up to help the office in so many other ways. We are sorry to lose you to law school, but know you’ll be an amazing lawyer.
Sarah Anders, Communications Directors, 3 Years (2014 - 2016)
You are a wonderful writer, who helped our office find our tone and establish our ethos of transparent (and very, very thorough) communications with our constituents, not to mention getting the stories of our constituents and key issues told in the New York Times.
Joseph Strong, Community Liaison & Representative to Roosevelt Island, 2 Years (2014 - 2016)
Thank you for putting your heart and soul into our office. Working and mentoring so many interns through the years. You always raised your hand to go to meetings, special events, and to represent Roosevelt Island in our office.
Kaela Shelby, Communications Assistant & Community Liaison, 1.5 Years (2020 - 2021)
Thank you for taking on the newsletter, using your graphic design skills to make government more exciting, and kicking our social media into high gear.
Adam Bermudez, Legislative Director, 1 Year (2021)
Thank you for your endless hours spent researching, crafting legislation, and advocating for its passage. Together we passed many important pieces of legislation that will make New York City a better place to live.
Anthony Scattaglia, Scheduler, ½ Year (2014)
You built our calendar and scheduling from scratch, and contributed so much more to our office and our team. You filled in to marry people when I wasn’t available. Thank you.
Matthew McEnerny, Interim Communications Director, ½ Year (2015 - 2016)
When you agreed to help our office out “for a month,” which turned into half a year, we couldn’t have been luckier. Your quality writing and genuine policy passion and knowledge were a real asset.
Savannah Conheady, Community Liaison, ½ Year (2021)
You stepped in when we needed you, and the constituent services responsibilities you took over didn’t miss a beat. First as a Masters in Social Work intern and then as our community liaison, you make it so easy for others to work with you and bring real commitment to helping constituents.
Graduate Students in Social Work (2014 - 2021)
The cornerstone of our office was our social work field office where graduate students in social work like you were able to take on high caseloads and help constituents with not only the problems they came to our offices to solve, but often helped take on the real problems they were facing. You leaned into hard situations to solve problems that were often years or lifetimes old and helped more people than you can imagine. We couldn’t have helped as many people as we did without you.
Undergraduate and High School Interns (2014 - 2021)
Our internship program was the pride of the office, even when you beat us at Basketball with Ben (which only happened once in 8 years). We loved the energy you brought to our office and the opportunity to mentor you. Many former interns ended up joining the team including Taylor, Isabell, and Abby.