Six Months As Your Council Member
It has been six months since I became your City Council Member. In these six months, we have built a stronger community together. Through it all, the City has become more fair and compassionate, thanks to measures such as:
- Expanding Senior Citizen Income Exemption (SCRIE);
- Funding Universal Pre-K; and
- Paid sick leave, all of which I was proud to support and advocate for.
I have also been fighting to improve our neighborhood and city as a whole:
- As Chair of the Governmental Operations Committee of the New York City Council, I have taken on waste and corruption;
- Introduced legislation to make our often cynicism-inducing government more transparent.
- Took the fight against the Marine Transfer Station to another level; and
- Protected our neighborhood by prioritizing safe streets, healthy food, safe construction, science education and affordable housing.
Now, I want to hear from you: Have you received assistance from our office? Have you and I gotten the chance to meet? Have you been happy with the direction of the City and the advocacy I've taken on? Please reply with your feedback and ideas.
This is just the beginning. I hope you'll take a chance to share your feedback at this six-month stage so we can continue to grow, learn and build a better neighborhood together.
Table of Contents
1. Battling the Marine Transfer Station
2. Improving the East River Esplanade
3. Livable Streets
4. Fighting for Transparency and Reform
5. Giving the City Council a Tech Upgrade
6. Advancing Tenants' Rights
7. Building a Community
8. Progressive Government
9. Healthy Food
10. A Fair Budget
Battling Against the Marine Transfer Station
In my first six months in office, we have taken the fight against the Marine Transfer Station to another level.
Fighting High Costs
In May, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, State Senator Liz Krueger, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Assembly Member Dan Quart and Council Member Dan Garodnick joined me in urgently requesting an investigation into the 91st St. Marine Transfer Station's skyrocketing costs -- they have more than quintupled since the project began, and that demands investigation. The effort was covered in the Daily News, The Real Deal and Curbed.
The outgoing Sanitation Commissioner admitted under my questioning on the ballooning costs and poor policy of the of the Marine Transfer Station that it would be "more expensive." You can watch that exchange on YouTube or read about it in the Epoch Times.
In May, I also questioned current Sanitation Commissioner Garcia on the Marine Transfer Station. You can watch it here.
We as a community held two rallies against the Marine Transfer Station, including a protest at the site when the city began demolition of Asphalt Green's trees. Our efforts were covered on CBS and in amNY, Gothamist and DNAInfo, and will only intensify in the coming months.
In January, I attended a rally against the Marine Transfer Station at City Hall, urging the Mayor to hit the pause button on the project after community group Pledge 2 Protect released a report entitled “Talking Trash,” revealing the harm the city’s approach to waste management has done.
Touring Transfer Stations
I joined our neighbors on a 12-hour citywide tour of sanitation stations with the City Department of Sanitation organized by Pledge 2 Protect and Asphalt Green. We started the day at the Staten Island Transfer Station, visited the Hamilton Avenue Marine Transfer Station in Brooklyn, toured Asphalt Green in our neighborhood, stopped at a commercial rail transfer station in the Bronx, and concluded the day at a Marine Transfer Station in South Brooklyn. We shared our strong opposition to the City's plan with the new Sanitation Commissioner, Kathryn Garcia. What we learned and saw made it clear that the 91st Street Marine Transfer Station is a bad site. It is slated to be placed in a Olympic training ground serving 30,000 children from all five boroughs, a public housing complex, and within feet of 6 schools and more than 22,000 residents. Demanding a Pause
Still, the city has failed to hit the pause button. So I have demanded that the city independently review the skyrocketing costs of the 91st Street Marine Transfer Station. I sent a letter to the Independent Budget Office to seek an updated review of the costs and effects of the Upper Manhattan Marine Transfer Station, which you can read about in amNY. The last review done by the city showed the price of disposing of a ton of trash skyrocketing from $90/ton to $238/ton. With new information, such as FEMA designating the area the highest-risk flood zone, we need a new review.
Keeping the Fight Alive
Please sign our petition to fight the marine transfer station or sign up for a list that will offer more frequent updates at BenKallos.com/MTS
$35 million in funds from Mayor de Blasio will bring critical improvements to the East River Esplanade. With this money, we can begin the process of repairing our Esplanade for all to enjoy. And I'll keep fighting for city funds to improve the walkway.
A Vision for the Esplanade
I have proposed solutions to revitalize the piers through public/private partnerships, along with Assembly Member Robert Rodriguez and State Senator Jose Serrano, as reported in DNAInfo. I also put forth a proposal to create green noise barriers, as reported in Curbed, and more.
Rockefeller University Contributions
When Rockefeller University’s renovations were approved, they agreed to provide $8 million to repair the esplanade’s seawall, a $1 million dollar endowment to maintain the esplanade, $150,000 to the esplanade conservancy and to expand public community programming. This win for our neighborhood was covered in the New York Times, and I was proud to negotiate on behalf of our community.
Email me at bkallosbenkallos [dot] com (bkallosbenkallos [dot] com) with YOUR creative ideas and vision for the East River Esplanade.
Street issues affect the lives of everyone in our neighborhood. In the first six months as your City Council Member, I launched a "Livable Streets" program to solicit street information from nearly 60,000 households. The program included four street safety and improvement forums:
- Safety along Second Avenue forum;
- Adopt-A-Planter beautification forum to improve the streetscape along First Avenue; a bike lanes forum;
- A bike lanes forum on safety in the community with Department of Transportation; and
- A Vision Zero forum co-sponsored by State Senator Liz Krueger and Council Member Dan Garodnick.
The Council has also passed an 11-bill street safety package, and I will keep working with colleagues and city agencies to make Vision Zero -- a New York City with no pedestrian fatalities -- a reality. Please feel free to share your ideas for safer streets at BenKallos.com/livable-streets.
Fighting for Transparency and Reform
I have spent my career fighting for a more transparent, accountable government, from putting Albany voting records online so the public could hold their representatives accountable to heading a good government reform organization. My time in the City Council is a continuation of that commitment.
I have introduced a series of bills to open city government to New Yorkers. In the 21st Century, public means online, and information should only be a mouse click away. The public has a right to government information, and these bills, covered in the Daily News and amNY, will help New Yorkers access it. Next City provides a summary of the recent transparency and open government bills, and you can also read them and comment at BenKallos.com/legislation.
I also put forward a bill that would transform our City's Freedom of Informational Law (FOIL) processes, which allow the public to access all government records. The goal is to make FOIL more responsive to journalists and to you. Read about it in Gotham Gazette
My suggestions for reforming the recruitment and appointment process to New York City's community boards are attracting the attention and consideration of the boards across the five boroughs.
Reforming Community Boards
Teens on Board
One resolution has already become law. Together with my colleagues, I passed a resolution to allow 16-and 17-year-olds to join and contribute to their local community boards. We called this the "Scott Stringer Resolution" because our city's comptroller joined a board himself when he was sixteen.
You can read about the bill in The Daily News, Brooklyn Eagle, SI Live, Gothamist, DNAInfo, NYMag’s DailyIntel and amNY
A short segment on Pix11 displays clearly why the issue is important to teenagers and adults across New York City.
After the City Council passed its resolution, the State Assembly and State Senate, sponsored by Assembly Member Nily Rozic and State Senator Andrew Lanza, respectively, passed the law before the end of session. Now, the most responsible and engaged teenagers can be nominated to community boards -- a big success.
The City Council adopted a series of major reforms to the rules of the body to make it more fair, open and transparent. I was especially pleased that the Council adopted changes to open up its technology, an idea that was singled out as beneficial by the New York Times. Let's bring our city government into the 21st Century.
Reforming the Board of Elections and City Government
In the Council, I have responsibility for overseeing the Board of Elections, an institution with a long history of patronage, nepotism and inefficiency. With Council Member Gentile, I held a hearing on the Department of Investigation report on the BOE's poor practices. You can watch footage from the first hearing on NY1. During preliminary budget hearings, I took on the Board of Elections again, this time for a pricey plan to convert old lever machines into voter kiosks. It's clear that the same goals can be accomplished at much lower cost to taxpayers. Read more about it in the Daily News or watch on NY1.
Indeed, it is crucial that we spend city money the right way. I identified $4 billion in potential contract overruns by the City of New York and am closely monitoring them to ensure we don’t waste taxpayer dollars.
Giving the City Council a Tech Upgrade
Government should be seamless – but instead, it’s too often characterized by bureaucracy and red tape. As a software developer, I believe the most high-functioning government is one that uses our best technology to improve the system.
Open Government Workshop
At the Personal Democracy Forum, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and I hosted an Open Government Workshop, discussing the current open government movement in New York City. It was an inspiring discussion about how we can better use technology to benefit New Yorkers, and you can watch it on Youtube.
Protecting Your Internet
I also represented eight Council Members at the New York City hearing of the Public Service Commission on the potential Time Warner Cable - Comcast merger that would turn 2.6 million New Yorkers into Comcast subscribers and grant the corporate giant 40% of all broadband customers in the United States. Our position: If the merger were to be in the public interest, it would have to accompany significant expansion of free and affordable broadband and the assurance of net neutrality. The deal should only take place if it comes with significant benefits to New Yorkers.
Open Source Software
I introduced legislation, reported on by the Gotham Gazette, that would preference free and open source software over expensive contracts with proprietary software that force the city to pay over and over again for the same code. Free and open source software allows government freedom from restrictive contracts and the ability to share ingenuity across municipalities.
Advancing Tenants’ Rights
I have been proud to advocate for the millions of tenants who live and work in New York City, and who must be able to afford to stay.
Advocating for a Rent Freeze
Along with the Mayor and City Council Speaker Mark Viverito, I advocated for a rent freeze for tenants in stabilized units. For too long, rent raises have favored landlords and I organized 22 Council Members to lend our voice in favor of a rent freeze, too. Though the Rent Guidelines Board ultimately decided on a 1% increase in rents, this is still a historic low for tenants.
In April, I rallied with tenants to demand a moratorium on Section 8 Downsizing. Seniors and disabled New Yorkers are being pushed into smaller homes. This is a battle I am continuing to fight on behalf of residents in my district and across New York City. These tenants could be anyone’s grandparent or loved one, and the city must pause until they can treat seniors and disabled residents fairly.
Building a Community
Over the last six months, we have built a community together.
Starting with assisting with services and helping deliver hot meals to homebound seniors during a snowy winter that we struggled through together, I have been here to help.
"First Fridays" take place on the First Friday of each month from 8AM - 10AM. Residents can come to my office and share a conversation about the issues important to them. "Policy Night," on the second Tuesday of each month, allows active and engaged residents to make their voices heard and create change. To attend, you can RSVP at BenKallos.com/Events, call 212-860-1950 or email RSVPBenKallos [dot] com.
Please note: Our next First Friday will take place in August. First Friday will not take place on July 4th because of the holiday.
Mobile District Hours
I am here to assist you wherever you live, even if you cannot make it to our office. Should you need help for any reason, whether you’d like to know your rights as a tenant or need help applying for city services, you can attend convenient mobile district hours:
- Roosevelt Island (RISA, 546 Main Street): First Wednesday of the month , 4-7PM
- Lexington Houses (1536 Lexington Avenue): Second Wednesday of the month, 4-7PM
- Lenox Hill Neighborhood House (331 East 70th St.): Second Tuesday of the month, 4-7PM
- Stanley Isaacs Neighborhood Center (415 E. 93rd Street): Fourth Tuesday of the month, 4-7PM
- Or, suggest your own!
Honoring New Yorkers
Whether it’s five unique Roosevelt Island Seniors, arts nonprofit Fractured Atlas, playwright Amy Herzog or beloved PS290 Principal Sharon Hill, honoring exemplary community members and organizations is a great part of the job. If you know someone worthy of an official honor, please email bkallosbenkallos [dot] com (bkallosbenkallos [dot] com) to let me know.
It has been a pleasure to meet many of you at community board meetings, school graduations, festivals and other community events. If you would like me to join you at a community event, please email schedulerbenkallos [dot] com or call 212-860-1950. If my schedule permits, I will be happy to attend. Here are just a few events I have joined:
- Community Board 8 Transportation Committee Meeting
- Countless CB8, CB11 and CB6 meetings
- 19th and 23rd Precinct Community Councils
- East 79th Street Neighborhood Association
- East Sixties Neighborhood Association
- Stanley Isaacs Tenants Association Meeting
- NYCHA Manhattan South Swearing-In of Leadership
- CityMeals-on-Wheels volunteer appreciation ceremony
- Sutton Area Community Easter Egg Hunt
- East River Esplanade Task Force Meeting with Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney
- Mitchell-Lama Residents Coalition Annual Meeting
- Asphalt Green’s “Big Swim”
- Yorkville Community School’s PTA 2014 Spring Auction
- 5 Boro Bike Tour
- New York Coalition Against Hunger Benefit
- PS 527 East Side School for Social Action Benefit
- East 69th Street Association’s Annual Meeting
- Carl Schurz Conservancy Board Meeting
- Spring Festival at Wagner Middle School
- Bike to City Hall in celebration of “Bike to Work Day”
- AIDS Walk
- 75th Anniversary Celebration of the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden
- Friends of the Upper East Side and Columbia University graduate students presentation on a preservation plan for Yorkville.
- "From Bleak House to Geek House Law and technology conference at Brooklyn Law School
- Social Diversity Panel on LGBTQ issues through the NYU School of Social Work.
- JustFood Conference at Columbia University
- 92Y Connect After-School programs
The city has become a better place to live with more opportunity for all New Yorkers because of cooperation and shared values among City leaders, who were selected by New Yorkers seeking change.
My advocacy to help ensure all New York City children have access to pre-k to thrive later in life was featured in the New York Times. Then, I helped organize a joint hearing between the Women’s Issues Committee and the Education Committee, where we discussed the positive impact public pre-k would have on New York City’s working families.
Our efforts met with success: The state budget allocated $300 million for pre-k across New York State, with most of it for New York City. Our city will now have one of the most expansive pre-k programs in the country.
I was proud to cast a vote in the City Council to expand the paid sick leave act so it covers 1 million residents. It took effect on April 1st, and will make it easier for working New Yorkers to earn the money they need and still stay healthy. I took to the streets to share information on the new law the day it took effect. My office is here to assist if you need any information on the program.
Expanded Senior Benefits
This year, I had the opportunity to sponsor and vote for an expansion of Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE). Int. 243, which was recently signed into law, raises the income eligibility for seniors receiving SCRIE benefits to $50,000 from $29,000 – which will help many more seniors live at ease in New York City.
Making sure you eat well and safely is important to me. I introduced a bill to create a Food Policy Council to bring experts to the table and introduce important measures like they have in cities across the United States.
Cooking with Kallos
I enjoyed the first of many “Cooking with Kallos” demonstrations in June to show attendees at the 82nd St. GreenMarket that cooking can be simple, healthful and fun. If I can cook a meal, you can, too.
Lunch 4 Learning
As a leader and signatory on the Lunch 4 Learning movement along with Public Advocate Letitia James and Speaker Mark Viverito, I was thrilled when universal free lunch was instituted in New York City middle schools and hope to see it expand.
Free Summer Meals
My team spread the word about free summer meals, distributing information and spreading awareness to dozens of New Yorkers.
The New York City Department of Education distributes free meals for children under 18 at parks, pools, community centers, libraries and schools in all five boroughs every weekday from June 27th through August 29th. The program does not require any paperwork, registration or ID. Learn more at schoolfoodnyc.org.
A Fair Budget
Our community voted on how our tax dollars got spent through Participatory Budgeting for the first time, and it was a great success. Instead of limiting the participatory funds to just $1 million, I expanded it to cover many more of the top vote getters. Money I allocated to the community includes:
- $1 million for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education;
- Bus Clocks to tell us when the next bus will arrive;
- and key funds for NYCHA housing.
See all of the money I allocated in a searchable format at BenKallos.com/Budget/Results/2015
I funded a million dollars worth of STEM education, because science, engineering, technology and math skills build the jobs of the future and help students of all genders grow. By prioritizing laptops and other technology students need, we invest in our children's future.
The recently passed budget creates more opportunities and benefits all New Yorkers. In addition to the much-needed funding for the East River Esplanade, the budget includes:
- $6.25 million for free lunch for all middle schoolers;
- $11.1 million in merit-based scholarships for CUNY;
- $17.5 million for youth summer jobs and programs to reduce the opportunity gap; and
- $17 million for NYCHA senior and community centers.
Back in January, many of you came out for my inauguration ceremony. This was a celebration of our community, featuring talented groups such as Dances Patrelle, Asphalt GreenWave Gymnastics Team, The 92Y Gym Stars, pianist Roy Eaton, Talented Unlimited High School, and our readers, Elspeth Reimann of Stanley Isaacs Senior Center, Jim Bates of the Roosevelt Island Disabled Association, Bike NYC,CIVITAS, Defenders of the Historic Upper East Side, Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, Historic Districts Council, Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, The Municipal Art Society of New York and the New York Junior Tennis League. I was honored to have the presence of so many revered officials, including Senator Schumer, Attorney General Schneiderman, State Comptroller DiNapoli, City Council Speaker Mark-Viverito, Congress Member Maloney, City Comptroller Stringer, Public Advocate James, State Senator Krueger, Manhattan Borough President Brewer, Council Member Garodnick, Former Public Advocate Mark Green, Former Council Member Lappin, Former New York State Assembly Member Bing and Founder of New Roosevelt Bill Samuels.
The inauguration ceremony was a celebration of our community -- the community I grew up in and have the honor to represent. Over the past six months, I have been striving to make our city a better place to live and opened my office to you, so you can participate and shape local government. This City Council office now belongs to you, and through our partnership, I hope we can accomplish great things for our district and city.