Our Town One Year In for Councilmember Kallos by Daniel Fitzsimmons
Councilmember Ben Kallos had a good year.
Of the 70 bills passed by the City Council in 2014, three were his -- impressive given that Kallos has 50 other colleagues on the council. The committee on governmental operations, of which he is chair, passed another four bills.
Not bad for a first-year council member who two years ago was regarded as a long shot to represent the Upper East Side behind former State Assemblyman Micah Kellner, whose campaign collapsed in the summer of 2013 after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced against him.
Kallos surged ahead and won the election handily. He’s since used his background in technology and his sense that government should be as transparent as possible to pass legislation that aims to help New Yorkers better navigate city bureaucracy.
For instance, the City Record, an important yet dense public notice bulletin published daily by the Dept. of Citywide Services, is somewhat hard to glean any real information from. Kallos passed a law that will make it easily searchable and will enable people to set alerts for when something lands in the public domain that might concern them.
He also passed legislation that will create an online voting guide for city elections that will tell users who is running in what races. The last piece of legislation he passed expands the number of city agencies that must integrate voter registration forms into their processes and compels the agencies to assist anyone that needs help filling them out. Forty-two agencies must provide the forms, up from 35 prior to his law being enacted.
In an interview at his district office on the Upper East Side, Kallos said he recently glanced through his campaign’s policy book to compare what he said he would do with what he actually got done, and was pleasantly surprised.
“It was surprising to see where we are as a city now compared to this time last year,” he said.
In 2015, said Kallos, one of his focus areas will be insuring the laws he passed are actually put in place.
“Making sure the laws are implemented properly,” said Kallos of his plans in 2015. “That is a huge priority.”
Kallos said he’ll also be pushing to secure a universal broadband deal with Comcast where the company will provide free and low-cost internet access as part of their planned merger with Time Warner.
On pedestrian safety, he identified the most dangerous intersections on the Upper East Side and said he’s working with the DOT to implement safety-enhancing fixes in his district similar to what’s happening on the Upper West Side. His report, dubbed “Livable Streets,” ranks the 10 intersections from York Avenue to 2nd Avenue in the 50s and 60s that have the highest number of collisions per month.
The most dangerous intersection is at 2nd Avenue and 57th Street, with five-and-a-half collisions every month. According to research compiled by his office, drivers are failing to yield to pedestrians, turning improperly, and speeding. In addition, the crossing light does not provide enough time to get across the street and the crosswalk markings are not visible.
His office compiled the report, in part, by soliciting comments from the community. The collision data came from a website, but insight on what factors were contributing to the dangerous conditions came from speaking with people and distributing surveys in the district asking residents what issues are important to them. That interaction gets to the heart of how he said he’d like to use his office. More concisely, he’d like to make government work better for constituents and become more responsive.
Kallos said he continues to fight against the marine transfer station, and that if it does open he expects it will be shut down eventually due to how much it will cost to operate. He endorsed Asphalt Green’s plan to move the MTS access ramp to 92nd Street, but said the whole proposal needs to be reconsidered. If construction does proceed, he said “anything other than driving garbage trucks into a children’s athletics facility is a pretty obvious choice. Of the options that the administration seems to want to consider, it’s the best one.”
He has other priorities for 2015: making sure bike lane expansions are done properly, pushing for more school seats and continuing his participatory budgeting program. But turning his attention to the news of the day, he said he stands with the NYPD while appreciating the notion that “it is very possible for somebody to want to improve our criminal justice system and still be supportive of our police.”
Kallos came out against stop and frisk during his campaign, and said the conflict between the NYPD and City Hall is a product of the agenda that Mayor Bill de Blasio has set for the city.
“It’s a progressive administration from top to bottom, and we have a progressive mayor. We’ve refocused policing from stop and frisk to a community policing model where we’re focused on providing communities with support and rehabilitation, and it’s a matter of providing that for police officers as well,” said Kallos. “I hope we can mend where we are as a city.”