There’s a reason they’re called lawmakers.
As we continue our breakdown of the best and worst New York City Council members, one of the most obvious factors in assessing each lawmaker’s performance is the number of bills they’ve had signed into law.
To measure this, we tallied bill introductions but left out resolutions, which have little real weight. Only a lawmaker who was the prime sponsor of a bill qualified in this analysis. To reward effort, one criterion was the number of bills introduced. And to reward effectiveness, the other legislative criterion was the number of bills signed into law. For these criteria, we used data from calendar year 2016.
Just behind Mark-Viverito and Matteo was City Councilman Chaim Deutsch, who missed just one of his 83 meetings last year; City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, who missed only two of 115 meetings; and City Councilman Ben Kallos, who was absent from two of 105 meetings.
To track attendance, we counted all the meetings that each member was obligated to attend in calendar year 2016, including committee and subcommittee meetings, and then determined how many he or she missed. (City Councilman Bill Perkins was left out of the analysis since much of the data we used is from 2016, when Inez Dickens still held his Harlem seat.)
Any time a member had two meetings scheduled at the same time, we didn’t count the conflict as an absence. But other absences – for medical reasons, jury duty or funerals – were included.
This may strike some as unfair, but an extended absence can affect performance – and in some cases, it appeared to correlate with lower scores on other measures, like introducing and passing bills.
Yet one representative who missed substantial time due to medical leave nonetheless performed well on the other measures. City Councilman Jumaane Williams missed 15 days for medical reasons, but came in at No. 2 in our overall rankings.
NO. 4: BEN KALLOS
Representing Manhattan’s Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island, Kallos has positioned himself as a reformer. As chairman of the Committee on Government Operations, he has proposed numerous good government measures and pushed for greater transparency.
Attendance: 98.1% (No. 5)
Bills introduced: 17 (No. 5)
Bills enacted: 9 (tie for No. 4)
Constituent response: 17 hours, 26 minutes (No. 14)
Communications response: 53 minutes (No. 10)
Google results: 54,700 (No. 9)
Twitter followers: 4,005 (No. 38)
But if experience matters, so does name recognition, which critics say creates an unfair advantage. The irony is that Council term limits and the city's robust public campaign finance system are designed to attract political newcomers, not professional politicians.
"The point of term limits is, we're supposed to have a citizen legislature," said City Councilman Ben Kallos of Manhattan.
Among those items passed are 11 of the 12 bills in the Stand for Tenant Safety package, which aims to address the use of construction as a type of tenant harassment. A large coalition of tenant and community organizations has been advocating for the bills since 2015. Members of the Progressive caucus also recently penned an op-ed calling on the Council to pass the package.
“Even as preserving and creating affordable housing has remained a focus of both the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, the myriad loopholes landlords use in existing laws allow the number of rent-regulated apartments to dwindle. With both the cost of living in the city and rent continuing to rise, protecting the health and safety of tenants through legislation is the minimum of what can be done,” wrote Council members Antonio Reynoso, Donovan Richards, Helen Rosenthal and Ben Kallos in Gotham Gazette on July 31.
The other seven bills include a package aimed at strengthening the city’s laws concerning harassment of all types and a bill that seeks to improve the city’s fine-collection by denying landlords with certain levels of debt the ability to obtain work permits (excepting for repairs necessary to correct dangerous situations).
The lawmakers also demanded answers for why capital construction costs so much. At $4.5 billion for three new stations, the Second Avenue subway’s first phase was the most expensive subway project in the world, according to transit experts.
“In other parts of the globe, when subway systems are being built or expanded, they do not remotely come close to the challenges we are facing here in New York City,” Hakim said. “You see it when you go by an open utility construction pit and you look in at the maze, the spaghetti of utilities.”
Still, several council members felt that New York was falling behind other cities.
“What does Russia know that we don’t?” asked Manhattan Councilman Ben Kallos, who wondered why Moscow runs more trains per hour than the MTA.
Hakim pointed out that Moscow doesn’t run a 24-hour subway system. “Try to get the subway in Moscow at 2 o’clock in the morning; they’re closed,” she said.
UPPER EAST SIDE — Commuters will begin seeing new countdown clocks at more than a dozen bus stops in the neighborhood, as well as the area's final Citi Bike station, city officials said.
On Thursday, Councilman Ben Kallos and DOT Borough Commissioner Luis Sanchez announced 15 countdown clocks have been installed or will be at stops along the M15, M31, M57, M66 and M72 lines.
The clocks will appear at 70th, 72nd and 75th streets along First Avenue; on Second Avenue at 94th Street; on York Avenue at 72nd, 74th, 76th, 77th, 79th, 84th, 86th and 88th streets; on First Avenue at 57th Street; and on First Avenue at 67th and 72nd streets.
UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — Fifteen bus stations on the Upper East Side have brand-new countdown clocks thanks to neighborhood residents, City Councilman Ben Kallos announced Thursday morning. The clocks — located at stops long the M15, M31, M57, M66 and M72 lines — were a top vote getter in the district's participatory budgeting election years ago.
"I hope that new bus countdown clocks will bring more riders back to our buses, as they walk by and see a bus on the way to help get them where they are going faster,” Kallos said during a Thursday press conference. "Riders will finally know when the next bus is coming or if it isn’t coming at all, so they can make that crucial decision of whether it is faster to ride or walk."
We’ve seen it in our districts. A new landlord takes ownership of a building and starts a construction project that never finishes in order to evict long-term residents. They may turn off the cooking gas indefinitely; they may even knock out the boiler with no explanation.
For too many New Yorkers, this nightmare is their reality. The stories are plentiful: heat and gas shutoffs in the middle of winter, jackhammering causing cracks in apartment walls, loss of power, and lead dust in the air lasting for months on end. For years, city and borough officials and community advocates have encountered a critical mass of stories like these, detailing the unscrupulous conduct of landlords as well as the insufficient response from the City of New York.
“Benches are one of those things where you actually get them for free,” said City Council Member Ben Kallos, who represents the area. Unlike, say, garbage cans and tree guards, which have to be funded by so-called member items, the city is brimming with available benches, he said.
Noise is the number one complaint in New York City, but to NYC Councilman Ben Kallos and NYC Council Environmental Chair Costa Constantinides it doesn’t need to be a fact of life in the Big Apple. Kallos and Constantinides introduced legislation in June to be heard in the fall that would require the city to respond to noise complaints for nightlife and construction within two hours or on a subsequent day within an hour of the time of the complaint. The bill aims to increase the likelihood that inspectors will identify the source of the noise, issue a violation, and restore quiet.
“Noise is such a big problem that it might be better to call us ‘Noise’ York City. If 311 is any indication, residents are tired of all the noise, and it is time we did something about it,” said Councilman Kallos. “It is hard to imagine a government of the people for the people ignoring the people’s top complaint and expecting them to be happy living here. I am disappointed by recent reports that the city is actually doing less to quiet noise as complaints rise. We as a city need to take this problem seriously, take it head on without excuses, and give every New Yorker the peace and quiet they need.”
“The nuisance that bothers New Yorkers most is loud noises, however, it could take days for agencies to respond to noise complaints. By that time, a violation would unlikely be issued. That's why we're introducing this legislation that would require the city to respond to noise complaints within two hours. New Yorkers deserve a responsive government and noise-free neighborhoods. Thank you to my colleague Council Member Ben Kallos for leading the way on this quality-of-life issue,” said Environmental Committee Chair Constantinides.
The new datasets released in the update include NYPD complaint data on felonies, misdemeanors and violent crimes reported between 2006 and 2016; details of City Council participatory budgeting projects from 2012 onwards; data on the programs, benefits and resources for 40 health and human services available to New Yorkers; and a Department of City Planning database of more than 35,000 records on public and private facilities from 50 sources. Other new aspects of the program include legal mandates for compliance with FOIL requests and on timing of responses to data requests.
Though FOIL requests involving data are being streamlined, City Council Member Ben Kallos, a longtime advocate of open data, thinks that it can be improved further by passing his “Open FOIL” bill, which would create “one searchable database of Freedom of Information Law requests sent to city agencies.” Kallos also believes that the city could do more outreach about the existence of the open data initiative.
"The City is getting better and better at getting the word out about Open Data,” Kallos told Gotham Gazette. “I for one want to see Open Data classes taught at our city libraries so anyone can learn how to use the data sets, not just techies." Indeed, while many data sets are available, they aren’t always easy to digest or utilize to find patterns or other takeaways.
NYC Ferry hits 1 million riders; celebration includes chance for free rides, update on Astoria route
Locally, officials hope the Astoria route will help alleviate the inundated 7 train and help commuters traveling to and from Roosevelt Island.
“Roosevelt Island has waited generations for ferry service which will finally arrive this summer,” said Councilman Ben Kallos, who represents the area.
The group attending the ground breaking ceremony include NYC Parks Manhattan Borough Commissioner William Castro, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, City Councilman Ben Kallos, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Community Board 8 Chair Jim Clynes.
The $15 million reconstruction project will target three sites along the East River Esplanade seawall — East 88th to 90th streets, East 114th to 117th streets and East 124th to 125th streets — according to the city. In May, a portion of the seawall at East 88th Street collapsed, sending concrete blocks into the river.
MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz noted that the authority "reviews and evaluates bus schedules on a regular basis to ensure that they accurately match current rider demand and operating conditions, as well as to ensure there are resources available where needed to provide customers with the most efficient and effective bus service possible.
"Schedule revisions also address the need to more accurately reflect changing traffic conditions which have generally slowed in recent years," he continued, without saying whether the agency is considering the community's requests.
Councilman Kallos said he and the other elected officials are pressing the MTA to release its swipe data to get the hard facts on how many people are using on the crosstown buses.
"They are not considering the Americans with Disabilities Act — this neighborhood has seniors almost more than anywhere else," he said. "We just have to keep making our voices heard."
The cuts also caught the attention of a coalition of local, state and federal elected officials representing the impacted areas, which sent a letter to the MTA New York City Transit's acting president, Darryl Irick, objecting to the cuts and expressing concern that increased wait times “will leave our residents feeling abandoned by our buses.” The letter was signed by City Council Members Ben Kallos and Dan Garodnick, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Assembly Members Dan Quart and Rebecca Seawright, state Senators Liz Kruger, Brad Hoylman and José Serrano, and U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler. And last week, Community Board 8 unanimously approved a resolution requesting that the MTA reconsider the proposed service reductions.
One source of frustration for elected officials and community members is that the MTA has thus far declined requests to release the underlying data used to evaluate service and ridership, such as farebox data. The elected officials asserted in their letter that the MTA's research and evaluation is “not done in a transparent manner that is subject to public review.”
“They have to show us the data that supports why they need to make these changes,” Kallos told Straus News after the cuts were announced.
Seawright echoed Kallos' call for the transit authority to release the data. “The MTA basically is refusing to share it, saying that it's not in a format that they're willing to distribute,” she said. “I think it's totally unacceptable.” Seawright said she planned to raise the issue of transparency at the MTA's next budget hearing in Albany
Mr. Kallos has made curbing noise one of his top priorities. He and Costa Constantinides, a councilman from Queens, are proposing legislation that targets some of the most grating sounds by requiring city noise inspectors to respond within two hours when possible to catch noisemakers in the act. Inspectors currently have no legally mandated deadlines but follow departmental guidelines for responding within a certain period of time.
As the scaffolding has proliferated, the Buildings Department has faced growing criticism that it is not doing enough to police those structures that stay too long. A City Council bill targeting such scaffolding would require it to be taken down within six months of going up, or sooner when no work is being done. The bill has drawn opposition from building owners and managers who say they may not have the money to make repairs immediately.
City building officials say that scaffolding ensures public safety and that they are required to ensure that it remains up as long as a building needs work.
Over the years, the city has struggled to keep track of scaffolding when permits have lapsed, or when existing scaffolding is simply replaced with new scaffolding under a new permit. In the case of the Harlem building, city records initially showed that the scaffolding went up only in 2012, which is when the owner replaced it.
“New Yorkers are exhausted by overdevelopment,” city councilman Ben Kallos, a leading opponent of the tall tower, tells the New York Times. “This is about standing up and showing the city that there’s another way to do things.”
Jon Kalikow, the president of Gamma Real Estate, says it would be a “disastrous outcome” if the city were to adopt the rezoning proposal.
“This building could dramatically change the character of our neighborhood,” says Alan Kersh, founding president of the East River Fifties Alliance, which opposes Gamma’s proposed tower and has more than 2,000 supporters, including 45 nearby co-ops and condominiums. Kersh lives across the street from the construction site in a 47-story building called the Sovereign.
A zoning debate in Manhattan's Sutton Place may seem like just another posh neighborhood telling a developer its project is not welcome.
But City Hall is listening for a bellwether in the bickering.
A zoning proposal put forward by residents of the neighborhood may force Mayor Bill de Blasio to finally have to reckon with a much-criticized affordable housing program he pledged to examine 15 months ago, experts said.
Near the beginning of 2017, Gamma Real Estate filed plans for a co-op on Sutton Place. Some nearby residents said the project, which is now slated to be nearly 800 feet high, would tower over the neighborhood and change its character.
At a July 7 meeting with elected representatives, MTA officials agreed to maintain current service levels on the M57 line, going back on an earlier proposal that would have increased headways on the route from 10 to 12 minutes during AM peak hours and from 12 to 15 minutes during PM peak hours. “The M57 was going to have the most cuts, and they’ve agreed to make no service changes to the M57,” Kallos said.
The proposed changes, scheduled to take effect in September, were first announced by MTA New York City Transit in a June 16 letter to elected officials and community boards. The letter also proposed reductions in service frequency on the M31, M66 and M72 bus lines that would increase scheduled wait times by 11 to 33 percent. Despite opposition from elected officials at the July 7 meeting, the MTA has not altered its proposal to cut service on the three lines, Kallos said.
Last month, Kallos wrote to the department questioning the use of “public safety” to justify the after-hours permits. None of the work cited — including excavation and pouring concrete — “should qualify for ‘public safety,’” Kallos wrote.