Elections and Civic Engagement Targeted for Upgrades by N.Y. City Council
New York, NY – A legislative package of 11 bills and resolutions aiming to improve elections and civic engagement through increasing voter information, additional language access, expanding the franchise and improving election administration were heard yesterday in the Committee on Governmental Operations, chaired by Council Member Ben Kallos. Many of the bills in the package were highlighted in Speaker Melissa Mark-Vivierto’s State of the City.
U.S. voter turnout in recent elections has been staggeringly low. 53.6% of eligible voters cast a ballot in the 2012 presidential election and 36.4% in the 2014 midterm elections, the lowest rate since 1942. In New York State, the number is even lower, with turnout of only 29% in the 2014 midterms, making it 49th in the nation for voter participation. In New York City, the turnout rate for that election was an historic low of 20%.
Voter information legislation would offer email and text reminders, mail voter histories, notify voters when poll sites moved during preceding four years, and provide a voter guide for all elections. Language access legislation would offer that voter guide in additional languages and mandate Russian language interpreters. Resolutions to expand the franchise seek to restore voting rights to parolees and designate a day for student voter registration. Legislation to improve the election administration would consolidate primaries, allow in person early voting, and requests that the Board of Elections allow poll workers to work 8 hour shifts instead of 16 hours or longer. Taken together, these changes hope to improve the democratic process ahead of this year’s Presidential election.
“We need a voting process that encourages greater participation,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, Chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations. “This package of legislation ensures that New York City’s voting process is transparent, inclusive, and adaptable to new technologies. By opening up the process to more voters, we are one step closer to a City that has a more inclusive voting process which aims at strengthening civic engagement.”
Broad coalition supporting the city’s proposal includes business, labor, AARP, and more
NEW YORK—Mayor Bill de Blasio, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer and a broad coalition of business, labor, and other leaders rallied today in support of New York City’s push to become the first city in the country to create a retirement savings program for private sector employees.
NEW YORK CITY– Today, more than 150 New Yorkers joined community groups, environmental justice leaders, national environmental organizations, and local officials on the steps of City Hall to thank Mayor Bill de Blasio for his commitment to power 100 percent of City operations with renewable energy and urge him to ensure that offshore wind power plays a major role in achieving that goal.
At the rally, a letter signed by over 50 diverse organizations calling for offshore wind power was delivered to the Mayor. The letter highlights the massive potential of offshore wind power to reduce pollution and spark transformative job creation in New York City and across the state. Prioritizing offshore wind power for NYC is also crucial for meeting Mayor de Blasio’s broader goal of cutting climate pollution in New York City 80 percent by 2050 and 35 percent within government operations by 2025. The letter also calls on New York State and the Federal Government to take the actions necessary to launch offshore wind power for New York.
The Eastside Taskforce for Homeless Outreach and Services (“ETHOS”) launched today by Council Member Ben Kallos, Council Member Dan Garodnick, State Senator Liz Krueger and Manhattan Borough Preisdent Gale Brewer with churches, synagogues, and non-profits devoted to addressing challenges facing the significant number of homeless people on the Upper East Side. The Taskforce, in formation over the past 4 months, will provide support for breakfast, lunch and dinner meals, food pantries, street outreach, legal services, substance abuse, medical, supportive housing and shelter services.
"Retirement isn't something aging New Yorkers should have to worry about. We need pensions for all so New Yorkers can retire in security," said Council Member Ben Kallos, who helped develop the Retirement Security for All proposal while at Bill Samuels' EffectiveNY and will be introducing legislation to make it a reality. "Thank you to Mayor Bill de Blasio, Public Advocate Letitia James, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Council Member I. Daneek Miller for their leadership and partnership in bringing retirement security to the private sector and all New Yorkers."
New York City Council Members would become full time with stipends referred to as “lulus” banned for all members other than the Speaker and Minority leader by legislation introduced today by Council Member Ben Kallos, Chair of the Governmental Operations Committee.
“City Council Members will be working full time for their residents without the influence of stipends and outside income,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “New York City continues to lead with reforms the people want to see at all levels of government.”
The most sweeping residential re-zoning plan by a community group in New York City history was filed today by a neighborhood coalition lead by Council Members Ben Kallos and Daniel Garodnick, and joined by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, State Senator Liz Krueger and the East River Fifties Alliance (ERFA), who are all co-applicants to the Department of City Planning. The new zoning plan for the Manhattan area between 52nd Street and 59th Street, east of 1st Avenue, would restrict supertowers and over-development in the neighborhood with a contextual height cap of up to 260 feet, incentives for schools, and a requirement for mandatory inclusionary housing.
"We are drawing a line on the march of superscrapers at billionaire's row to protect our city's residential neighborhoods," said New York City Council Member Ben Kallos, who represents the neighborhood and is a plan applicant. "The outdated zoning laws developers currently use for self-enrichment will be updated to protect residential neighborhoods from over-development. The East River Fifties Alliance has proposed a rare community application to rezone a neighborhood, making it impossible to build superscrapers 'as of right.' They have risen to the challenge of winning support from elected officials, the community board, buildings and residents to bring an application to rezone and save the neighborhood."
The re-zoning proposal was sparked by the out-of-scale 1,000 foot megatower proposed by the Bauhouse Group on East 58th Street between First Avenue and Sutton Place. That proposed tower would exploit the loopholes in the 1960’s era zoning designation that still dictates construction on in the Far East Fifties, and which sets no specific height limits on apartment buildings, despite new technologies that allow for super-tall, skinny towers.
Community members and Council Member Kallos acted fast in response to the proposed Bauhouse tower. After the Our Town newspaper covered the Bauhouse plan on April 7, Council Member Kallos published an opinion editorial in opposition to the out-of-scale tower, and circulated a petition opposing superscrapers in residential neighborhoods. Community Board 6 passed a resolution calling for height caps in the neighborhood which was sent to the Department of City Planning for consideration on May 13, within 45 days of the news.
Over the following months, Kallos visited buildings throughout the neighborhood and spoke with residents about what they could do, including making donations to the newly formed ERFA. In August, The New York Times covered ERFA and Kallos’ efforts against the tower and highlighted the story of Herndon Werth, a rent-stabilized tenant refusing to sell his apartment to the Bauhouse Group in order to save his home and the neighborhood.
1,050,247 low-income students and senior households in New York City will finally have access to affordable broadband, training and computers.
Dear Mayor de Blasio:
We write to encourage you to ask your administrative agencies to identify 5% in potential savings for Fiscal Year 2017 before you issue the Preliminary Budget.
This is an important exercise to ensure that agencies are operating at their most efficient, and that there is minimal waste. Beginning in 1982, prior administrations made a point to incorporate gap closing measures into yearly, city wide funding plans -- whether or not a budget deficit was anticipated for the current year. Identifying savings has the benefit of contributing to the City’s financial stability by helping to cover gaps in current or future budgets by paring down agency spending, and avoiding the need for revenue-raising measures.
“I want us to ask ourselves every day, how are we using technology to make a real difference in people’s lives.” — President Barack Obama.
We have the opportunity to help state and local governments dramatically improve the services they provide to citizens while saving money, if it acts to create and support implementation of the policy framework to enable “automatic benefits.” Accomplishing these goals is now possible due to (1) the significant advancements in technology and responsible information sharing, and (2) leveraging open government data, to make data held by government reusable and accomplish the following priorities:
- Universal Application - qualifies citizens for all the human services to which they are entitled based on the completion of a single form.
- Automatic Renewal – renews people for services rather than depending upon them to reapply.
- Automatic Benefits - use open government data (IRS, SSA, Human Services, etc.) to means test eligibility and automate the process of determination in order to deliver services for which people are eligible automatically.
We can advance automatic benefits at the federal, state and local level and create a lasting legacy for more open and effective government by:
1. Challenge the States to Use Existing Funding - The Federal government can lead the states by publicly challenging governors to use Affordable Care Act funding available until 2018 to reduce bureaucracy and waste by removing unnecessary paper work and rules in order to provide human service benefits to those who need them.
2. Integrate Automatic Benefits into Healthcare Exchanges - Upgrade HealthCare.gov so that applicants for health insurance are also screened, qualified and awarded all the other human services citizens qualify for in order to give them the comprehensive care they need to stay healthy.
3. Challenge the Private and Non-Profit Sector - Issue a challenge to states and locals to make the business rules underlying benefits decisions freely available as open data and invite the private and non-profit sector to innovate in delivery of government benefits, including by creating new kinds of eligibility apps.
4. Super Waiver – seeking a blanket waiver of any bureaucratic rules, identified below, that stand in the way of granting benefits to people who need them and following the framework laid out by automatic benefits legislation introduced in New York City.
President Obama has already laid the groundwork for “automatic benefits” through the Affordable Care Act, Executive Order 13563, Executive Memorandum, waivers, guidance and funding for each state to use integration and interoperability to improve delivery of federally-assisted human service benefits to their residents by leveraging information sharing across human service agencies to automatically recertify or provide benefits. Across the nation, states including California, Louisiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and New York have begun to implement one stop websites for multi-benefit screening and application, online and mobile phone apps for self-service case management and updates, eligibility systems and business rule engines (BREs), electronic evidence imaging, and electronic data matching to provide benefits automatically.
Automatic benefits have the advantage of decreasing interaction with bureaucracy and making government more efficient, effective, and humane. But without intervention, a handful of states may build automatic benefits with governors claiming credit individually, but the vast majority will miss the 2018 deadline, leaving much of America without the benefits they need.
I am Council Member Ben Kallos, representing the Upper Eastside, East Midtown, East Harlem and Roosevelt Island. The City Planning Commission has an opportunity to protect our neighborhoods, our midblocks, make floor area ratio a three dimensional measure, protect our public parks from shadows, build a city that is affordable for all New Yorkers with a strong middle class, with necessary school seats to educate the next generation, and with a plan that reflects the voices and expertise of our city’s communities.
NEW YORK – Cornell Tech, New York City public school P.S./I.S. 217 and Councilmember Ben Kallos today unveiled a groundbreaking three-year program that will enable teachers at Roosevelt Island’s P.S./I.S. 217 to incorporate computer science (CS) activity across the curriculum. Every teacher in the K-8 school will receive professional development training, after which they will devise and implement CS lesson plans covering every student in every grade. The program is part of an ongoing partnership between Cornell Tech and the New York City Department of Education to make computer science instruction available to public school students.
Underground cell service, public safety call boxes and free Wi-Fi were announced today by Transit Wireless, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Borough President Gale Brewer, Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright, and City Council Members Ben Kallos and Dan Garodnick at the 86th Street Subway Station. Transit Wireless, the company contracted by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) to design and construct wireless connectivity in New York City’s underground subway stations, recently launched Phase 4 of the project, bringing wireless connectivity to 37 stations in the Bronx and Manhattan, including the 86th Street Station.
“Our City is in desperate need of affordable housing and we cannot allow landlords to hide even a single unit of it from the public,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “We need a full accounting of every affordable unit of housing in the City and we need regular monitoring and strict enforcement. If we’re going to give away billions of dollars in incentives and property tax reductions to developers in exchange for building affordable units, we need to know where every single one of those units is and ensure struggling New Yorkers have the tools to find, apply and get affordable housing.”
“1.6 billion dollars could be financing programs for students and seniors, building affordable housing, and revitalizing our open space,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “These fines are levied to uphold the safety of our buildings, the cleanliness of our streets, and protect quality of life. Since we spend resources issuing these fines, we must ensure we have the ability to collect on them and use that money for needed services.”
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., the New York Police Department, the Office of Court Administration, and the Legal Aid Society today announced “Clean Slate,” an upcoming warrant forgiveness event where New Yorkers with open summons warrants for qualifying crimes can have them cleared from their record, without fear of arrest.
New York City Councilmember Ben Kallos said: “I hope New Yorkers take advantage of this important opportunity to resolve warrants, get a clean slate, and move on with their lives. I would like to thank District Attorney Vance for his leadership on this issue, as well as the Office of Court Administration, the Legal Aid Society, and the NYPD for making Clean Slate possible.”
Thank you Borough President Gale Brewer and our Community Board members for their leadership on these land use matters. You are the voice of the people and we are stronger together. I am Council Member Ben Kallos, @BenKallos on social media, I represent the Upper East Side, Midtown East, Roosevelt Island and East Harlem, I grew up here and I want to be able to afford to raise a family and grow old in this city.
In conclusion, with the Second Ave Subway upheaval and rapid development, 412 East 85th Street embodies a distinguishing character and visual style that is uncommon within the ever evolving and modernizing Manhattan aesthetic and provides insight to the semi‐rural Manhattan of the nineteenth century. Let’s protect our past and make it part of our future.
“If these efforts to speed up the project timetable are successful, the MTA will amend our Capital Program and seek additional funds to begin heavy construction sooner. We appreciate the attention and commitment from our elected officials, and we share the goal of bringing the Second Avenue Subway to East Harlem as quickly as possible.” MTA Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Thomas F. Prendergast
Big Apple Circus welcomes Guest Ringmaster New York City Council Member Ben Kallos of the 5th District to the Big Top at Lincoln Center on November 4, 2015 at 6:30pm for the company's 38th season with the World Premiere of its all-new show, The Grand Tour.