New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

2019 State of the District

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Official Remarks


Good afternoon,


I am Council Member Ben Kallos.

I have had the honor of representing over 168,000 New Yorkers on the Upper East Side, Midtown East, the Sutton Area, El Barrio and Roosevelt Island in the City Council for 5 years, 12 days, 13 hours, 39 minutes, and 46 seconds. 

This is by far the best job I have ever had, and every moment is a precious opportunity to make the world, starting in our neighborhood and city, a better place. The best part of this job is getting to meet my neighbors, to work with local activists, faith leaders, educators, fellow elected officials, New Yorkers united in a common mission: to make the world a better place, starting with its capital: New York City.


And I want to give a special thank you to the participants in today’s program, starting with Reverend Beverly Dempsey for today’s invocation and for the work you do every day at Jan Hus Presbyterian Church and Urban Outreach Center in service of New Yorkers in need. 

Thank you to our incredible group of musicians/singers from Talent Unlimited High School:

    • Jada Peralta
    • Mariah Goodridge
    • Taylor Sailsman
    • Alexa Maldonado
    • Kendall Speaks, who will be filming
    • Their music director Jayne Skoog
    • And principal Yeou-Jey Vasconcelos

And of course, to Rita Popper for her wonderful reading of a 21st century version of “If” written by Rudyard Kipling. Rita is a tenacious advocate and has been an inspiration to me since I first joined Community Board 8. I’m so glad I get to continue to work with her all the time, just as I am continually inspired by the work of my fellow elected representatives.

Thank you to Congress Member Carolyn Maloney and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who just game my speech before me. 

Thank you also to the whole team here at Memorial Sloan Kettering, for opening this wonderful space for us to gather and stay warm today, including

    • Phoebe Kmeck
    • Shakima Grant
    • Ed Swisher
    • Sam Palmucci

Most importantly, I’m honored by how many of you came out to share this Sunday afternoon with us, to reflect on the work we have done together, and to look forward to everything we can accomplish.


Today I will talk about the resources available at my office, the investments we have made in school seats, how we have worked to improve commutes, rebuild our parks, improve quality of life, fight overdevelopment, build and preserve affordable housing, and reform our government and elections to better serve you. I promise that if you are here just for the bagels and reusable bags that is okay, we will get to that. And if this is your fifth State of the District, you’ve probably heard me tell that joke five times.


My office is the community’s office, a neighborhood center. I invite you to join me, in person, for the First Friday of each month from 8am to 10am and meet with my staff at Policy Night, at 5pm on the second Tuesday. 

Sign up for our free legal clinics on housing, family law and domestic violence each month. 

We host monthly mobile office hours at senior centers and NYCHA to bring our office and the services we provide directly to you. Most evenings, my staff or I attend Community Board, precinct council, neighborhood association, and tenant association meetings. During the spring and summer months on weekends you will find us at street fairs or Cooking with Kallos at greenmarkets. You can even get some of fresh fruits and veggies at our office during the summer and fall, thanks to our partnership with Grow NYC and the Fresh Food box site at our office every Thursday. 

But all of that forces you to come to us, so I even make house calls for “Ben in Your Building” where I can join you for your annual meeting. I also do weddings and bar mitzvahs! Seriously though, I am a registered marriage officiant, and I don’t charge.

Since I first ran for this office, I’ve said I want to change the fundamentals of government—how politicians are elected, how they’re paid, who has influence—to cut back on corruption and make our government responsive only to the people it represents.

When I was elected, I promised to work for only you, so I refused tens of thousands of dollars in personal income called “lulus,” offered for being a Committee Chair. Then I went further, and wrote the law that made lulus illegal, as well as banning outside income and making the City Council a full-time job. The New York Times recognized the Council for its leadership in instituting these changes and recommended my reforms be replicated in Albany. 

To improve voter participation, we worked with the New York State Attorney General to author the law that will allow New Yorkers to register to vote online.

Whether you’re concerned about overdevelopment, the lack of school seats, or anything else, your number one issue is really campaign finance reform.

This is because politicians spend so much of their time asking for contributions up to $5,100, more than you can even give to the president—not that you would [either one!]. Everyone expects something in return for their money. I once gave somebody something worth thousands of dollars—and I expected her to spend the rest of her life with me. She said yes and we have a lovely daughter. 

But I’ve never thought anybody should be giving politicians that much money. Since I was elected, I have continued my decades long fight to get big money out of city elections. Last session, I introduced campaign finance reform that would expand our public matching system, but even with a majority of Council Members signed on, we couldn’t get it done. This year, we worked with Mayor Bill de Blasio to steer campaign finance reforms around the City Council and directly to the voters as Ballot Question 1.

In a historic turnout on Election Day this past November, New Yorkers voted overwhelmingly to support campaign finance reforms proposed on Ballot Question 1. You and 1.1 million other New Yorkers from all five boroughs spoke loudly and clearly to get big money out of politics. 

The new system that I am proud to have helped usher in

  • Lowers Contribution Limits by More than Half from as much as $5,100 to $2,000 (which is still too much!)
  • Make Small Dollars More Valuable by increasing their match with public dollars from 6 to 8.
  • Increase Public Grants from half the money candidates can spend to three-quarters eliminating the need for big dollars.

When Question 1 passed so overwhelmingly, I authored a law to implement the reforms immediately, instead of waiting until 2021. That law passed last month, and the program is already up and running.

I helped lead the Yes Yes Yes campaign in favor of the ballot initiatives, and Question 1 wasn’t the only victory. New Yorkers also voted to approve Ballot Questions 2 and 3, which created a Civic Engagement Commission, expanded participatory budgeting from my district and some others to the rest of the city, and will provide Community Boards with term limits and urban planners. I have funded urban planners for all of my community boards, and now every board will have their own George Janes to take on developers. I believe in term limits at every level of government. I believe in term limits for the President—oh boy do I believe in them for the president—and I believe in them for myself. This reform will give more New Yorkers the opportunity to serve their communities on these local boards. Please see Luisa Lopez after my speech at Borough President Gale Brewer’s table about how to become a public member or apply to your community board and tell her I sent you!

Having successfully changed our Charter last year, we’re not done yet. I took some time to read through to section 3,103 of the Charter and have proposed 72 new Charter reforms from giving communities a binding vote in the land use process to eliminating obsolete references to the telegraph. I will now read all 72 in their entirety. [pause] I’m joking, I only skimmed in some places and I won’t read them all, but you can at Ben Thank you to Community Board 8 Manhattan for convening a Charter Revision Committee and I hope you will come testify to submit your own proposals.


As a graduate of Bronx High School of Science, I believe everybody deserves the same world-class education what I got.

After the launch of Universal Pre-Kindergarten, WNYC reported that our district only had 123 Pre-K seat, nowhere near enough. After five years of advocacy, we now have 900 seats. This year we cut the ribbon on two new facilities on 57th and 95th Streets, and we’ve broken ground on a new site on 76th Street that is on track to open by September.

But the good news doesn’t end at Pre-K. After years of advocacy and passing laws to track the number of children turned away, helped prove our case, and there are now 640 new grade school seats planned for the Upper East Side with $93 million in funding. 

I am also fighting to bring 3K seats to our district as soon as possible. I’ve told the Mayor that if we don’t get 3K seats on the Upper East Side by 2021, he owes me $30,000 for my daughter.

For years, the start of every school year has given parents nightmares when their children are stuck on buses for hours. Those nightmares reached a crisis level in November during Winter Storm Avery, when Jennifer Reynoso, a mother of a child receiving a special education, could not locate her child late at night in the snowstorm. I saw in her child my own daughter, and I immediately contacted the Mayor’s office and worked with them to send emergency services to rescue the children shortly after midnight. Just last week, the City Council passed common-sense legislation I had introduced to put GPS on every school bus so parents can track their children just like they’ve been doing in the Chancellor’s home city of Houston since 2015.

Once at school, I believe that if we meet our children’s basic needs, they are more likely to become self-actualized in accordance with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to better guarantee their long-term success. We should provide our children with the food they need through Universal School Breakfast, Lunch and Supper and providing supervision and the mentorship they need from adults through Universal After School and Youth Jobs.

We won a commitment to Universal Free Lunch in 2017 and now free lunch for every student in New York City is a reality, so there’s no longer a stigma for those who accept it—the same stigma that drove me to make the unfortunate decision of refusing free or reduced school lunch when I was a student.

In school I always loved art, it was one of the only places I could be creative and express myself. That is why each year my office partners with Sotheby’s to bring hundreds of pieces of art from more than a dozen local public schools to hang at our annual art show. Thank you to P.S. 183 parent Patricia Correge, Principal Martin Woodard and Art Teacher Wan Ling Fahrer for their partnership.

Learning continues beyond school, which is why I secured $3.7 million in capital funding for necessary repairs and technology at the public libraries on Roosevelt Island, 67th Street, and at the Webster Branch. Last year, we even broke ground on the construction of a brand new $7.8 million library on Roosevelt Island.


Like a quality public school education, every New Yorker deserves an affordable home. My constituent service team works with residents every day to keep New Yorkers in their homes, to apply for SCRIE and DRIE to keep their rents affordable, and to find new affordable housing. 

Thanks to a brave whistleblower at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Stephen Werner, we found that owners of 15,000 buildings — receiving over $100 million from the city in tax breaks — failed to register any affordable units, leaving New Yorkers roughly 50,000 units short of what they were promised.

We worked with our whistleblower, ProPublica and Wall Street Journal reporter Cezary Podkul to author Local Law 64 of 2018 to force developers and landlords who get millions for affordable housing to actually live up to that promise by registering every single unit so we can see where they all are and so that low-income New Yorkers can apply for new and existing affordable housing. Since the law passed late in 2017, we’ve worked on implementation of a new Housing Connect website to find an apply for affordable housing that will be as easy to use as StreetEasy or Zillow — and have a whole lot more housing on it.

In recognition for the work I’ve done around affordable housing, I was appointed chair of the Land Use subcommittee on Planning Dispositions and Concessions, which is responsible for approving affordable housing built on City land or with tax abatements. I’ve been focused on forcing transparency around these projects to get to the bottom line of each unit of affordable housing costs the City so we can get more units and more affordability. We’ve highlighted where affordable housing may be gentrifying neighborhoods, where its construction may actually be worsening the crisis by paying construction workers low wages, and we’ve introduced legislation to uncover conflicts of interest and protect workers on these sites.

When the Mayor initially announced NYCHA Infill I wanted to ensure that the projects provided adequate funding to support NYCHA, were cited in locations that would not leave the poor in the shadows of the rich and would ultimately provide a pathway out of poverty. I have joined Congress Member Carolyn Maloney and Borough President Gale Brewer in opposing the proposal for Infill at Holmes Towers for being placed on a playground, leaving poor tenants in the shadows of wealthy tenants above them, while failing to generate even enough money to make the repairs needed at the adjacent buildings. They are planning to build a skyscraper in violation of the neighborhoods zoning without going through the land use process, something I will continue to fight.


When I first got elected, Congress Member Carolyn Maloney asked me to co-chair the East River Esplanade Taskforce with her, because it was literally falling into the river, and then actually did. Since then, we have secured and overseen spending of $200 million in public and private dollars.

This year, after two years of negotiations we formed a public-private partnership with the Brearley School to invest $1.5 Million in the Overhang between 82nd and 83rd Streets. The plan includes colorful new designs, contemporary lighting, green walls, new planters, and a partnership with a local conservancy. Construction starts this summer.

We also cut the ribbon on a renovated section of the East River Esplanade at 70th - 72nd street with the latest step in our project with the Hospital for Special Surgery, Rockefeller University, and the Parks Department to completely redo the Esplanade from 62nd Street to 78th Street. This stretch will now feature noise barriers, a water fountain and irrigation to keep plants alive, new planting beds, improved lighting, repaired railings, new seating and paving, and it will be maintained by our partner institutions in perpetuity.

As we invested in the Esplanade, residents raised safety concerns, so although I personally oppose surveillance, we put NYPD security cameras on the Participatory Budgeting ballot where they won hundreds of votes. Ultimately, we invested $336,000 in security cameras for our hard-to-patrol parks, transit hubs, and quality of life hotspots. With Rockefeller University, we installed the cameras on the new section of the East River Esplanade and with Council Member Keith Powers we put cameras in the Sutton Area Parks, and at the request of the 19th Precinct at the 86th Street Subway Stations.

Our Parks are only as nice as we keep them, and we are lucky to have strong conservancies led by East Siders who are dedicated to their local parks. I want to thank everybody who helps run or volunteer with the conservancies and partnerships at our local parks, including:

  • Carl Schurz Park Conservancy
  • Friends of St. Catherine’s Park
  • Friends of the East River Esplanade
  • Sutton Place Parks Conservancy
  • Samuel Seabury Park Conservancy
  • Muslim Volunteers for New York at Ruppert Park
  • East 79th Street Neighborhood Association at John Jay Park
  • Green Park Gardeners at Andrew Haswell Green Dog Run
  • And Upper Green Side

I am also excited to be forming a new partnership with the NY Roller Hockey League at Stanley Isaacs Park. If anybody wants to start a conservancy for 24 Sycamores Park, I think we will have all of our parks cared for.


New York City can and must continue to do more to fight overdevelopment and the march of Superscrapers into residential neighborhoods.  In November of 2017 our long-fought battle to rezone the Sutton area became law, thanks to relentless advocacy and our partnership with the East River Fifties Alliance, Borough President Gale Brewer, and Senator Liz Krueger.

Although we defeated the planned supertall that would have exceed 1,000 feet tall, last year, the Board of Standards and Appeals grandfathered a proposed 800-foot skyscraper under the old zoning, so I sued the City in the New York State Supreme Court alongside and representing ERFA where so far a judge has ordered the developer who has agreed, to build the building in compliance with the new zoning law we passed as the case is being decided.

Thank you to East River Fifties Alliance, led by Alan Kersh, Robert Shepler, Lisa Mercurio, Jessica Osborne, local heroes like Herndon Werth, Charles Fernandez, and more than 400 individual members.

Join the fight at You can do it now, on your mobile phones. Seriously.

Throughout Manhattan, we’re seeing buildings that had previously been in context with one another shooting up in height thanks to a series of zoning loopholes.

Perhaps the most common loophole is voids, which are essentially empty floors that don’t get counted against a building’s allowable height, giving buyers of expensive apartments at the top of the building views over the rest of us. I funded Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts to research how to close these loopholes, and after our advocacy, at our Mayoral Town Hall last January, the Mayor promised to reform these loopholes. That promise has not yet been fully completed, but we are making progress on ensuring our city’s zoning leads to predictable development.


Every year since I took office, we have brought Participatory Budgeting to the district, where residents 11 years old and over voted on how to spend discretionary capital dollars from my office. Last year, P.S. 290 won $200,000 for re-construction of vital infrastructure, the New York Public Library in our District won $200,000 technology and computer upgrades and 10 schools won laptops for $350,000.

All together since I have been in office, we’ve invested $3.1 million in Green Roofs and $3.8 million in computers, smart boards and science labs. 

Since the passage of Ballot Question 2 in November, Participatory Budgeting is expanding beyond my council district to citywide.


As a Council Member every once in a while, we get to do work that will literally save lives.

Anyone here read our newsletter? I mean the whole thing, cover to cover? Well Kathleen Steed did, found a free cancer screening in our newsletter, detected it early, and beat cancer. Thank you to Josh Jamieson for drafting our newsletter, our community partners for providing so many free programs for our newsletter, and to Kathleen Steed for giving more credit than was due and most importantly for fighting cancer and winning!

Following a cluster of Legionnaires’ diseases on the East Side, I changed city policy so that we clean all towers that test positive for the legionella bacteria rather than waiting until it develops into legionnaires’ disease. When WNYC found that many towers were out of compliance with the law, we authored legislation to improve inspections reporting so we can prevent any more deaths from legionnaires’ disease.

While Queen Elizabeth the II banned the single-use water bottles across England's royal estates in an effort to be more environmentally friendly, President Trump has rolled back regulations meant to curb America's dependency on single-use plastic water bottles. That is why I introduced legislation to ban the sale of single use plastic water bottles in City owned parks and open spaces. 

We are still working with P.S. 290, the Sierra Club, and local activists to ban the use of toxic pesticides in City Parks and are working on a stronger version of the legislation.

I continue to support plastic bag diversion and am disappointed that it is still blocked in Albany. In the meantime, you can get your reusable bag from us at the end of the event, and make sure to bring it with you when you shop for groceries.


As we discuss the environment and health, I have to make sure I address the Marine Transfer Station. During the last five years we have stood our ground against the Mayor and his MTS and we have won several concessions that will help the community. I remain opposed to the construction of this facility and more importantly the impact it will have on our small residential streets.  

For that reason, we fought the administration by exposing high costs, ensuring zoned trash pickup will not be tied to tipping at our MTS, exposed dangers of sanitation trucks winning funding for guardrails on every truck, introduced legislation mandating and won a commitment to zero waste to make Marine Transfer-to-landfill obsolete by 2030.

A new ramp will be constructed one block north in partnership with P2P and the local community to protect children from all over the city who play at Asphalt Green.

Finally, I co-sponsored and passed a Waste Equity Law that will protect our neighborhood from receiving more than 10% of the city's waste. The initial version of the bill exempted districts with Marine Transfer Stations from the cap. I was able to negotiate this exemption out of the bill in exchange for my support and am now confident it will protect the Upper East Side from getting more trucks than are planned.

Most recently as reported by Our Town, following a letter I sent to the Department of Sanitation we learned that the neighborhood is going from having over 200 trucks a day at the sanitation garage on 74th street to an average of 40 to 50 trucks per day. Our neighborhood saw such a dramatic reduction because our neighborhood is producing 25% less trash by using fewer single-use plastic water bottles, reusable bags, and composting. Please help reduce the number of trucks coming to our neighborhood by signing up for textile and electronics recycling or composting for your building.


On the transportation front, as many of you know we have a super convenient NYC Ferry stop on Roosevelt Island that opened in 2017. In 2018 we took that a step further and cut the ribbon on an NYC Ferry for right here on the Upper East Side on 90th street. The NYC Ferry shuttles anywhere from 150,000 to 200,000 New Yorkers and tourists around our City every week. The new routes are an asset to our City, and I am proud to have advocated for the service.

We have also expanded Select Bus Service, winning it first for 86th Street and then replicating that successful model at 79th Street. We are fighting for 96th Street next, to speed up that crosstown commute.

With ferry service and Select Bus Service combined with the 2nd Avenue Subway, CitiBike and the miles of bike lanes in the district, we have made it a lot easier to get around a neighborhood that used to be known as a transportation desert.

Everybody, whether a pedestrian, cyclist, or driver, should feel safe on our streets. With our Bike Safety program, we have ensured that improved the bike lane on Second Avenue to close the gap, provided a pedestrian and bike crossing at 59th Street and the Queensboro Bridge, added bike lanes, and leading pedestrian intervals and safety neckdowns to make it easier to cross the street. The NYPD has also increased enforcement, writing 1,749 summonses issued to bicycles summonses in 2018 combined with 81 ebike seizures.

And if you see or experience a dangerous intersection where you’ve had a close call, please report it to my office so we can make our streets safer for you and everyone else.


Since transportation issues have improved in our neighborhood, we have been able to continue to focus on improving quality of life.  One of the most obvious ways we have done that is by making our streets cleaner. Thanks to the 322 large covered trash cans on every corner of the district purchased with funding from my office and twice a day pick up by the Department of Sanitation at our busy streets and intersections. 

Just months ago, I allocated $85,000 so that Wildcat Services sends three-person crews four-days a week focused on sweeping of sidewalks and bike islands, cleaning gutters and drains of blockages, and removing litter from tree pits. This is a pilot program that if successful and so far, so good will greatly improve the appearance of our neighborhoods. 

Thank you to Andrew Fine who has made it a point at every Brainstorm with Ben and on social media to point out where we need to clean up. Thank you also to Susan Gottridge, both from the East 86th Street Neighborhood Association, as well as Valerie Mason of the East 72nd Street Neighborhood Association for being supportive of those efforts.

Because the East 86th Street train station sees more than 20 million visitors a year. Ultimately my goal is to have a Business Improvement district for the East 86 Street business corridor. It is the only way we will get it to the shape that it deserves to be. A BID here will help with daily street sweeping and support for our local businesses. You can help clean up East 86th Street by getting your favorite business and their landlord to share their support at


New York City continues to struggle with the crisis of homelessness. As of the New Year, 22,463 children woke up in a shelter with 16,948 parents, 5,400 adults in families, and 11,831 single men, 4,471 single women and an estimated 3,892 people on our streets. To take on this issue in 2016 I launched the Eastside Task Force for Homeless Outreach and Services (“ETHOS”) with Senator Liz Krueger and Borough President Gale Brewer, convening local churches, synagogues, and non-profits with city agencies. We are devoted to building supportive housing in the district and helping the homeless.

We’ve been proud to break ground on East 91st Street for 17 two-bedroom supportive homes for Women-in-Need lead by former Speaker Christine Quinn, alongside Social Services Commissioner Banks, Congress Member Maloney, Borough President Brewer, Senator Krueger, Assembly Member Seawright, Community Board 8, Rector Jennifer Reddall of Church of the Epiphany and students leaders from P.S. 527 the East Side School for Social Action and East Side Middle School.

We hope 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 to ask them to dispatch a “homeless outreach team.” They will ask where you saw the person, what they looked like, and offer to report back to you on whether the person accepts our city’s offer of shelter, three meals a day, health care, rehabilitation, and job training.

Please consider financially supporting or volunteering with our ETHOS partners in their direct service to help those who are less fortunate.

One of the most important ways of preventing homelessness and hunger is to make sure New Yorkers are actually getting the benefits they qualify for. That’s why I authored “Automatic Benefits” legislation that would use information the government already has to provide the benefits residents need automatically. The City agreed to perform a study examining the feasibility of this proposal and the best ways to get benefits directly to those in need. We have been working with the administration on the study and are excited for it to come out this year.

In a city where one-in-four homes in Brooklyn does not have broadband, rising to one-in-three in the Bronx I am proud to have advocated for and won alongside Public Advocate and now Attorney General Tish James for Internet Assist from Spectrum and Altice, which provides 30 Mbps high-speed broadband for only $14.99 per month to households with students receiving free or reduced school lunch or seniors on supplemental social security income. This has the power to bridge the digital divide by bring affordable high-speed Internet to more than 1.2 million low-income New Yorkers.

In addition to universal broadband, finding and making tens of thousands of units of affordable housing available, and increasing access to food, we must also help every New Yorker retire. As an attorney who practiced ERISA, I am proud to lend my expertise to legislation authored by Public Advocate Tish James to provide two million New York City residents without any retirement savings with an auto-enrollment payroll deduction “Retirement Security for All” Roth IRA. Despite the Trump administration’s seeking to stop us, May Bill de Blasio announced support for this vital legislation in his State of the City.


New York City should be a place where you can raise a family with universal childcare, 3K, Pre-K, the best schools in the world serving three square meals a day, universal after school and youth jobs, free higher education, with affordable housing to live here, easy commutes, beautiful parks, and an unparalleled quality of life.

All a part of a city that works seamlessly and proactively for you.

We have spent the past 5 years, 12 days, 14 hours, ___ minutes, and 46 seconds working tireless to accomplish these goals.

I have 2 years, 11 months, 17 days, 9 hours, __ minutes, and 10 second left as your Council Member. 

Let’s use that time wisely on worthy goals that we can accomplish now to make our city and the world around us a better place. Please consider joining our effort at

Thank you for your partnership and joining us today.

Please join us in the lobby for Bagels with Ben, have a cup of hot coffee, complete our survey so we know how we can improve this program, and join me for a photo.

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