2020 State of the District

2020 State of the District admin Sun, 01/26/2020 - 4:28pm

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Official Remarks as Prepared

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, El Barrio and Roosevelt Island in the City Council for 6 years, 25 days, 13 hours, __ minutes, and 18 seconds.

If this is your first time joining us, welcome! If not, welcome back. I know you’re here for Bagels with Ben, and that’s fine with me.

You don’t have to wait until our state of the district to see me. All year, you can join me and neighbors for a discussion on the First Friday of each month, work with staff at Policy Night, talk to an attorney for free, and support local agriculture at our fresh food box. I’ll even make house calls for Ben in Your Building at your co-op, condo, or tenants association meeting.

We are here to help. We are here for everyone from seniors to families, with services like housing, finances, and nutrition, even assistance finding a job.

We are also here to support the community and we’ve accomplished so much in such a short amount of time. Today we’ll be highlighting what we’ve been able to do together as we focus on what we can accomplish in the remaining 1 year, 11 months, 5 days, 10 hours, __ minutes, and 36 seconds.

  1. Winning new school seats and investing big in education
  2. Getting big money out of politics and winning ethics reforms for good government
  3. Fighting overdevelopement and winning rezonings for affordable housing
  4. Helping the homeless
  5. Building new parks
  6. Protecting public health and safety
  7. Improving commutes, and
  8. Cleaning up the neighborhood.


When I first began fighting to provide more Pre-Kindergarten seats for our district, I was a newlywed. Now my daughter is two.

In 2014 we only had 154 seats for over one thousand four-year-olds. In September, we finally closed that gap, when we cut the ribbon on our third new Pre-K Center, this one on 76th Street with 180 seats. After securing 900 new seats for a total of 1,122 as of this school year, we finally have Universal Pre-Kindergarten on the Upper East Side.

In 2013, our research showed that federal funding available for pre-kindergarten would not only cover four-year-olds but also three-year-olds. Just as we fought for the Mayor to keep his promise on Universal Pre-Kindergarten, we must fight for Universal 3K on the Upper East Side. Hopefully in time for my daughter, otherwise I’m out $30,000. You can join the fight to make this happen by signing the petition at BenKallos.com/3K.

Beyond pre-kindergarten, I’ve never believed that the Upper East Side had enough school seats. Despite all the new residential construction, when I was elected the city had no plans to build additional school seats. So as the New York Times reported, I authored and passed a law requiring the Department of Education to show how they calculated seat need and prove it. Last year we got funding for 640 school seats, and this year, thanks to my law, the Department of Education added funding for another 184 school seats for a total of 824.

I ran for office because I wanted to do a lot of things differently than other elected officials. We were one of the first council districts to offer Participatory Budgeting, letting any resident 11 or older vote online or in person on how to spend one million dollars from my office in the community.

Over the years we have begun to see projects from Participatory Budgeting become reality.

  • In October, we cut the ribbon on a new $600,000 dollar Hydroponics Science Lab at P.S 183. Thank you to delegate Michael Ekstract and to the 1,514 residents who voted for the lab in 2017.
  • In June, we cut the ribbon on a new $600,000 dollar playground for P.S. 77/198 thanks to 1,134 votes in 2017. We also celebrated the completion of the school’s $8.2 million dollar exterior renovation. It looks like a Hilton.

My district is lucky to have one of the best high schools in New York City, Eleanor Roosevelt High School, which has a “dance studio” instead of a real gym. That hasn’t stopped their women’s volleyball team from becoming city-wide champions. When I hosted a town hall with Mayor de Blasio in 2018, Amanda Calviero, who was then a senior at the school, asked the Mayor for a gym. As you may have read in Our Town, we hosted a petition for the new gym, and it received over 5,000 signatures. Soon after, I was proud to join School Construction Authority President Lorriane Grillo to announce a new gym for these champion athletes. We will break ground this spring above the Pre-K center just down the block.

The beginning of every school year has been a nightmare for parents waiting hours for buses that never show up or worse yet lost somewhere in the city with their children. That’s why I introduced legislation in response to a resident’s complaint at First Friday to put GPS on every school bus. When dozens of children, many with special needs, were stuck on buses for hours due to a freak winter storm in December 2018, we were able to pass this long sought-after law.

I wish that were the end of the story. The Department of Education did not did not get their assignment done on time for the beginning of the school year, and we are now working with parents like Beth Pilchick to make sure it gets done. The city has turned to Via with whom we are working closely to get the GPS online complete with an app for parents to keep track of their vehicle and their children by the start of the next school year.

Once we know where the school buses actually are, it is vital that we keep our kids safe as they get on and off. We’ve all seen cars speed past school buses as children get off and on, putting them at risk. We’ve even seen one man drive up on the sidewalk. After Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the law allowing municipalities to implement school bus stop-arm cameras I authored legislation to do just that. We’ve already received a hearing and you can help pass this legislation by signing the petition at BenKallos.com/StopArm

Everyone knows that a good education doesn’t end in the classroom. My favorite part of school was after-school. I was never great at sports and always got picked last in gym class, so the after school program where I actually got to play basketball outside of class and wasn’t picked last was a highlight for me. But don’t feel too bad. Now that I’m a Council Member, I always win at Basketball with Ben especially when I play against interns and my staff.

In New York there are more than half a million children in K-12 schools who are left alone and unsupervised during after-school hours. We know from research that after-school programming keeps young people positively engaged during the hours of 2 to 6pm when they are most vulnerable to get in trouble with the criminal justice system. With a recent spike in young adults robbing younger students in the area, we need Universal After School more than ever.

We won Breakfast After the Bell and Universal School Lunch. If we can win Universal After School, we can complement that with feeding every kid supper, which is already federally funded.

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs if we can address every child’s physiological needs with universal breakfast, lunch, snack, and supper, their safety needs with Child Health Plus, and finally, if we can offer love, belonging, and esteem through universal after school, we can provide a positive future for an entire generation of children.

Just weeks ago the City Council heard Universal After School legislation I authored that would mandate an after school slot for any of the 1.1 million public school students who need them.

Learning continues after school and throughout our lives. That’s why I love books and I love our New York public libraries. Last month, we even cut the ribbon on $2.5 million dollars in renovations funded by my office, Speaker Corey Johnson and Mayor de Balsio, when we reopened the 67th Street Library where I got my first library card as a kid. We’ve already broken ground on a new library for Roosevelt Island and you are all invited to the ribbon-cutting.

Good Government

As we reap the rewards of investing in our education, we must ensure the rest of our government is working for everyone, not just those with wealth and power.

When I was elected I thought I should work for you not our politicians or outside interests, so I refused outside income and tens of thousands of dollars in personal income from political leaders called “lulus.” Then I wrote the laws that made lulus illegal and even banned outside income to make the City Council a full-time job. The New York Times called on Albany to follow the reforms I authored. It should come as no surprise that they took the money without the ethics reforms.

Making outside income and lulus illegal helped, but politicians were still spending their time wining and dining millionaire and billionaire real estate developers to give them $5,000 contributions. In 2013, half the money Mayoral candidates raised were in these big contributions that are the maximum allowed under law. Anyone here ever give anyone $5,000 without expecting anything return? I once offered someone a valuable gift and I expected her to spend the rest of her life with me. She said yes, and our daughter is now 2.

I work for you. So I wasn’t chasing money from real estate developers, but everyone else was. While politicians say one thing, city land use policy continues to force out every day New Yorkers to make room for the wealthy to park their money in superscrapers.

That’s why I advocated for full public matching campaign finance reform that would make $175 just as valuable as a new lower contribution limit of $1,500 for borough-wide office by matching each small dollar with 8 public dollars to become $1,575. When the stronger program I supported was put on the ballot in 2018, 1.1 million (or 80% of the) voters agreed. I then authored two new laws to apply the new system to the Public Advocate’s race and to guarantee a full public match. The results are already in: we’ve flipped campaign finance on its head so that candidates are no longer being financed by a majority of big dollars, but instead by small dollars. Public Advocate Jumaane Williams is the first candidate to win citywide office without real estate money.

In 2019, the New York Times joined me in calling on Albany to implement the system I authored to “foster competition and challenge entrenched party machines.” Once again, Albany failed.

After our success at the ballot in 2018, the Council convened a 2019 Charter Revision Commission in which I participated. Although they did not accept all 72 of the proposals I came up with after reading the whole Charter, they did put five before the voters. After I ran around the borough of Manhattan educating voters, all five questions passed, including ranked-choice voting. The ones I'm most excited about are around the topic of ethics reform.

Although I prefer Senator Warren’s lifetime ban on lobbying for elected officials, voters chose to double the existing one year ban to two years. We won protections for the borough presidents and public advocate from having their budgets cut by a vengeful council or mayor. We also gave residents a more meaningful role in the land use process by adding Community Board engagement at the beginning of the process.


When I was elected, billionaires’ row was marching from the commercial business district in midtown Manhattan into residential districts on the Upper East Side. Then we did something that hadn’t been done before, winning the largest, first-of-its-kind grassroots rezoning, which stopped the march of supertalls in the Sutton area. Although the Board of Standards and Appeals overturned the community’s victory and grandfathered one building, we successfully won protections for our neighborhood. I sued the city alongside the community over that grandfather clause, and despite a recent setback at the trial court, we intend to file a notice of appeal.

When developers began creating loopholes like gerrymandered zoning lots and empty spaces in buildings, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Senator Liz Krueger joined Carnegie Hill Neighbors, Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts and me in the fight at 180 East 88th Street.

When a developer proposed a 150 ft empty space at East 62nd Street and 176 feet at West 66th, we built a brough-wide coalition including Landmark West to close the loopholes. There is a problem when developers would rather build empty spaces in buildings to give billionaires a better view than build affordable housing.

I visited nearly every community board in Manhattan to pass resolutions to protect us from mechanical voids of unlimited height in residential districts, and I led the City Council in passing this change.

No sooner than we closed the loophole did developers take the walls off the voids to make buildings on stilts. Our coalition continues to move forward alongside Borough President Gale Brewer on two additional citywide zoning changes to limit stilts and gerrymandered lots. I’ve also authored legislation co-sponsored by the Borough President that's already received a hearing that would give community boards and elected officials public notifications when developers merge zoning lots to build taller.

When the city proposed building a luxury skyscraper on a public housing playground, Congress Member Carolyn Maloney, Borough President Gale Brewer and I supported the community in their years’ long fight. Following the Borough President’s lawsuit, residents won, with the city agreeing to withdraw and start over. We've used funds from our office to provide financial support to attorneys at Take Roots Justice for a new lawsuit to secure heat and hot water for our tenants in public housing, and we've been winning in court.

Affordable Housing

During my time as chair of a Land Use sub-committee we were able to ensure every tax dollar allocated for housing was used to build the most affordable housing possible for the lowest-income New Yorkers. In just over a year we were able preserve or create nearly six-thousand units of affordable housing throughout New York City.

For the people who think that they can build their way out of the housing crisis with market rate condos, the New York Times and The Atlantic recently shared that of all the condos built since 1995, half of them are sitting there empty. For those who have an oversimplified understanding of economics or who believe we just need to have supply exceed demand, it’s time to face the reality that developers would rather leave their condos empty than make anything affordable for everyday New Yorkers.

I support Mayor de Blasio’s plan to build or preserve 300,000 units of affordable housing. But those units are only offered through a lottery involving tens if not hundreds of thousands of people for each one. Being able to afford to live in our great city shouldn't just be a matter of winning the lottery.

Worse yet, I learned from a hero and whistleblower, Stephen Werner at HPD, that more than 200,000 units of affordable housing might be getting billions in city subsidies while charging market rates. Working with him, Pro Publica, and his union the Organization of Staff Analysts, we authored Local Law 64 to force landlords to register every city-subsidized affordable unit and to let middle-class and low-income New Yorkers apply for hundreds of thousands of units of existing affordable housing. That system should go online in June.


A symptom of the affordable housing crisis is the homeless crisis as families are literally forced on to our streets. We are finally stemming the tide on homelessness with less 60,000 people in our shelters, 10% down from our high-water mark. It’s important to see the face of homelessness in our city. As of Friday, 21,399 children woke up in a shelter with 16,035 parents, 12,455 single men and 4,728 single women.

In 2016, I launched the Eastside Task Force for Homeless Outreach and Services (“ETHOS”) with Borough President Gale Brewer, State Senator Liz Krueger, and the Department of Social Services, convening local churches, synagogues and non-profits with city agencies. Together, we are devoted to building supportive housing in the district and helping the homeless. By 2017, we broke ground on a supportive housing facility for Women-in-Need on East 91st Street. In August, we officially cut the ribbon to welcome 17 families to supportive housing plus a Sunshine Early Learning Center for children living in the building and surrounding community. This supportive housing is across the street from where I live and the park where I play with my daughter, and I couldn’t be happier.

It is our hope that every unsheltered person living on the street gets the help they need. If you see one of our City’s most vulnerable on the street, please do not give them money and pay them to stay on the street. Instead please call 311 or use the NYC 311 App to ask them to dispatch a “homeless outreach team.” And if you can, please consider financially supporting or volunteering with our ETHOS partners in their direct service to help those who are less fortunate.

Parks and Open Spaces

Living in tiny apartments in the densest neighborhood in America, we need our parks.

When I got elected, waterfront parks were at risk of falling into the River, and then they did.

I have worked together with Congress Member Carolyn Maloney as co-chairs of the East River Esplanade Taskforce. This year alone, we:

  • Broke ground on a $3.3 million dollar renovation of the Carl Schurz Park Playground, funded by Council District 5 and Borough President Brewer.
  • Opened a quarter of an acre in Sutton Parks, connecting two parks with the help of the Conservancy.
  • Worked with constituent and parent Greg Davis, whose two sons play basketball at John Jay Park, to get the Parks Department to replace the backboards and paint new courts with $7,500 dollars in funding from my office.
  • Cut the ribbon and made a splash on a $1 million dollar investment for the pool at John Jay Park, where we will also break ground this spring on the long-sought Adult Space
  • Cut the ribbon on $15 Million dollars in renovations by Rockefeller University on a section of the East River Esplanade from 62nd to 68th
  • Secured an additional $75 million in Mayoral Funding for the ongoing reconstruction of the East River Esplanade.
  • Last but not least, we broke ground on the $100 million East Midtown Greenway, which will run between East 53rd and 61st Street.

Our grand total so far is a whopping $275 million, and in my remaining two years I want to double that investment.

We are also improving access to existing parks. Working with Congress Member Carolyn Maloney, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Assembly Member Dan Quart, we were able to negotiate with the Parks Department and Dr. Tony Scolnick to open access to indoor tennis at Queensboro Oval year round to the community.

Now, the community can play tennis for free with a Parks tennis permit starting in April through Labor Day, at total cost for the full season of $10 for youth, $20 for seniors and $100 for everyone else. Throughout the winter months, take advantage of $10 drop-ins for early mornings, afternoons and late evenings as well as $10 clinics for residents and seniors. We even offer 30 scholarships for children, and free access for Yorkville Athletics and Hunter College.

Having parks and access to open spaces is incredibly important to our health and the health of our community.

Public Health and Safety

More than half of New York City’s adults are overweight or obese and 1 in 5 kindergarten students enters school already obese. The truth is that an 8-year-old would need to walk the distance between City Hall and Time Square to “walk off” the calories from a 12 oz. soda, and kids their age aren’t getting that much exercise in school.

The Healthy Happy Meals law I authored with the American Heart Association, backed by peer reviewed research, and gained the crucial support of Speaker Johnson to pass last year. McDonald’s even testified that they implemented the law on their kids’ menus back in 2013, leading to healthy drinks being served with more than half of Happy Meals. Starting in April my law requires every restaurant in New York City to only offer water, low-fat milk or 100% fruit juice as part of any children’s meal.

Following a Legionnaires’ outbreak, I co-sponsored a law mandating inspections of cooling towers. When a Legionnaires’ cluster appeared on the Upper East Side in 2017, I changed City policy so that we clean all towers that test positive for the legionella bacteria to avoid their advancement into Legionnaires’. In 2018, WNYC found that more than 20 percent of towers were out of compliance with the law I co-sponsored, so in 2019 I authored and passed legislation to remind cooling tower owners to inspect and to require them to report to the city when inspections are complete so we can make sure they are getting done, keeping vulnerable residents safe.

Perhaps the biggest threat to our city and the planet is climate change. That’s why, last year, I introduced a resolution declaring a climate emergency with Environmental Protection Committee Chair Costa Constantinides authored by Extinction Rebellion. Within days of the hearing we became the biggest city on the planet to pass this declaration, making international news. A week later Senator Sanders introduced the resolution in Congress.

If it wasn’t clear by now, when I say you can work with our office to author laws, I mean it. I am also lucky to have amazing constituents who I learn from every day.

I even introduced one bill because of what I learned in Kindergarten. Not mine, but at P.S. 290 where the five-year-olds taught me the chant: “Ban Toxic Pesticides, Use Only Nature’s Pesticides.” We’ve been working on this legislation since 2015 to ban spraying of carcinogens like glyphosate, the key ingredient in Round Up, in city parks where children play and then if they are like my daughter put their hands in their mouths. I hope you will join us this Wednesday, January 29th at 10 a.m. at City Hall to testify in favor of this important legislation.

Quality of Life

As we protect our children from the carcinogens in the ground, we must also protect everyone from harm from above.

As of today there are 9,384 scaffolding structures covering 344 miles of sidewalk in New York City to protect us from falling bricks that recently claimed one life, as the city literally crumbles around us.

I’ve authored legislation to force landlords to make repairs once sidewalk sheds go up or have the city step in and do it. Following the collapse of sidewalk sheds throughout the city I have also proposed requiring the city to inspect sheds as they go up and every six months thereafter. The city has recently announced that it will be inspecting every sidewalk shed and step in to do the work on the most dangerous buildings and make bad landlords pay. If you own a car, you have to maintain it. The same thing goes for owning a building.

While sidewalk sheds might be my pet peeve, the top complaint in New York City is noise, particularly from after hours construction. That’s why in 2017 I authored the law with support of Environmental Chair Constantinides to reduce noise on after hours construction from 85-decibels to 75-decibels, a reduction of about half. The change went into effect this New Year, so hopefully you will hear, or not hear, the difference. We also changed the law so violations could be issued without having to measure noise from inside someone’s home.

Mike Edison, a constituent who has worked with my office, took the fight to get a quieter City into his own hands by winning a lawsuit against construction companies in small claims court, forcing loud construction sites to pay up and turn down the noise.


When I got elected it was a lot harder to get around. And good luck even getting on the 4/5/6 or F during rush hour.

Since then we’ve opened the Second Avenue Subway, two new ferry stops serving the district, brought Select Bus Service to two crosstown routes, and even launched bike share.

With bike ridership more than doubling, we’ve worked with the Department of Transportation, the NYPD’s 17th and 19th Precincts and Council Member Keith Powers, on a Bike Safety program that’s been making our streets safer.

We need to keep pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists safe from each other by giving each their own space on the road:

For pedestrians we’ve added leading pedestrian intervals along York Avenue and “safety neckdowns”

For Bikes:

  • We’ve more than doubled bike lanes complete with more crosstown lanes;
  • Last year we made it safer to cross the mouth of the Queensboro Bridge.

We’ve offered bike safety classes in schools, bike shops, and our office where attendees get a free month on a CitiBike membership. We’ve held trainings in English, Spanish, and Chinese, and given attendees free safety equipment.

Bike enforcement by our police precincts is higher than anywhere else in the city, up from a hundred when I got elected to 2,472 summonses issued to bicycles.

Cleaning Up the Neighborhood

As we near the end of this year’s state of the district, it is funny to think that what I am best known for is putting a new covered trash can on every corner. We’ve purchased 560 of them, but who’s counting? With every corner covered, we are now working with Wildcat to help people get back on their feet while cleaning up the neighborhood four-days a week, sweeping sidewalks and bike islands, cleaning gutters and drains of blockages, and removing bags caught in branches and litter from tree pits. We’ve even been power washing our sidewalks alongside Congress Member Maloney.


As we conclude, please join us for our volunteer fair, and of course enjoy “coffee with kallos” and “bagels with ben.” Please complete the evaluation form in your reusable bag to let us know how we can do better, and consider joining me in the selfie line.

The state of our district is strong, not because of what I’ve done, but because of what we’ve been able to accomplish together. We’ve already done so much, and yet, we have so much more left to do.

I’ve been your Council Member for 6 years, 25 days, 13 hours, __ minutes, and 18 seconds. What can we accomplish together in the remaining 1 year, 11 months, 5 days, 10 hours, __ minutes, and 36 seconds?

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