New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Samar Khurshid

Gotham Gazette After Rally with De Blasio, City Council Hears Bills on Private Sector Retirement Security by Samar Khurshid

After Rally with De Blasio, City Council Hears Bills on Private Sector Retirement Security

Just days after he ended his presidential campaign that was focused on issues affecting working people, Mayor Bill de Blasio rallied with AARP volunteers and City Council Members at City Hall on Monday to push for a proposal that could help millions of New York workers save for their futures.

The Retirement Security for All proposal, which de Blasio first raised three years ago and then again in his State of the City speech this year, would establish a retirement savings program for private-sector employees whose employers do not currently provide those options, and a city government board to oversee its implementation.

There are two bills in the legislative package that would create the system and the board and sponsored by Council Members I. Daneek Miller and Ben Kallos, who led a hearing on the proposal shortly after the Monday morning rally.

“You should not have to work until you die,” de Blasio said at the rally. “You should be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor. You should be able to have some time in your life when you retire with dignity.”

The mayor said that 40% of New Yorkers aged 50-64 have less than $10,000 saved for when they retire.

Gotham Gazette De Blasio, City Council Look to Move Ahead with Private Sector Retirement Savings Program by Samar Khurshid

De Blasio, City Council Look to Move Ahead with Private Sector Retirement Savings Program

In his State of the City speech in January, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised that the city would create a system of retirement security for millions of New Yorkers who work in the private sector and may not have access to employer-provided savings plans. It was a revival of an effort the mayor had first pushed in 2016 but that bumped up against the change in presidential administrations and federal approvals apparently needed. But eight months after de Blasio’s speech at the start of this year, the New York City Council is ready to look at the idea through two bills that will be examined at a hearing later this month.   

Gotham Gazette Launch of Required City Reporting on Required Reports Shows Gaps in Reporting by Samar Khurshid

Launch of Required City Reporting on Required Reports Shows Gaps in Reporting

The New York City Council regularly passes bills mandating that city agencies create reports on their work, ostensibly as part of the Council’s oversight responsibilities. From city jail populations to hate crimes statistics to use of force by police officers, the Council has passed bills requiring a report be delivered to it.

The Council passes so many reporting bills that last year, it passed legislation that would help it track the number of total reports required under local law, the City Charter, or mayoral order. The bill compelled the city’s Department of Records and Information Services to create a central list of every single report required from every city agency, board, or office.

The result: a 57-page document that lists a whopping 842 required reports of various types due at a variety of time intervals. Of those, 490 are listed as not received by DORIS, despite some being producing by agencies on a regular basis, raising questions for Council members about whether agencies are refusing to comply with the law or are overwhelmed with burdensome reporting mandates.

Gotham Gazette City Council Hears Bill to Expand Public Match in Campaign Finance Program by Samar Khurshid

City Council Hears Bill to Expand Public Match in Campaign Finance Program

That charter change was quickly implemented through local law, sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, for all special elections before the 2021 general election, thus applying to multiple races this year.

Kallos, a Manhattan Democrat, has also proposed increasing the public funds cap to roughly 89% of the spending limit, effectively allowing candidates to run their campaigns entirely on small contributions and the subsequent public match, and diluting the effect of wealthier, larger donors. And he hopes to put that reform into effect for the 2021 city election cycle, which will feature a massive number of local races, from citywide and borough wide posts through the City Council.

“I think this is a gamechanger,” Kallos said at Monday’s hearing, citing the recent citywide public advocate special election as proof that increasing the public funds match reduced big donations. He pointed to the latest campaign finance disclosures from all the campaigns, which showed that contributions of $250 or less made up 61% of all contributions, up from 26.3% of all contributions in the 2013 public advocate race, according to his office’s analysis of the numbers.

Gotham Gazette Council Member Kallos Pushes Next Increase in Matching Funds Available Through Public Campaign Finance System by Samar Khurshid

Council Member Kallos Pushes Next Increase in Matching Funds Available Through Public Campaign Finance System

New York City Council Member Ben Kallos is moving forward with a bill to increase the amount of public funds a candidate running for elected office can receive from the city’s campaign finance program, in order to further reduce the influence of big money donors in local political campaigns.

New York City’s voluntary campaign finance program matches small dollar donations in order to afford candidates without deep pockets or wealthy donors a more level playing field in elections. In November, voters approved a ballot question that increased the matching ratio from 6-to-1 for the first $175 of a contribution to 8-to-1 for the first $250 for citywide offices ($175 for all other offices), and increased the maximum amount of public funds that could be paid out from 55% of the spending limit for an office to 75%.

The changes also reduced individual contribution limits across the board and gave candidates running in the 2021 city elections the choice to opt in to the new rules, which otherwise go into mandatory effect beginning 2022.

Gotham Gazette Report: Under New Law, Small Donors Drove Public Advocate Special Election Campaigns by Samar Khurshid

Report: Under New Law, Small Donors Drove Public Advocate Special Election Campaigns

According to CFB’s own analysis released the day after the election, the most common contribution amount was $10, down from $100 in previous public advocate elections. “The matching funds give candidates the incentives to raise money the right way, by going to the New York City voters they want to represent in government, not to big-money donors or special interests,” said Amy Loprest, CFB executive director, in a statement on February 27. “If we want a government that is closer and more responsive to the people, it has to start with how candidates fund their campaigns.”

Gotham Gazette After Reform Commitments, City Council Democrats Appoint Three New Commissioners to Board of Elections by Samar Khurshid

After Reform Commitments, City Council Democrats Appoint Three New Commissioners to Board of Elections

The New York City Council’s Democratic conference held on Thursday what officials said was its first ever public vote to appoint three new commissioners to the New York City Board of Elections.

Gotham Gazette Everything You Need to Know About the Special Election for Public Advocate by Samar Khurshid

Everything You Need to Know About the Special Election for Public Advocate

Next month, New Yorkers will have the opportunity to cast a ballot for a new public advocate in the first-ever special election for a citywide office. The current vacancy was created when the most recent officeholder, Letitia James, was officially sworn in as the state’s attorney general, a position she won in the November general election.

Gotham Gazette Agenda 2019: High Hopes for Long-Awaited Reforms by Samar Khurshid

Agenda 2019: High Hopes for Long-Awaited Reforms

“Albany should look to all the things we’ve gotten done in the City Council over the past five years,” said City Council Member Ben Kallos, who previously chaired the governmental operations committee and helped lead the reform effort, “and it starts with no outside income, no more lulus, campaign finance reform...I believe that those three things would help clean up a lot of the corruption in Albany.”

To the dismay of good government groups and activists, however, the governor and Legislature have repeatedly wrestled over ethics reform with little to show for it. Cuomo infamously came to power promising that he would clean up Albany but later shut down the Moreland Commission that he had set up to fulfil that very pledge in the face of a resistant Legislature that kept seeing its members hauled off to jail. The compromise Cuomo struck with the Legislature created the state-run Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), which many have criticized for being an inefficient agency with too-close ties to the governor and legislative leaders, who appoint its members.

Gotham Gazette Next Steps for 3 City Charter Revisions Passed Election Day by Samar Khurshid

Next Steps for 3 City Charter Revisions Passed Election Day

City Council Member Ben Kallos, who unsuccessfully attempted to increase the public funds cap to 85 percent through legislation, was glad to see voters pass the improvements to the system. In a phone interview, he implied that concerns about the cost of the new system were overblown, and said that enhancing the system is key to eliminating real and perceived conflicts of interest.