Over 700 community members joined my inauguration ceremony on January 26 featuring:
- Dances Patrelle,
- Asphalt GreenWave Gymnastics Team,
- The 92Y Gym Stars,
- Pianist Roy Eaton,
- Talented Unlimited High School's men’s ensemble,
- Elsbeth Reimann of Stanley Isaacs Senior Center reading Pastor Martin Niemoller’s “First They Came…” and
- Jim Bates of the Roosevelt Island Disabled Association reading FDR’s “Four Freedoms.”
Thanks are also due to the many elected officials and community leaders who attended and spoke:
- State Senator Krueger, who acted as Master of Ceremonies,
- United States Senator Schumer,
- State Comptroller DiNapoli,
- City Council Speaker Mark-Viverito,
- Congress Member Maloney,
- City Comptroller Stringer,
- Public Advocate James,
- Manhattan Borough President Brewer,
- Council Member Garodnick,
- Former Public Advocate Green,
- Former Council Member Lappin,
- Former New York State Assembly Member Bing,
- Founder of New Roosevelt Bill Samuels, as well as
- Attorney General Schneiderman, who performed the swearing-in.
Thank you for joining me today for this inauguration which we have dedicated as a celebration of our community and of one another. We are bastion of culture and diversity that stands together in unity as one council district.
There are many people to whom I owe profound gratitude.
- My wife has been my rock and constant source of support.
- My mother, who raised me as a single parent, sent more than 15,000 letters to her neighbors asking them to vote for me, and from what I’ve been told is the only reason many people did.
- My family and friends, those that immigrated here to escape anti-Semitism, those that couldn't be here today, those that have given me unconditional love and support through the years.
- Mentors who have prepared me for this undertaking.
- New colleagues in government, in the City Council, and especially my friends in the Progressive Caucus.
- Working families with whom I have fought and will fight for a living wage for all New Yorkers.
- The community and cultural groups that make this district what it is and that participated in this inauguration.
- And last but not least – I want to thank you.
You have given me a remarkable responsibility.
I will heed the lessons of the “greatest generation.” I will speak for those for whom there is no one else to speak, regardless of whether I am one of them. Four essential human freedoms that we heard about from Jim remain a generation overdue. But like FDR, I believe them to be “attainable in our own time and generation.” And I believe that they start at the local level, in the community. I will focus on “freedom from want” to ensure “a healthy peace time life for inhabitants,” a living wage for all so that we may eliminate the ever-growing gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” in hopes of unifying our great city.
I started this journey out of love for the neighborhood where I grew up and the conviction that government could do better. After thousands of conversations, hundreds of volunteers, dozens of special interest checks turned away, and your solutions for a better city submitted on my website and shared with me in person, I have been overwhelmed by your support for my vision: A government that is open, transparent, and accountable to you.
In the City Council, I will be chairing the Government Operations Committee in order to help make that vision a reality. With broad oversight powers I hope to bring reforms to:
- community boards in partnership with our borough presidents to empower our neighborhoods,
- campaign finance to empower residents making small dollar contributions over special interests,
- the board of elections to enfranchise more New Yorkers so more people actually vote, and
- the board of standards and appeals to ensure that the zoning laws keep our neighborhood a great place to live are only varied from under appropriate conditions with full Community Board support.
Our mandate will be to make our city’s operations more efficient at seamlessly serving you.
This City Council office belongs to the community and I am just its steward for the time being. That means that your hopes and needs will shape the actions that we take and the battles that we wage. I am confident we can make real progress on the important issues in our neighborhood because we’ll be working together.
Join me for “First Fridays” where we will meet monthly in-person to discuss what issues are important to you. The next one is on Friday, February 7 from 8AM to 10AM in our new District Office at 244 East 93rd Street, just off Second. It is in the old Weight Watchers, where we can help you with almost any problem other than a new diet. If getting to my office is too difficult you can call me at 212-860-1950 or we can bring our office to you with mobile hours in your closest community center.
You can visit BenKallos.com where we have over one hundred solutions for a better city that you can vote on, comment and improve upon, or suggest your own. We have our work cut out for us and will need your support to get it all done. Please consider leading or joining a policy committee on education, senior services, transportation, environment or propose your own.
I graduated from the Bronx High School of Science, and believe every child is entitled to the same world-class education. But we need more seats in schools and I was proud to see our community successfully push for a new middle school in Yorkville. That’s just the kind of collective action that we need. Together we can propose and implement innovative new solutions for new schools from incentivizing their inclusion in new construction to identifying new locations.
We know that pre-K helps children thrive – and we need to fund it universally so we don't deny any child that chance.
We have a generation of young people, who, for the first time, expect to be worse off than their parents. By developing innovative loan forgiveness programs for CUNY students who work and stay in New York, we can help our city’s economy thrive.
We can no longer isolate learning to the classroom alone. A truly holistic education includes vibrant afterschool and summer programs. It includes nutritious meals and essential medical care. Our schools can be hubs for services, so children with fewer opportunities get a fair chance in life.
My mother is a senior who lives in the district. I am committed to keeping senior centers open, protecting vital services like meal on wheels, and healthcare so that seniors and their caregivers can be healthy and independent.
We must protect and expand affordable housing. Those that made our neighborhood what it is today deserve to remain here to reap the rewards of their lifetimes of hard work. New construction, which is sure to come with the completion of the Second Avenue Subway, must include affordable housing for middle-class New Yorkers. If we do this right, even I will be able to afford to live here.
I am taking over this seat from Jessica Lappin, who did an incredible job for all of us. That means that there will be one less woman in the City Council. But I have joined the Women’s Issue Committee of the Council and will keep the equal rights of all New Yorkers at the top of my agenda.
Of course, we have some battles to take on. I am a member of Asphalt Green’s Triathlon Team and will continue to fight the Marine Transfer Station in Yorkville. As we speak I am working to build a broad city-wide coalition of Council Members and community leaders in opposition to any dump in a residential neighborhood. It won’t be easy, it won’t happen right away, and I will need your help: but together we can make real progress in defeating it.
A lot of this depends on you. In order to create real change, we need you to join us in partnership. We will have many opportunities in the months and years ahead for you to connect with us about what you are passionate about in the community, so please get involved. If we invest in each other – our time, energy and compassion – our government can work better for all of us. Please join me because together we can build a better city.