As a current elected official seeking higher office, I am prohibited from sending mass mailings including digital newsletters to residents, even those subscribed to receive them every month, under the New York City Charter. This blackout period is mandated to begin 90 days ahead of the Democratic primary on June 22nd, 2021, starting on Wednesday, March 24, ending after the elections.
During this period of time, my government office will only be able to send correspondence specifically related to events, constituent service, the City budget, and health emergency-related announcements. You will still be able to contact my district office by phone at 212-860-1950, by email at BKallos@BenKallos.com, and on social media at @BenKallos on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Our full newsletter will still be available at BenKallos.com.
Happy Passover, Easter, and Ramadan! Last year, we began a new custom of concluding the Passover Seder singing "Next Year, in Person!" This year we continued the tradition with new hope as our city begins to recover and as more New Yorkers are vaccinated. Next week, vaccine eligibility will expand to residents aged 16 and older, which means every adult in New York will be able to get their vaccine.
After seven years of advocacy, we finally announced the expansion of 3-K for All citywide, including our neighborhood, and I couldn’t be happier! Please be sure to apply and remember that our success in fulfilling the need will depend on your partnership in securing more providers and identifying buildings with vacant space that would accommodate a new 3K or pre-kindergarten. As we seek to re-open permanently many families are complaining that the Department of Education's 2-case rule is keeping schools closed too often and I agree.
This month we ask asking you once again to vote online on how $1 million should be spent in the district as part of Participatory Budgeting. With municipal elections coming up on June 22nd, I don't think anyone should have to stand in line for hours like they did at Wagner, which is why I've introduced legislation to prevent the long lines we saw at the polls last year.
If you are a fan of Black Mirror, RoboCop, the Terminator, or love Isaac Asimov as much as I do, revelations of the NYPD's use of a robot dog prompted me to author legislation to ban killer robots.
Yours in service,
TABLE OF CONTENTS
VOTE ON $1 MILLION
AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND OVERDEVELOPMENT
As of Tuesday, March 30th, New Yorkers 30 years of age or older are eligible to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, according to the most recent mandate by the Governor. On April 6th, eligibility will fully expand to include New Yorkers who are 16 years or older.
Call the New York State COVID-19 Vaccination Hotline at 1-833-NYS-4-VAX (1-833-697-4829) to check if you are eligible and to make an appointment.
No matter where you get your vaccine, everyone must pre-register and make an appointment. Anyone wanting to get vaccinated will also have to complete a NYS-Covid-19 Vaccine Form. Locate your nearest vaccine site at vaccinefinder.nyc.gov/locations or TurboVax.info.
If you’re having trouble getting an appointment, contact my office at 212-860-1950 or ConstituentService@BenKallos.com.
We won a 3-K for All expansion to include our district along with the rest of the city after a seven-year fight. Last month, I joined Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter in announcing that 3-K for All will expand to the 16 remaining community school districts for the 2021-22 school year, extending the program to up to 16,500 three-year-olds across New York City. As I told Our Town:
“I’m going to spend the next six months, hopefully, working with parents, providers, and the real estate community to scale up as many seats as quickly as possible. I want as many of those seats to come to the Upper East Side as possible.”
The City says it will support approximately 40,000 3-K seats across all 32 community school districts by the fall and I intend to do everything in my power to hold them to their word and ensure that this promise comes to fruition in time for the fall semester. Just as we secured 900 new pre-kindergarten seats for Universal Pre-K, I will work with parents, providers, and real estate developers to build the seats we need for 3-K for All over the next six months.
But, we need your help:
- Co-op, condo, and building owners - Do you have a space with at least 1,000 square feet and on the first, second or basement level? If so, you may qualify to host a 3-K site and we can help match you with a provider.
- Child Care Providers - Are you a private or non-profit provider that is able to operate a new 3-K site? If so, we can work with you to become a 3-K site.
If you are interested in helping to open new 3-K sites in the district, email Education@benkallos.com
If you have a child born in 2018, please be sure to apply for 3-K by Friday, May 28, 2021. If you have any questions about 3-K in the district, email Education@BenKallos.com or visit schools.nyc.gov/enrollment/enroll-grade-by-grade/3k.
Thank you to Mayor Bill de Blasio for staying true to his word in making Universal Pre-Kindergarten, and now 3K for All, a reality by 2021. For more information, read the release, see coverage in Bloomberg, Our Town and Patch, or watch the announcement on YouTube.com.
One year after New York City schools closed in response to the outbreak of Covid-19, guaranteeing our schools reopen safely remains a top priority. As positivity rates in schools remain low and the city’s vaccine distribution continues strong at more than four million doses administered so far, many parents and caregivers have reached out to my office demanding that the Department of Education do away with its “two-case rule,” which forces schools to close for 10 days if two unrelated cases of COVID-19 are traced back to the school. With the Centers for Disease Control now recommending that, with universal masking, students can maintain a distance of at least three feet in the classroom, instead of six, calls to drop the policy and keep schools open have only been aided. As a parent myself, I completely understand and share these concerns. We cannot continue shutting down hundreds of schools each week, leaving parents scrambling for child care over and over again.
While the power to schedule a hearing to look into this current policy ultimately rests with the Speaker of the City Council and the Education Committee Chair, I will continue to amplify the calls of the parents and caregivers and advocate for ensuring our children’s safety through extensive testing and contact tracing rather than complete school shutdowns. Every day we waste, more schools face closures and students and families pay the price.
VOTE ON $1 MILLION
Participatory Budgeting (PB) is back for 2021. Council District 5 is proud to be one of only four districts in the City bringing PB back this year.
How would you spend one million dollars?
This year’s Participatory Budgeting cycle will be run entirely online and voting will begin on April 5th and end on April 14th.
Every resident age 11 and up, or in 6th grade and older, is eligible to vote.
Just like in years past, Participatory Budgeting will empower residents like you to decide how one million of your tax dollars will get spent in our community. The nine projects on the ballot this year include:
- $750,000 to purchase laptop carts for 10 District 5 schools
- $700,000 to purchase and install new play equipment at NYCHA Lexington Houses
- $500,000 for an expansion of the children's play areas in Rupert Park
- $450,000 to renovate, update and configure bathrooms at Talent Unlimited High School
- $300,000 to replace the existing wheelchair lift at the New York Public Library at 328 East 67th Street with an improved design for accessibility
- $285,000 to purchase and install public safety cameras to cover five high-traffic locations
- $250,000 to repair and finish the flooring, upgrade the lighting and replace all safety wall padding at P.S./I.S. 217 gym
- $250,000 to fund the purchase of telemetry machines at H+H Coler Hospital
- $187,000 to plant 50 new trees with guards on sidewalks throughout the district
Whether you’re passionate about education, improving housing conditions, or our parks, Participatory Budgeting allows you to cast a vote in support and make your voice heard.
Cast your Participatory Budgeting digital ballot at Peoplesbudgetnyc.decision21.org/new-york-city-peoples-budget-2021 by April 14th.
As you may have read in Wired, legislation I recently introduced with the support of Human Rights Watch would ban the weaponization of remote or autonomous robots that interact with the public in the City of New York.
After videos of the NYPD utilizing a robot dog in the Bronx went viral last month, New Yorkers have debated the merits of utilizing military technology to police neighborhoods and how groundbreaking robot technology will affect the lives of New Yorkers. That’s why Int. 2240 would expand the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology or POST Act, requiring the NYPD to be more transparent on its surveillance and technology tools.
Currently, there is no policy or transparency on the current and future capabilities of technology loaned to or procured by New York City law enforcement. The NYPD’s exploration of utilizing military technology and weaponry in New York neighborhoods demands statutory oversight to formally ban certain controversial technology with weaponized capabilities. For more information, read the release or see coverage in Wired, New York Post and the Daily Dot.
No one should have to wait in line for hours in the rain to vote, but that was exactly the case at Wagner Middle School in November. I’ve introduced a task force to bring every resource to the table and leave no stone unturned to find poll sites, whether it’s museums, cultural institutions or other institutions that don’t pay taxes. We need everyone to do their share to improve our democracy. For more information on this legislation, see coverage in the Gotham Gazette or read the release at BenKallos.com/press-release
First Friday Online
Friday, April 2nd, 8am–10am
First Friday remains one of my favorite parts of my job representing you as your Council Member. While my East 93rd Street office remains physically closed for everyone’s safety, we are still working remotely and remain here to help. Thank you to all the residents who participated in last month’s virtual First Friday.
You must RSVP by Thursday, April 1st to participate.
Video Conference: RSVP for your URL (create a free account at Zoom.us)
Teleconference: RSVP to receive the number and access code
Facebook Live: Skip the RSVP and watch the stream at Facebook.com/BenKallos/live
Questions must be submitted with RSVP or by email to Questions@benkallos.com
As TAPinto reported, I am proud to share that more than 15,000 face masks have been distributed through my office’s collaboration with the East 86th St. Association. Many thanks to Andrew Fine and our local volunteers for their hard work. We will continue to distribute disposable masks and hand sanitizer to ensure the safety and health of residents. Reach out to our partners to get yours now:
- Stanley Isaacs Neighborhood Center (RSVP) – Thursday, April 15, 11:15am–12:00pm, 415 East 93rd Street in the Courtyard
- East 79th Street Neighborhood Association – Please write to the neighborhood association at the address below and they will drop off the masks to your lobby: P.O. Box 20052, Cherokee Station New York, NY, 10021-10060
Please consider volunteering with us as a building captain so that friends and neighbors can pick up masks and hand sanitizer from outside your door, or hand them off to your door person to distribute, and let us know when you need more to be dropped off.
Drag Queen Story Hour
Tune in to our upcoming Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH) on Tuesday, April 6th at 4pm, hosted by 92Y and funded by my office. This virtual event will feature stories and songs for kids ages 3–8 and will remain available to watch online. Through storytelling and creativity, DQSH teaches children about gender diversity and all forms of difference to build empathy and give kids the confidence to express themselves however they feel comfortable. To view all upcoming DQSH events, visit www.dqshnyc.org
Drag Queen Story Hour
Tuesday, April 6, 4pm
AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND OVERDEVELOPMENT
As you may have seen on Fox 5, we continue working to ensure that construction of the Blood Center’s new building does not proceed without the consent of the community. In last month’s newsletter, we updated you that the Blood Center’s proposal for a 334-foot tall tower would include biosafety level 3 (BSL3) laboratories, which are considered high-containment research laboratories intended for the study of highly infectious pathogens. As a frame of reference, Covid-19 is considered BSL2 and in 2016, the City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) noted significant risks associated with these kinds of labs, including the potential for an accidental outbreak, which could severely harm residents in the surrounding area. This information, revealed after the public scoping session in January, raised new concerns about safety and the potential impact of this proposal on quality of life. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and my office have since reached out and are working to ensure that there is accuracy and transparency with the community in this planning process.
The Blood Center’s proposal initially came under fire from the community after an environmental impact assessment determined that the tower would directly impact sunlight in St. Catherine's Park. In December, Community Board 8 voted 16–1 to oppose the project and, as TAPinto reported, nearly a dozen residents joined me at my monthly First Friday meeting to express their concerns for the project. All of them supported the Blood Center increasing its height and density threefold within its existing footprint but had concerns about the impact that increasing the size of the project tenfold would have on the Park across the street.
I want to hear from you on whether you support, oppose, or have a suggestion to improve the proposal. Please share your position at BenKallos.com/petition/BloodCenter
Join Community Board 8 on Tuesday, April 27th at 6:30pm to hear the Blood Center report on the progress of the project since the last meeting in December.
For more information, see coverage by Fox 5 on YouTube.com
Last month, I joined hundreds of New Yorkers at a vigil in solidarity with the AAPI community to send a message that we will not tolerate violence, hate or discrimination in our city.
As New York City begins its recovery from the pandemic accountability and transparency in government are of the utmost importance. Elected officials must be accessible and able to prove to New Yorkers that they are focused and working diligently to bring New York City back better than ever before.
Despite our physical office having to be closed, we have continued to serve you by phone and online. Our monthly newsletter never stopped, First Friday moved to Zoom, and we even held a virtual State of the District to keep residents informed. Just as we have done every year since I have been in office, we continue to report to you with a comprehensive list detailing over 100 issues we have worked with residents and local leaders to win over the last seven and a half years and what we have still left to do.
As a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science and even before becoming a new father, education has always been a top priority. When the Mayor promised “universal pre-kindergarten” and didn’t give us any seats we worked together to add more than 1,000 seats. When we were surrounded by new construction with children turned away from schools and no new budget for school seats I wrote the law to force transparency and won funding for 824 new school seats. We've invested $6.5 million in STEM education, rebuilt our schools, and are building new gyms and green roofs for schools. We've helped schools open safely during the pandemic, and launched a new French dual language pre-kindergarten. We carried legislation that we passed into law for students to offer LGBT support in schools and parents to put GPS tracking on every school bus. With the digital divide exposed by the pandemic, we introduced legislation to guarantee every student a laptop with digital textbooks that aren’t racist and outdated and even proposed desegregating online learning. We won funding for Summer Youth Employment and are fighting for Universal Youth Jobs. We’ve renovated a century-old library where I first got my library card and even built a new library on Roosevelt Island. As a student who was too ashamed to stand on the poor lunch line, we moved breakfast after the bell, won free school lunch, and now I am fighting to end youth hunger by serving dinner as part of universal after school.
Our recovery must be driven by jobs for one-in-five New Yorkers who lost them during the pandemic and raising wages for others. That starts with a universal Internet guarantee built on having won affordable high-speed internet for low-income New Yorkers. We will be growing jobs right here at a new biotech incubator at Rockefeller University that we’ve been working on since my first day in office. We also cut the ribbon on a new half-billion-dollar campus expansion of Rockefeller University and the brand new Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island.
In one of the wealthiest cities on the planet in a country where we pay farmers not to farm, hunger isn’t a question of resources, it is a question of information, which is why I continue to push my legislation to make government benefits barrier-free with Automatic Benefits. We can offer retirement accounts to workers who don’t have them at no cost to employers with Retirement Security for All legislation that Trump can no longer block.
When the pandemic shut businesses down, we fought for and won outdoor dining. I am proud to have co-sponsored the law to make outdoor dining permanent and even offer funding to help businesses retrofit for improved ventilation and accessibility.
Parks are more important than ever as we seek refuge from tiny apartments that weren’t built for a pandemic. Working alongside Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney as Co-Chair of the East River Esplanade we have now secured $874 Million for a resilient waterfront. This is on top of a $3.3 million renovation of Carl Schurz Playground, $1 million for a new pool and basketball courts at John Jay Park, a $2.9 million expansion of Sutton Place Park, $1.4 million in security cameras for hard to patrol parks, and having a new conservancy for almost every park. We even opened indoor tennis for free or low-cost year-round.
Affordable Housing & Over Development
As a lifelong tenant, I know that even with thousands of vacant apartments, the affordable housing crisis persists. We were able to build or preserve 1,000 affordable housing units in the neighborhood with 6,000 citywide as a land-use subcommittee chair. We’ve also won three rent freezes for one million rent-regulated tenants. When a whistleblower shared that real estate developers were getting billions in tax breaks without offering the affordable housing they promised I wrote the law to get hundreds of thousands of affordable homes back on the market. You can see what’s available and apply at HousingConnect.nyc.gov.
We continue to fight overdevelopment that is displacing rent-regulated affordable housing and threatening our communities. We managed to stop the march of supertall buildings for billionaires into residential neighborhoods by winning the first of its kind rezoning. Following that momentum, we closed the mechanical voids loophole in residential districts as we seek to make the voids illegal in commercial districts that include Billionaire’s Row. Then we beat the Jetson’s tower on stilts. I also wrote the law to turn down the volume on after-hours construction noise. After having their proposal for a tower that is illegal to build next to a park rejected 4 times, the New York Blood Center is back again with a proposal to build 334-foot tall commercial tower that would leave the only playground in the East 60s in shadows for much of the day and you must make your voice heard.
In New York City there are more homeless children in our shelters than single men, together with their families they make two-thirds of our homeless. That’s why I co-founded the Eastside Task Force for Homeless Outreach and Services (ETHOS) getting faith-based organizations, nonprofits and City agencies together to build and support more services for the homeless in the neighborhood. Together we’ve opened supportive housing for women and children, a new supermarket style food pantry, and won a near-unanimous resolution in support from Community Board 8 to build a new Safe Haven, all within blocks of where I live and I couldn’t be prouder. With more vacant apartments than homeless families, I’ve proposed renting or buying vacant apartments to end homelessness for families.
Big money has had a stranglehold on politics leading to a corrupt government that has failed to serve the people, like saying it would do something about the affordable housing crisis while taking money from real estate developers. That’s why I think elected officials should follow my lead by refusing big money from real estate, corporations, and lobbyists and why I wrote the new full public matching campaign finance system that matches every small dollar you give with 8 public dollars so candidates can run the right way and win.
Our government was so corrupt when I started, that I had to write the laws to make it illegal for Council Members to earn outside income from people with business before them and to make the Speaker’s lulu slush fund used to buy Council Member loyalty illegal too. We amended the Charter not once, but twice, winning reforms at the ballot to pace the way on campaign finance along with term limits and urban planners for Community Boards, as well as limiting the revolving door for elected officials who become lobbyists. We even investigated the Rivington scandal.
We need to make it easier to vote. That’s why I authored laws to let you request your absentee ballot online and make sure it is counted which was finally implemented. I also wrote the law to let you register to vote online that was blocked by a corrupt Albany legislature.
You should know where your tax dollars are going which is why we’ve had participatory budgeting and why I wrote the law to put the budget online. I’ve even proposed $15 billion in fat to trim from the budget, savings we could use to fully fund nonprofits serving youth and seniors.
Public Health & Safety
When the Covid-19 pandemic started, the first thing we did was try and help our City and state secure hospital beds which were in huge demand early on. We succeeded and were able to open 550 new hospital beds in the district. We were also able to launch a supply clearinghouse, and we continue distributing masks, sanitizer, and food. Over the years we've focused on public health with laws to take on Legionnaires' disease and make happy meals healthy, and we've worked to connect New Yorkers with the benefits they need automatically. We wrote the law to create the Office of Food Policy as we fight to adopt good food purchasing.
Getting around our district has improved immensely over the last 7 and a half years. Thanks to the vigilance of Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney we finally opened the Second Avenue Subway. We also won new transit options including ferries, bike share, faster buses through Select Bus Service, and even renewed the tram. As part of Vision Zero, we invested in infrastructure to make our streets safer and launched a bike safety program that made it safer to be a pedestrian. We are now working to make the 59th Street bridge safe for pedestrians and cyclists to cross along with forcing the City to plow bike lanes and pedestrian intersections.
I believe in climate change and evidence-based governance. That's why I authored and passed a resolution making New York City the largest city on the planet to declare a climate emergency. The following year the Mayor adopted our ban on the sale of single-use plastic bottles in parks. Through Grow NYC we have funded Fresh Food Boxes and green markets, to offer locally sourced sustainable farm-fresh produce to thousands of residents in the district. I spent years fighting to expand composting, only to see it canceled by the Mayor, and I am committed to working with you to bring it back. We can reduce the carbon footprint of dirty buildings, build green energy infrastructure right here like Renewable Rikers and offshore wind for a recovery that puts climate first.
Quality of Life
Cleaning up doesn’t just mean corruption in government, it also applies to the neighborhood. We’re fighting hundreds of miles of scaffolding, some of it almost old enough to vote, with legislation to force repairs so it comes down quickly. We even put a new, covered trash can on every corner and are working with Wildcat to keep streets clean.
Every moment I get to work for you is a pleasure. I am so grateful for your support and partnership in accomplishing so very much. Please let me know what’s most important to you? Share your priorities at BenKallos.com/survey-2021