New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

City and State The Best & Worst New York City Lawmakers by Editorial Board

The Best & Worst New York City Lawmakers

Over the next two years, dozens of New York City Council members will be hitting the campaign trail. A number of them will try to keep their seats in 2021. Many more will reach the term limit of the office, and they may want to continue serving as an elected official elsewhere. Some are running this year for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives or for Queens borough president. Others are eyeing posts that will open up next year, like the rest of the borough president offices or the more powerful city positions of mayor or comptroller.

As voters consider their options leading up to the elections, what better way to evaluate these sitting lawmakers than to scrutinize their current records? That’s one reason why we’re bringing back our ranking of New York City Council members.

 

The criteria

We used five criteria to assess each member: the number of bills introduced, the number of bills signed into law, attendance, and responsiveness to questions from constituents and from the media. We selected these criteria because they are reasonable – and because they are measurable.

1

To determine how good each lawmaker is at lawmaking, we first tallied all of the bills signed into law last year. We then ranked each council member based on the number of new laws for which they were the prime sponsor, from most to least. We counted bill introductions but left out resolutions, which have little impact. We included any bills signed in 2019, regardless of when they were introduced. 

While bill signings signal effectiveness, we also wanted to reward effort – so we conducted the same analysis for bills introduced by lawmakers in 2019, regardless of where those measures ended up.

3

A prerequisite for any job is actually showing up, so our third measure is attendance. We counted all the meetings that each council member attended, including committee meetings, and how many he or she missed. While some absences were explained – for medical reasons, funerals or family leave – they were all included in our analysis.

4

Some council members would protest that there’s more to the job than showing up and passing laws – and they’d be right. Many of them pride themselves on providing stellar constituent services. While we can’t realistically stand outside every district office to survey local residents who swing by – or check to see if the offices are actually open – we took another approach. To assess responsiveness to constituents, we sent an anonymous email late last year to every office with a simple question: “Hi – do you have any information about how to be counted in the 2020 census? Thanks!” Some lawmakers responded within minutes, often with helpful information. We set a low bar, counting any response – even requests for an address for verification, or suggestions that we contact our congressman, or autoreplies with a phone number to call – as long as it came in within seven days. Still, fewer than half responded. 

5

Similarly, we came up with a test to see how quickly each member would respond to a press inquiry: a request to submit the officeholder’s latest headshot. We were lenient in grading this test too, with any reply at all within seven days qualifying as a response, even if we never got a photo. However, 19 members didn’t even write back.

The totals

Finally, we took the rankings for each measure and calculated an average score, weighting each factor equally. For example, if a single council member was theoretically No. 1 on all five measures, he or she would get a score of 1. The overall scores, ordered from lowest to highest, gave us our final ranking.

 

 

Some caveats

Unlike our 2017 rankings, we dropped the number of Google search results of each member’s name from this year’s analysis, in part because it leaves out online mentions in languages other than English – including Chinese and Spanish language media in immigrant-heavy districts. We also dropped Twitter followers as a measure, since it could penalize older lawmakers who are less adept with social media – and because less than a quarter of American adults even use Twitter.

We omitted Jumaane Williams, who only served a few months in 2019 before becoming public advocate, and we also left out his successor, Farah Louis, since she didn’t serve a full year either. 

By design, this list leaves out certain factors, such as the significance of legislation. Considerations such as whether a bill becomes a landmark law or makes a technical fix, or whether it’s widely acclaimed or highly controversial, would inject subjective judgments into the analysis. Critics of a libertarian bent might argue that more legislation is not better. While it’s a fair point, the productiveness of a lawmaker still tells us something useful about their proactiveness. We also declined to draw a line on various types of absences, to avoid judging which ones are acceptable and which ones aren’t. City Councilman Alan Maisel missed 21 meetings for medical reasons, for example, while City Councilman Stephen Levin missed 44 days on paternity leave – although neither one landed at the bottom of our list. 

One troubling result that can’t be ignored is that four of the five worst lawmakers are racial minorities, while all five of the best lawmakers are white. This is a worrisome outcome. We reflected on how to eliminate any potential sources of bias – which is partly why we removed Google results and Twitter followers. After thinking long and hard, we felt that the criteria are still the best available. Public servants who are paid by taxpayers ought to show up, listen to their constituents, identify issues that should be addressed, craft policy responses, and be transparent with the press.

Here are the complete rankings. And for those who want more details, here’s our methodology.

  1. Helen Rosenthal
  2. Robert Holden
  3. Corey Johnson
  4. Mark Treyger
  5. Daniel Dromm
  6. Ben Kallos
  7. Keith Powers
  8. Mark Levine
  9. Steven Matteo
  10. Chaim Deutsch
  11. Antonio Reynoso
  12. Joe Borelli
  13. Alicka Ampry-Samuel
  14. Peter Koo
  15. Donovan Richards
  16. Robert Cornegy
  17. Adrienne Adams
  18. Carlina Rivera
  19. Diana Ayala
  20. Justin Brannan
  21. Margaret Chin
  22. Costa Constantinides
  23. Barry Grodenchik
  24. Stephen Levin
  25. Ydanis Rodriguez
  26. Rafael Salamanca
  27. Paul Vallone
  28. Fernando Cabrera
  29. Ritchie Torres
  30. Brad Lander
  31. Karen Koslowitz
  32. Laurie Cumbo
  33. Andrew Cohen
  34. Francisco Moya
  35. Rafael Espinal
  36. Vanessa Gibson
  37. Mathieu Eugene
  38. Jimmy Van Bramer
  39. Rory Lancman
  40. Carlos Menchaca
  41. Kalman Yeger
  42. Deborah Rose
  43. Eric Ulrich
  44. Alan Maisel
  45. I. Daneek Miller
  46. Inez Barron
  47. Mark Gjonaj
  48. Ruben Diaz Sr.
  49. Andy King
  50. Bill Perkins

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