Ben Kallos is nothing if not a go-getter, in the most extreme sense of the word. On any given weekday, he’s awake, has gone for a run or swim and had three breakfast meetings—and three breakfasts, which he swears has made him lose, not gain, weight—before many aspiring politicians have had their morning coffee. Oh, and he doesn’t drink coffee.
This all seems as obvious a lifestyle to Kallos as his decision to run for Jessica Lappin’s seat in the City Council in 2013. He’s positioning himself as a young voice, a progressive choice, someone who has worked tirelessly, frenetically even, on so many civic issues it makes the résumés of some sitting council members seem paltry by comparison.
Kallos, a lifelong Upper East Sider, went to the Bronx High School of Science, where he distinguished himself by running a computer consulting firm at age 15. He went on to SUNY Albany, where he was heavily involved in student politics, and got his law degree from SUNY Buffalo Law School.
He has practiced corporate litigation at several firms, worked as former State Assembly Member Jonathan Bing’s chief of staff and with then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and former public advocate Mark Green. He now works with Bill Samuels on the New Roosevelt Initiative, a campaign dedicated to promoting reform-minded and ethics-driven candidates that successfully worked to oust disgraced State Sen. Pedro Espada Jr. from the legislature. They also work on the Effective New York campaign that promotes reforming Albany’s notorious dysfunction by amending the state constitution.
Reform is the name of Kallos’ game, and he sees solutions in everything, especially in the input of his potential constituents.
“The community is an amazing resource; everybody has such great ideas and government is so broken. We’ve been doing it the same way for same way for literally thousands of years,” he said during a recent interview.
He’s a big fan of the participatory budgeting experiments going on in four of the city’s districts and is always looking for ways to get more community feedback and keep people informed about their government. He serves as a public member of Community Board 8 and has created several free websites that connect people directly to transparent voter and legislative information.
On the ground level, Kallos works with many small businesses and he views his role helping them as part of a larger civic responsibility.
“As an attorney, I love to help make people’s dreams come true,” he said. “It’s about helping people grow their business, grow their dreams, because I’m not there to make a quick buck off a starting business; I’m there to help somebody grow a business, grow jobs in Manhattan, grow talent.”
Taking that long view is how Kallos sees the city fixing its education system as well as providing jobs. He supports public investment in educational alternatives for at-risk youth, such as providing grants for associate degree or vocational skills training for teens who aren’t succeeding on the traditional college-bound path.
“All of a sudden, we’ve taken someone who is going to be a drain on their economy, and with a minimal investment, gotten them a certificate they need to practice a vocation and maybe that’s a lifelong career,” Kallos said.
Kallos sees that kind of multi-tentacled, out-of-the-box approach to many problems, like addressing after-school programs for kids, childhood obesity and the affordability of healthy food for low-income populations by extending after-school hours in partnership with local food providers that also give kids food to take home to their families.
“At the end of the day, the question is: Do you want to invest in our futures or in something else?” he said. “We can always do better. It’s about continual improvement.”