UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — The New York City Council held its first-ever remote meeting using the videoconferencing service Zoom on Wednesday and an unlikely star emerged from the municipal proceeding — Upper East Side Councilmember Ben Kallos' cat.
The local lawmaker's furry friend, a gray short-haired feline named Pandora, was perched atop a shelf near Kallos for nearly the entire hours-long council meeting. Pandora received numerous pets, an Eskimo kiss and at one point in the meeting appeared to be holding hands with Kallos.
Reporters and New York residents tuning into the meeting praised Pandora on social media.
"Ben Kallos' cat wins the day!" one Twitter user posted.
Kallos revealed on Twitter that he adopted Pandora — originally named Tigger — more than one decade ago, putting that cat's age at nearly 20 years old. Pandora's adoption profile labeled her as "shy" and "independent" but Wednesday's meeting is proof that the feline has warmed up to the Upper East Side lawmaker over the years.
"Its been over a decade since I adopted Pandora (born "Tigger")," Kallos said in a Twitter post. "She had to make an appearance today for [Earth Day] and we finally get to vote together in the City Council."
In addition to showing off his cat, Kallos introduced a bill Wednesday that would prevent essential workers such as healthcare workers, delivery workers and first responders from being laid off without "just cause" during the coronavirus pandemic. The bill also covers workers who blow the whistle on unsafe work environments.
"No one should lose their job simply for asking for protective equipment during a pandemic. Our city's essential workers are heroes and deserve to be treated that way complete with job protections for putting their lives on the line," Kallos said in a statement.
The remote meeting gave New Yorkers a look into the homes of their local representatives, but some members played coy by using Zoom's "virtual background" feature to display images of the council's chambers. Uptown Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez opted to use a backdrop of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo passed an executive order in March allowing bodies such as the New York City Council to meet online. The state's open meetings laws generally require legislative bodies to adhere to an in-person meeting requirement. Bodies such as city agencies and community boards are also using the executive order to conduct remote meetings.
Some members of the City Council have voiced concerns over whether the remote meetings will leave the council vulnerable to future lawsuits, the New York Post reported. The remote meeting format does not allow members of the public to comment on legislation or the pending budget, which has nearly half-a-dozen council members worried about legal challenges, according to the report.