New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Press Coverage

The NYPD needs to “rethink” its new “Digidog,” Mayor de Blasio said Wednesday — a day after a clip of the robotic dog in action went viral and sent tongues wagging.

Hizzoner hesitated when he was questioned about the video, which been viewed more than 8 million times and left some to compare the programmable pooch to an episode of “Black Mirror.”

“I haven’t seen it, but I certainly share the concern that if in any way it’s unsettling to people, we should rethink the equation,” de Blasio said at his daily press briefing. “I don’t know what is being done to test it — I’ll certainly talk to the commissioner about it. I don’t want people to feel that something is happening that they don’t know about. So we’ll work that out.”

The clip showed the “Digidog” casually strolling out of a housing project in Manhattan following the arrest of Luis Gonzales, 41, an NYPD rep said Tuesday.

Cops arrived to the scene to find Gonzales sequestered inside an apartment with a mother and baby, who exited unharmed, the NYPD said. Gonzales was apprehended after about two hours of negotiations.

 

The city should boost its free supper program for students, says Manhattan Councilman Ben Kallos.

The push would build off of existing programs providing free breakfast and lunch at city schools.

Kallos, a Democrat, says if the city expands after-school programs, it will be able to tap federal funds for late-day meals.

“We’re leaving tens of millions of dollars on the table,” Kallos told the Daily News. “We could guarantee every child three square meals a day and end youth hunger as we know it.

“We should have community schools where the schools are there from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. while parents are at work,” he added.

The Education Department already offers supper at after-school programs, but at a far lower rate than free breakfast and lunch. In fiscal year 2019, the latest year for which the department had data, an average of 58,128 suppers were given out per day. That compared with 218,153 free breakfasts before the bell per day and 603,244 daily free lunches.

The Daily News political team supplies the essential news and analysis on the critical 2021 elections in New York City that will define the city’s future after coronavirus. Sent to your inbox every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

 

Taking a walk along Third Avenue in the 80s and 90s near his home, City Councilman Ben Kallos points to one empty storefront after another and recalls some of his favorite Upper East Side shops and restaurants.

“This was an amazing steakhouse,” said the Manhattan native, referring to a place on the west side of the avenue. Across the street was a Modell’s Sporting Goods; he also sees a former taco place and a storefront with a red awning that used to be Pesce Pasta. “It was a great place for an Italian lunch and it's been vacant for a number of years,” he said.

Empty storefronts were a blight on the city long before the coronavirus pandemic forced so many restaurants and other businesses to close. Now, with thousands more businesses shuttered for good, including big chains, Kallos has introduced new legislation aimed at pressuring anonymous building owners to accept new tenants by naming them. His bill would also enable the city to collect tens of millions of dollars in unpaid fines.

 

The NYPD's robot dog is once again stirring privacy concerns and cyberpunk prophesies of some New Yorkers, after the four-legged machine was spotted inside of a Manhattan public housing complex on Monday.

A video shared on Twitter shows the robot trotting out of a building on East 28th Street in front of two NYPD officers, then slowly descending the stairs as bystanders look on in shock. "I've never seen nothing like this before in my life," one woman can be heard saying.

The remote-controlled bot was made by Boston Dynamics, a robotics company famous for its viral videos of machines dancing and running with human-like dexterity. (Versions of "Spot," as the mechanical dog is known, can open doors, and are strong enough to help tow an 18-wheeler.)

Since October, the NYPD has dispatched the robot to a handful of crime scenes and hostage situations, raising fears of unwanted surveillance and questions about the department's use of public dollars. The mobile dog, which comes equipped with automated sensors, lights, and cameras capable of collecting "limitless data," is sold at a starting price of $74,000.

A spokesperson for the NYPD said the robot dog was on standby, but not used, during a domestic dispute at East 28th Street on Monday afternoon. After a man allegedly barricaded himself inside a room with a mother and her baby, officers showed up and convinced him to let them exit. The man was arrested for weapons possession, police said.

 

City Councilmember Ben Kallos, Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright and U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney spoke Tuesday outside Eleanor Roosevelt High School.

City Councilmember Ben Kallos, Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright and U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney spoke Tuesday outside Eleanor Roosevelt High School. (Office of City Councilmember Ben Kallos)

UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — A cohort of Upper East Side politicians and educators celebrated the billions of dollars heading to New York City as part of the federal stimulus package, highlighting the funding for schools in a news conference Tuesday.

The $1.9-trillion American Rescue Plan includes $5.2 billion for 3-K, pre-K and other education funding for New York, according to U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who spoke Tuesday morning outside Eleanor Roosevelt High School.

Maloney said the funding would help schools safely reopen during the pandemic and fund universal 3-K across the city's school districts

 

Ben Kallos attends a ribbon-cutting on the East River Esplanade in April 2019. Voting for this year's participatory budgeting projects opens April 5.

Ben Kallos attends a ribbon-cutting on the East River Esplanade in April 2019. Voting for this year's participatory budgeting projects opens April 5. (Jeffrey WZ Reed/New York City Council)

UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — For the eighth straight year, residents of the Upper East Side can vote to decide how $1 million of their City Council member's budget should be spent.

Nine different projects are in the running for this year's round of participatory budgeting in District 5, represented by Ben Kallos and covering the eastern stretch of the Upper East Side as well as Roosevelt Island.

Kallos has made about $1 million available for neighborhood projects — one of just four Council members who set aside money this year for participatory budgeting. (Plans for a citywide program have been delayed due to the pandemic.)

 

Online voting will run from April 5 to April 14. (More information below on how to vote.)

Here are the District 5 projects on the ballot for participatory budgeting this year:

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  • $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

 

When Mayor Bill de Blasio launched his free universal pre-Kindergarten program in 2014, the Upper East Side was only allotted 100 seats. It was a blow to parents in the neighborhood, where need greatly outsized availability. In the intervening years, the number of pre-K slots steadily grew to universal access, with about 70,000 four-year-olds currently enrolled across New York City.

This week the de Blasio administration announced the city is using federal stimulus funds to expand its free universal 3K program to every school district in the city – amounting to an additional 16,500 seats and 40,000 seats total – by this fall, and UES City Council Member Ben Kallos said he is already doing everything he can to ensure his district gets its fair share of those spots this time around.

“We’ve already gotten all hands on deck in my office to reach out to every provider that currently offers pre-K and every school that currently offers pre-K to find out how many additional seats they can accommodate,” Kallos, who is term-limited and running for Manhattan Borough President, told Our Town. Seats in the 3K program come from city-funded private daycare providers, DOE preschools, Head Start classes and home-based childcare programs.

Kallos said he’s contacting co-op boards looking for empty storefronts and keeping tabs on empty Duane Reeds for the city to potentially buy and convert to facilities for the 3K program.

“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,” said Kallos. “I want as many of those seats to come to the Upper East Side as possible.”

 

As NYC slowly recovers from the pandemic, a coalition of over 80 advocacy groups and nonprofit organizations recently laid out a plan to transform public space in the five boroughs.

Spearheaded by Transportation Alternatives, the coalition released NYC 25x25, which calls on the next mayoral administration to allocate 25 percent of the street space by 2025 into pedestrian space.

If adopted, this policy could hypothetically create:

· 500 lane miles of new protected bus-only lanes, so every New Yorker lives within a quarter mile of a protected bus lane

· 1,000 lane miles of permanent Open Streets

· 780,000 spaces for car-share parking and paid parking spaces (converted from free parking) with the potential to generate, by the most conservative estimate, at least one billion dollars annually

· 19.4 million square feet of bike parking spaces, including racks, secure bike parking, bike share and other micromobility uses, so that Citi Bike access can stretch citywide and nearly every New York City block will host bike parking

· “Universal daylighting” — removing car parking directly adjacent to an intersection in order to increase visibility and decrease the likelihood of a crash — at every one of New York City’s 39,000 intersections

· A one-block-long car-free multi-use space for play, student drop-off and pick-up and outdoor learning outside each of New York City’s 1,700 public schools

· At least one 80-foot-long zone on every block for deliveries, e-cargo bikes, for-hire-vehicle and taxi passenger drop-off, and trash collection, so trash bags are off the sidewalk.

One supporter of this plan is Councilman Ben Kallos. The lawmaker, who is running for borough president, is one of the few elected officials who does not own a car and commutes on his bike.

“I’m about making the city livable and walkable and all about public transportation,” he told Our Town.

Positive Feedback

According to Kallos, only 20 percent of NYC residents own cars, so he questions why the public space is geared towards them. He noted when the Open Streets Program launched last year due to the pandemic, his office was flooded with positive feedback.

Kallos recalled this was one of the first times he has seen parking spots taken away without a fight.

However, he understands that for those who do have a vehicle, parking is limited. Kallos hopes that in the future the council will examine mandating that new construction have parking garages. Prior to the 1980s, they were required with new buildings, but legislation deemed it an accessory.

 

Positive Feedback

According to Kallos, only 20 percent of NYC residents own cars, so he questions why the public space is geared towards them. He noted when the Open Streets Program launched last year due to the pandemic, his office was flooded with positive feedback.

Kallos recalled this was one of the first times he has seen parking spots taken away without a fight.

However, he understands that for those who do have a vehicle, parking is limited. Kallos hopes that in the future the council will examine mandating that new construction have parking garages. Prior to the 1980s, they were required with new buildings, but legislation deemed it an accessory.

“Having a car is a luxury more than anything else,” he said.

 

The service is worth about $10,000 to the average family, according to new Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter. The stimulus-relief package made the expansion possible, according to the mayor.

“That’s quite a legacy that will be felt by countless families,” said Ben Kallos, a Democratic councilman representing Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where he said preschool spots typically cost $30,000 a year.

 

A cavalcade of City Council members who've long pushed for universal 3-K joined de Blasio and Porter. Council Member Ben Kallos noted he has a 3-year-old daughter himself and said his family will be applying for the program.

"Mayor de Blasio, I've been asking for this for so many years, what will we talk about?" Kallos said.

De Blasio said the ultimate goal for the program is about 60,000 slots for children.

 

 

The NYPD has not disclosed the cost of each “Digidog,” Kallos said.

“People are already concerned about militarizing police, and this is stopping them before they get any further,” he said.

“We passed a bill back in the city council that they were supposed to disclose that they were using these robots, and they didn’t. So who knows what’s in store?”

He is also exploring ways to limit NYPD use of aerial drones, which are regulated on the federal level.

“Whether it’s robots or drones, we need to move away from overpolicing communities and get back to the basics of investing in people and giving people the resources they need,” Kallos said.

 

Kallos' bill would make it so that any kind of autonomous robot used by police—like robot police dogs or drones—that interacts with the public in the future doesn't have weaponry attached to it, his office said in a statement.

In the statement, Kallos said he wanted to make sure the city didn't feel "like a Black Mirror episode."

"The technology to arm robots already exists and in order to prevent anything like that from happening we have to act now, before the technology gets ahead of the laws," Kallos said.

As Wired notes, Boston Dynamics prohibits attaching weapons as part of the company's terms of service. But the potential for arming robot police dogs is not farfetched.

 

“I’m concerned that a democracy is turning domestic police into a militarized zone,” she says.

This increasing militarization is part of why Kallos, the New York councilmember, wants to “avoid investing in an ever escalating arms race when these dollars could be better spent” elsewhere.

Lin, the Cal Poly professor, worries that many police officers do not live in the communities they patrol, and remote policing could worsen an “us-versus-them” divide. The Digidog would not be banned under Kallos' bill, but Lin says military drones offer a cautionary tale. They too began strictly as reconnaissance devices before being weaponized.

 

Nurses and advocates chanted, “Never again!” during Tuesday’s rally, where were joined by elected officials such as Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, City Council Member Carlina Rivera, and City Council Member Ben Kallos, among others. 

According to the NYSNA, at Mount Sinai’s main campus and Sinai West, workers are continuing to report chronic short staffing and a lack of supplies, with managers rationing PPE. They also stated that NewYork-Presbyterian has increased bed capacity within the Critical Care Units, Step Down and Med Surg units to handle any increase in COVID-19 patients as well as continuing lucrative elective procedures.

 

City Council Member Ben Kallos, a Manhattan Democrat, is introducing legislation to create a temporary poll-site task force that would examine measures to improve access to poll sites and to make them more efficient. The task force would be charged with studying the functioning of poll sites in the 2020 elections, the cost of running them, and the possible effects on the health of voters, and would recommend locations and the number of sites for future elections. 

“I hate task force bills and I think that they're mostly useless, but this is the one time I think it's the only path forward,” Kallos said in a phone interview, reluctantly acknowledging that the Board of Elections is not really under the jurisdiction of city law despite the fact that it is funded in large part through the city budget.

 

Manhattan’s 10 City Council members are keeping it 100 when it comes to protecting the environment, according to the New York League of Conservation Voters (NYLCV).

The Manhattan delegation at City Hall scored 100% on the NYLCV’s annual City Council Scorecard for 2020, as the 10 members actively supported a dozen eco-friendly bills presented last year. It’s the first time in the scorecard’s history that an entire borough’s City Council delegation had a perfect rating, the NYLCV reported.

The grades were primarily based on the legislators’ support or opposition to a slate of 12 environmental bills before the City Council in 2020. The legislation included topics such as transforming Rikers Island from a jail to a green energy hub; boosting rent regulation; phasing out diesel school buses; banning plastic straws; permitting e-bike and e-scooter usage; and creating more organic waste drop-off sites and recycling programs.

 

Virus rates on the Upper East Side have been far lower than in many neighborhoods, and the neighborhood has led Manhattan in vaccination rates since the rollout began.

But COVID-19 has devastated Black and Latino communities, who make up the vast majority of New York's public housing residents, including at the Isaacs Houses and Holmes Towers.

"When we start to focus in on areas like where we are standing here ... we have a very different story," City Councilmember Ben Kallos said.

 

“There is advertising everywhere, and it’s a bit of sensory overload,” said Ben Kallos, a City Council member who represents Manhattan’s East Side. Mr. Kallos said LinkNYC, the network of 1,800 sidewalk kiosks around the city providing free Wi-Fi as well as block after block of eye-level digital content, “is pushing the boundary” when it comes to “the amount of advertising people are willing to take.”

That said, for all its complexity and clutter, New York’s visual environment is carefully calibrated by zoning codes and the desire of advertisers not to trigger associations with images such as the “Blade Runner” signature motif of a geisha’s face beaming down from a hovering blimp, let alone the monolithic Big Brother figure in Apple’s infamous “1984” commercial (also directed by Mr. Scott).

 

17. Ben Kallos

Chair, New York City Council Committee on Contracts

Ben Kallos 

Ben Kallos ( Jeff Reed for the New York City Council )

New York City Council Member Ben Kallos has put a spotlight on the challenges nonprofits face as chair of the Council’s Committee on Contracts. One of his priorities this past year has been pushing the city to restore funding to its Indirect Cost Rate initiative, which aimed to help human services organizations cover administrative and overhead costs. The Upper East Side elected official is now running to serve as Manhattan borough president.