New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Press Coverage

Roosevelt Island, NY—Elected and school officials, students and Roosevelt Island community leaders joined together to cut the ribbon to officially announce the opening of a new green space on the roof at PS/IS 217.

Elected officials contributed up to $1.75 million to fund the project. $1 million in funding comes from Councilman Ben Kallos (D-5), who, when he first entered office, decided that voters in his district would decide how to spend up to $1 million in participatory budgeting each year.

 

UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — An Upper East Side school that is largely starved of outdoor space will soon have some on its own roof, thanks to millions pledged by local lawmakers — and voted on by neighbors.

Officials gathered Monday at the Yorkville Community School/P.S. 151, where work began during the pandemic on a $2.5 million outdoor play space on top of the building. It will be completed next year.

About half of the funding came from Councilmember Ben Kallos's office, including $500,000 that was chosen by Kallos's constituents in 2015 through his participatory budgeting process.

 

New York, NY—Outgoing Council Member Ben Kallos (D) is again allocating funds to his constituents in District 5. This time the recipients are the students of the East Side Middle School, who will benefit from a $1.4 million allocation to convert a section of a library into a “maker space” and a renovation of the basement area into an art studio.

$500,000 will go towards the maker space, which will feature a digital fabrication center, an art classroom and a computer lab, while $937,000 will pay for the basement-level art studio.

 

MANHATTAN – Thanksgiving is just days away and some Upper East Siders have another reason to be thankful, after Council Member Ben Kallos and the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center teamed up on Monday to give away hundreds of frozen turkeys to families-in-need and public housing residents in Yorkville.

“We’ve been giving out free turkeys for eight years since I first took office, and I’m so proud that this is our biggest year yet,” said Council Member Ben Kallos.

Joining Kallos for the turkey giveaway Monday afternoon was Council Member-elect Julie Menin, who will take his place representing the Upper East Side— as well as Stanley Isaacs Neighborhood Center Executive Director Gregory Morris.

The three, along with volunteers from the Neighborhood Center— which is located inside the New York City Housing Authority’s Isaac Houses and Holmes Towers developments on East 93rd Street— passed out five hundred turkeys to public housing residents and families.

 

“I am still reaching out to them asking them to come to the table,” Kallos told Community Board 8 on Wednesday night.

“It’s hard to stomach all this happening without the community being at the table. So please keep your hopes up. Please fight, fight, fight to the very end because you never know.”

“This really wasn’t about blood,” Kallos said. “Its all about this Longfellow commercial tower. The Longfellow commercial tower offers their tenants something called Elevate, which is curated experiences from yoga to Peletons ... to free flowing wine and beer. This was something that was particularly important for their experience because according to Longfellow ‘nobody goes to work to work anymore.’ And it seems like we were taking a lot of steps to make Longfellow happy in this process so they would give money to what is essentially a worthy nonprofit.”

“Eleven stories is 110 feet except in this project,” Kallos said. “Could they just lower their heights? Could they get rid of 37 feet of mechanical in the middle of the building? Could they go to having 20 foot floors and 18 foot floors to a more reasonable 14 feet?”

The Community Board also heard from a key figure in the deal, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who had dropped her opposition to the project when the Blood Center agreed to lower the height of the building.

She seemed almost apologetic for her reversal. “I do not know how the city council will vote,” she said.

“I couldn’t get the number down from 233 down to 210 or under 200. I tried. Many, many meetings. I was unable to do it. At that point I said ‘I can’t do anything else.’”

Which is, she said, when she and Council Member Keith Powers, who represents an adjacent district, decided to support the Blood Center project, but “not enthusiastically at all.”

 

City Councilman Ben Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side, has led the opposition. “The overall narrative everyone is giving is like, ‘Oh, this is all about NIMBY, this is about a nonprofit and this is about shadows,’” he said. “At the end of the day, this is about an 11-story tower that is somehow 233 feet tall that is a glorified office space for wealthy people.”

Mr. Kallos noted that the Blood Center, under current zoning, could construct a building on the site exceeding 200,000 square feet without additional city approval, more than the amount of space the center plans to occupy in the proposed tower.

 

A real estate developer who’s pushing for a controversial rezoning in partnership with the New York Blood Center would receive $100 million in additional benefits under a plan recently outlined by Mayor de Blasio’s administration.

De Blasio has come under fire in recent days for backing the rezoning because he owes $435,000 to a lobbying firm that represents the Blood Center, a nonprofit blood bank that’s partnering with Longfellow Real Estate Partners to expand its headquarters.

In a letter to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) dated Nov. 10, de Blasio’s director of legislative affairs, Paul Ochoa, makes clear that city’s Industrial Development Agency would provide $100 million in tax breaks to Longfellow under the development deal.

Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan), who represents the Upper East Side district where the rezoning is being proposed, said the benefit is just one more sop de Blasio is offering a well-connected developer.

Kallos said that “$100 million is a lot of money. It comes out to more than a billion in subsidies over decades, and I want to know how long it’s going to take for the city to get a return on our tax dollars because I don’t think we ever will.”

It’s far from the first time de Blasio has had to weather attacks from Kallos, who has suggested that the mayor’s debt to Blood Center lobbyist Kramer Levin Naftalis amounts to a bribe that could be having undue influence over the mayor in his support of the rezoning.

But Team de Blasio has countered that in January, the mayor made it a priority to make the Big Apple a center of life sciences, in large part as preparation to better face COVID and any future pandemics.

The Blood Center rezoning would accomplish that, according to de Blasio spokesman Mitch Schwartz.

“Months ago, the mayor invested $1 billion toward making New York City the life sciences capital of the world,” Schwartz said. “It’s the right way to rebuild our economy and prepare for public health challenges. And if major companies want to innovate and create jobs in the heart of our city, then we’ll vet their projects and work with them to identify appropriate incentives they qualify for.”

Schwartz also noted that Longfellow is entitled to the tax break and that such breaks exist to encourage agendas like the one outlined by de Blasio in January.

Rob Purvis, the Blood Center’s executive vice president and chief of staff, said the center and Longfellow are “aggressively pursuing funding opportunities to support” the project “through city programs for which it may be eligible including [city Economic Development Corp.) LifeSci funding and [Industrial Development Agency] benefits for development projects.”

“[New York Blood Center] and Longfellow are having positive conversations with the city, but no formal application or agreement has been made yet for city funding for this project,” he added.

 

Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan), who represents the Upper East Side district where the rezoning is being proposed, said the benefit is just one more sop de Blasio is offering a well-connected developer.

Kallos said that “$100 million is a lot of money. It comes out to more than a billion in subsidies over decades, and I want to know how long it’s going to take for the city to get a return on our tax dollars because I don’t think we ever will.”

 

The fight over the new Blood Center building was never about blood. It has been about two other issues: How high should the center’s for-profit partner Longfellow Development’s commercial offices tower over a residential neighborhood, and how should the City Council handle development deals in the years to come?

 

Mayor de Blasio and other elected officials would be required to disclose debt repayment plans under a newly drafted City Council bill that Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) is hoping to pass before the end of the year.

Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side, has criticized de Blasio in recent days for refusing to disclose his plan to repay about $435,000 in debt he owes to Kramer, Levin & Naftalis, a law firm that represents several clients with business before the city and which defended de Blasio against federal corruption charges going back to 2015.

 

UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — The Upper East Side's popular John Jay Park soon will have its sitting area transformed, thanks to a $650,000 project that broke ground on Wednesday.

The project is the first major renovation effort at the FDR Drive park since 2011.

Council Member Ben Kallos and parks officials said the sitting area project — which began planning in 2018 — will bring it up to the level of its playground, outdoor sports open area and New Deal-era swimming pool.

 

New York City Council member Ben Kallos (D), who represents the island and provided $70,000 in discretionary funding for the accessible elements of “The Girl Puzzle,” said he couldn’t wait to take his 3-year-old daughter to see the installation. It was his hope, he said, in the same way the “Fearless Girl” on Wall Street became a tourist attraction, that “The Girl Puzzle” could inspire the next generation.

“America is having a long-overdue look at systemic racism and systemic discrimination against women,” Kallos said. “And in that conversation, we are talking about our statues, our monuments, the way we remember history, and part of that is making sure that we start to recognize women for their part in history as well.”

 

Other lawmakers have seized on drag racing and noise to push other solutions: State Senator Brad Hoylman wants speed cameras to be on at night in areas with illegal street racing (his co-sponsored bill is called the, yes, FURIOUS Act) and Council Member Ben Kallos has proposed putting noise-detecting technology around the city to pinpoint offending vehicles.

 

Council Member Ben Kallos, a Manhattan Democrat, has been an evangelist for improving municipal digital services, particularly through open source software. “The fact that we're in the 21st century and so much of the government still requires a paper application is a problem,” he said in a phone interview.

Kallos, who is term-limited out of office at the end of this year, has repeatedly expressed frustration at the meager progress in civic technology solutions under the current administration. “Mayor de Blasio rolled out a lot of dashboards, but at the end of the day, 311 still doesn't work,” he said, pointing to a City Council oversight hearing on Tuesday on the NYPD’s apparent mishandling of 311 complaints. He was optimistic that an Adams administration could make major strides, and reiterated the expert consensus that the city needs an agile in-house team of software developers to create and consistently improve digital service platforms, rather than relying on major technology firms to deliver a finished product.

“If Eric approaches this with a Big Tech mindset, spending millions of dollars to launch something that is ready on day one with a big bang, then we're gonna have healthcare.gov all over again,” Kallos said, citing the Obama administration’s botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s enrollment portal. “We can do this inexpensively, we can do this scalably. And we can do it in-house so that we can keep making

 

PR firm BerlinRosen is also working for the Blood Center. The firm’s co-founder, Jonathan Rosen, has been one of the mayor’s closest advisers.

“It just seems weird to me that every time Kramer Levin is involved in a project, the mayor supports it, especially when he owes them so much money,” said City Councilman Ben Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side and is a leading opponent of the Blood Center plan.

 

“I do think there’d be as much pushback if it wasn’t a lab project,” New York Blood Center Executive Vice President and Chief of Staff Rob Purvis said. “Everyone against the project recognizes how important the lab aspect is. Opposition would be the same.”

But the way this development has been debated, and the issues it raises, make it a cautionary tale for life sciences developers, regardless of the outcome of an expected mid-November vote in front of the entire New York City Council.

“It’s been handled poorly the entire way,” Council Member Ben Kallos said of the proposal, which is in his district. “If [life sciences developers] want a lesson on what not to do and what malpractice looks like, this is it.”

The expanding demand for life sciences space, especially in dense urban markets like New York City, San Francisco and Boston, suggests there will be more instances where life sciences developers aggressively seek new opportunities and come into contact with community groups.

New York City is racing to add more lab space — the city has devoted $1B to help develop new facilities — to meet rising demand and counter perceptions that it’s punching below its weight.  

 

Council Member Ben Kallos has proposed legislation to make sure sheds stand for no more than 90 days. And de Blasio on Wednesday said the city's Department of Buildings is doing more to enforce existing time limits.

Yet still, many remain even on city property such as NYCHA buildings.

 

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — New York City has announced a plan to improve the appearance of New York City public housing buildings.

The $111 million project will tear down unsightly sheds and scaffolds and fix façades at 45 buildings in 15 NYCHA developments.

 

The bill would provide the laureate — to be named before Jan. 30 every year — with a stipend and “in-kind resources” to cover the costs of the duties associated, though no dollar amount is specified in the legislation.

“The drag laureate would serve to champion and highlight the contributions of the drag community in New York City’s business, arts and cultural spaces,” said Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Queens), the chief sponsor of the measure, which is also backed by Councilmen Carlos Menchaca (D-Brooklyn) and Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan).

 

Legal and staffing challenges have made it nearly impossible to enforce the 2010 law, leaving commercial operators of multiple short-term units able to continue skirting it. That’s where the bill, introduced by Councilman Ben Kallos, comes in. The bill requires hosts to register with the city and obtain a registration number before they can rent out their homes, and only short-term rentals that conform to city and state law are eligible: the unit must be the host’s primary residence, and the host must be present during the rental. Registration will make it more difficult for landlords and other scofflaw operators to maintain multiple listings that are not their primary residence.