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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Helen Rosenthal
- Robert Holden
- Corey Johnson
- Mark Treyger
- Daniel Dromm
- Ben Kallos
- Keith Powers
- Mark Levine
- Steven Matteo
- Chaim Deutsch
- Antonio Reynoso
- Joe Borelli
- Alicka Ampry-Samuel
- Peter Koo
- Donovan Richards
- Robert Cornegy
- Adrienne Adams
- Carlina Rivera
- Diana Ayala
- Justin Brannan
- Margaret Chin
- Costa Constantinides
- Barry Grodenchik
- Stephen Levin
- Ydanis Rodriguez
- Rafael Salamanca
- Paul Vallone
- Fernando Cabrera
- Ritchie Torres
- Brad Lander
- Karen Koslowitz
- Laurie Cumbo
- Andrew Cohen
- Francisco Moya
- Rafael Espinal
- Vanessa Gibson
- Mathieu Eugene
- Jimmy Van Bramer
- Rory Lancman
- Carlos Menchaca
- Kalman Yeger
- Deborah Rose
- Eric Ulrich
- Alan Maisel
- I. Daneek Miller
- Inez Barron
- Mark Gjonaj
- Ruben Diaz Sr.
- Andy King
- Bill Perkins
The bills, authored by Rose, Education Committee Chair Mark Treyger and Council Member Ben Kallos, would help counter the reality of parents working longer hours and spending more time away from the house. A recent study from WalletHub concluded that the average New York City employee works 40.3 hours per week, which is the longest average work week of the 116 cities reviewed by the personal finance site.
“After-school programs provide vital learning, enrichment and personal growth opportunities for students. Expanding after-school programming to all K-12 students who wish to enroll will keep our children safe, encourage academic achievement and inspire participation in extracurricular activities,” stated Treyger, mentioning that the bills would “support students to excel beyond the classroom and deliver kinesthetic learning all year round.”
A universal after-school program would provide academic enrichment and recreational activities for kids, according to lawmakers. Students at McKinley Intermediate School learn coding during school hours under a special program.
BOROUGHWIDE — New York City has universal pre-kindergarten classes. Next up: universal after-school.
A proposal by a trio of city councilmembers, including Brooklyn’s Mark Treyger, to have universal after-school programs in all schools has won praise from organizations that work with young people.
“After-school programs provide our students an outlet to experience non-traditional and non-academic learning opportunities. After a long day of academics, students have the opportunity to learn something a different skill and craft such as our Guitar Ensemble that schools may not be able to provide during the day school hours,” said Jahzeel Montes, executive director of Internal Creations, Inc., an organization that teaches kids how to play classical guitar.
Department of Buildings officials pledged to hold building-owners "feet to the fire" after designer Erica Tishman was killed by a falling chunk of debris in Times Square last month.
Councilman Ben Kallos praised the department's actions but warned against reliance on scaffolding.
"Ultimately the solution isn't just to put sidewalk sheds everywhere," Kallos said. "We need to get to a place where folks are actually doing the work to maintain their buildings."
MANHATTAN — City Councilman Ben Kallos is fighting for legislation that would create universal, free, after-school activities for all New York City public school students.
"After-school activities are literally thousands of dollars a year and that's just money most families don't have," Kallos told PIX11 News inside City Hall Tuesday.
"New Yorkers are working longer than anyone else in the country, and that is leaving kids
Councilmember Ben Kallos authored two bills that require the city to meet all after school slot requests for public school students.
An Upper East Side lawmaker authored two bills that would require the city to fill all requested after school slots. (Shutterstock)
UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — An Upper East Side representative in New York's city council is helping lead the push for universal after school programs by authoring bills that would require the city to offer programming for nearly 600,000 students who want after school but are kept on a waiting list.
Under legislation authored by City Councilman Ben Kallos awith Staten Island's Debi Rose and Brooklyn's Mark Treyger, all public school students between the ages of three and 21 would be guaranteed space in a program through a Universal After School initiative. The bill requires city education officials to keep an annual report on the availability and need of after school slots as well as costs of the program.
The lawmakers are also pushing a bill that mandates annual reporting on funding, applications and demographics of after school programs at city schools. Both bills were discussed Tuesday during a public hearing at City Hall.
“Universal access to after school will increase and equalize educational opportunities, keep kids out of the criminal justice system, and make life easier for parents whose jobs keep them at work until at least 5 p.m.,” said Councilmember Ben Kallos, at an oversight hearing on after-school legislation on Tuesday. The Upper East side pol sponsored a bill in 2018 requiring that the city provide free after-school programs to every public school student between the ages of three through 21.
Kallos was joined by other members of the Youth Services committee including Councilmember Treyger who touched on his own after-school legislation proposed in 2018. Treyger’s bill would require annual reports by the Department of Education and DYCD on the demographics of the students at each after-school program including whether the student has special needs or is an English language learner. The report would also require that the agencies note the eligibility criteria for each program and the amount and source for program funding.
“I want to wake up in a city where all public students have universal after-school,” said City Councilman Ben Kallos (D–Manhattan), the sponsor of a 2018 bill that would require the city to offer free after-school to any public school student ages 3-21 who requests it.
“Universal access to after-school will increase and equalize educational opportunities, keep kids out of the criminal justice system, and make life easier for parents whose jobs keep them at work until at least 5 p.m., if not longer,” Kallos said.
Bike Safety Improves On UES Amid Deadly Year For City, Pols Say
The number of cyclist deaths in New York City rose sharply in 2019, but safety improvements on the Upper East Side are working.
Jan 3, 2020 3:32 pm ET
Bike safety on the Upper East Side has improved in recent years due to new bike lanes and education programs. (David Allen/Patch)
UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — Bike safety measures taken on the Upper East Side in recent years have reduced the number of cyclists hurt and killed in collisions in the neighborhood despite an uptick in cyclist deaths in 2019, local elected officials announced this week.
Additional protected bike lanes, increased enforcement against cyclists violating traffic rules and new bike safety education programs have shows success in keeping both cyclists and pedestrians safe in the neighborhood, City Councilmembers Ben Kallos and Keith Powers said in a joint statement.
"Our first priority is to keep pedestrians and cyclists safe from cars, and we've made great strides doing so on the Upper East Side," said Council Member Ben Kallos. "Particularly older residents are also afraid of getting hurt in a collision with bikes that disobey the rules every day. Whether it is 'near misses' from a failure to yield to pedestrians, or reports of cyclists who run red lights, go the wrong way, or ride on sidewalks, everyone must know the rules of the road in order to share it safely.
Locals may be surprised that a soup kitchen is opening on the Upper East Side — generally considered one of Manhattan's more affluent neighborhoods — but food insecurity can afflict people in any area, City Councilmember Ben Kallos said.
"No community, including the Upper East Side, is immune to the sad reality of families facing hunger during this holiday season," Kallos said in a statement. "As a City, we must prepare for looming federal cuts to SNAP benefits and bolster outreach to the homeless whenever and wherever possible."
People interested in volunteering at the new soup kitchen can reach out to Bronx Parent Housing Network by emailing
UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — Nearly 200 additional K-8 public school seats are being allocated to the Upper East Side as a result of a 2018 law that changed the way the city determined the need for seats, local City Councilman Ben Kallos announced Thursday.
The School Construction Authority is now planning to build 824 new K-8 seats on the Upper East Side by 2024, a spokesman for Kallos said. In last year's SCA proposed five-year master plan, the city agency allocated just 640 seats to the neighborhood. The amendment represents a gain of 184 seats for the neighborhood.
Kallos attributes the additional Upper East Side seats to a law he authored and passed in 2018 that requires the SCA to disclose the methods and formulas it uses to decide where and when to build new schools.
This year, 153 homeless people were honored, and each name was read aloud as a bell tolled and a candle was lit. Several elected officials spoke, including City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi and City Council Member Ben Kallos.
A eulogy was also given for the four Chinatown victims who were beaten to death one night in early October. There were six other eulogies given at the event, and 15 people read the names of all those who had died in 2019.
A Brooklyn-based nonprofit has racked up nearly 300 open violations at five different homeless shelters across the borough — and it runs all five of the “cluster sites” with the most violations in Brooklyn, according to the most recent city-released statistics.
Core Services Group Inc. operates 40 “emergency or transitional housing settings,” providing “critical services” to at least 3,000 people, according to the organization’s website. The nonprofit runs at least 20 shelters and cluster sites in New York City and provides at least 800 beds of emergency, transitional and shelter-based housing, according to the city. It also operates shelters in Washington D.C.
Cluster sites are temporary apartments that house people experiencing homelessness in privately owned buildings. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced first in 2016 that he planned on getting rid of cluster sites as one of the options the city uses to house the homeless by 2019, partially due to the “bad conditions” of many of the sites. At the time there were 3,000 units of cluster site housing.
News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond
“That number of violations in units is not acceptable,” said Councilmember Stephen Levin, who chairs the Committee on General Welfare, on Monday.
The City Council held an oversight hearing on Monday regarding the Department of Homeless Services and its contracts with nonprofit groups running some of the city’s shelters.
“In Brooklyn, it appears Core Services Group is running cluster sites that typically have more violations than shelters. Today, [the Department of Homeless Services] reiterated that these cluster sites will be phased out over the next two years at which point we hope to see fewer violations,” Councilmember Ben Kallos told the Brooklyn Eagle at the hearing. “DHS and the city need to stay on top of these providers making sure violations are handled and that conditions are suitable for New Yorkers.”
There were nearly 49,000 people staying in the city’s shelter system as of Sunday.
Molly Park, the first deputy commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services, said at the hearing that the city plans on closing all cluster sites by 2021.
Core Services Group does not operate the cluster sites with the most open violations in the city — the 12 sites with the most violations are all in the Bronx, including one site, run by nonprofit group Aguila, that has racked up a whopping 197 open violations.
Core Services Group also operates homeless shelters in the city — and is slated to operate the shelter in Queens that has elicited anti-homeless rhetoric in the borough. It also operates a shelter in Washington Heights where a man’s decaying body was found weeks after his death.
Kallos, who chairs the Committee on Contracts, asked DHS brass Monday if the city is stuck with vendors who struggle to run sites without violations.
“Why do certain providers who consistently have violations … still see DHS continue to award or renew contracts? For example, Acacia currently has 1,184 open violations. Are we as a city stuck with specific vendors?” he asked. (Acacia Network Housing Inc., a Bronx-based nonprofit, is currently being probed by the Department of Investigation, according to the Wall Street Journal.)
Park responded that most open violations occur in cluster sites and not in other types of homeless shelters, like commercial hotels where the city houses people experiencing homelessness.
While DHS plans on closing down all the cluster sites by 2021, Kallos hopes the city will focus on first shutting down the sites run by providers like Core Services Group with high numbers of open violations.
Core Services Group declined to comment and referred all questions about the cluster sites they operate back to DHS.
DHS did not immediately respond to requests for comment on how much money the city contracts to Core Services Group.
Concerns about the inspection process of the city's building facades heightened after Erica Tishman, a 60-year-old architect, was killed last Tuesday while walking in front of an office building on 7th Avenue. In April, The property owner, Himmel + Meringoff Properties, was cited by the DOB for failing to property maintain its terra cotta facade. Poorly maintained terra cotta facades have a history of causing fatal accidents in New York City. Over the years, the DOB has noted that the weaknesses of the material can be difficult to spot and require an up-close examination. Preservationists have maintained that most property owners fail to do sufficient upkeep of terra cotta.
Adams and Brannan, who held a press conference on Sunday on the steps of City Hall, argued that drones can be a cost-effective solution for property owners and the city. To date, Councilmember Robert Cornegy and Ben Kallos have pledged to sign on as co-sponsors of the bill.
There are several officials and institutions that have the ability to do something about this growing contract scandal: Comptroller Stringer; Public Advocate Jumaane Williams; Speaker Johnson; the City Department of Investigation; City Council Member Ben Kallos, who chairs the Contracts Committee and sits on the Oversight and Investigations Committee, and other Council members; and city media. Only Stringer and Kallos have taken any interest in the wake of a Daily News story on the boondoggle.
“Every week, my office responds to calls from NYCHA tenants seeking assistance with repairs for broken elevators, vermin infestations, lack of heat and hot water and broken intercoms,” Maloney (D-Manhattan) said. “It is unacceptable that anyone is made to live in these conditions, and that residents often file multiple work order requests for the same issue without ever receiving a response from NYCHA.”
City Councilman Ben Kallos, a fellow Manhattan Democrat, said he fields similar calls, especially this time of year.
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“This is to make sure the repairs actually get done,” he said of the legal filings.
Why Workers Fear Moving 50 Criminally Insane Patients
The state plans to relocate the patients of Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center, but its new home was not built with prisoners in mind.
State officials plan to move 200 inmates from Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center, on Wards Island, to a facility nearby. Many workers at Kirby are concerned about safety issues.Credit...Dave Sanders for The New York Times
Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center in New York City has long been a place of mystery, with little known about what goes on behind the razor-wire fences.
As a result, the state-run facility for the dangerously mentally ill — located on Wards Island in Manhattan — has gone all but unnoticed for decades, despite having held some of the city’s most notorious criminals, including serial killers and cannibals like Daniel Rakowitz, the so-called Butcher of Tompkins Square Park.
But recently, employees have been speaking up, painting a picture of what goes on in Kirby’s wards. State officials are planning to close Kirby and move its entire population — a decision that has created something close to panic among some of the staff, who say the new quarters are not safe for patients or employees.
Kirby is a maximum-security facility that holds mentally-ill patients who have been charged with a crime. Some have been granted an insanity plea by a judge; others are pretrial detainees accused of felony crimes but found unfit to proceed to trial.
The move will transfer the facility’s more than 200 prisoners from a fortresslike building with bars on the windows and cement walls and ceilings into a unit of Manhattan Psychiatric Center, a civilian hospital close by on Wards Island.
Officials say the move, planned for January, is necessary because Kirby’s building has grown outdated. They say patients will be placed in a refurbished section of the hospital, securely separated from civilian patients. But staff members are arguing that the hospital was never designed to handle a population with a criminal background, and say it presents all manner of risks.
“These are not normal mental patients,” said Catherine Mortiere, a forensic psychologist at Kirby. “They are some of the most violent inmates in the state.”
The state Office of Mental Health called Kirby’s building “antiquated.” It said it is also for the same reason rebuilding Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Center, which is north of New York, near Middletown.
“The safety and security of our staff and the people we serve are O.M.H.’s top priority,” a spokesman said in a statement. “When our facilities become outdated, we work to refurbish, rebuild and update them in order to utilize the best practices and state-of-the-art safety features to ensure the well-being of our patients and staff.”
The prospect of the move has caused upheaval at Kirby. The union representing its clinicians is filing a lawsuit in hopes of securing a temporary injunction from a judge; guards and former guards have created an online petition calling on the state’s mental health commissioner and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to “do the right thing and halt this move” to ensure their safety.
Stephen Harkavy, the deputy director of Mental Hygiene Legal Service, which represents the patients, said the new area will be inspected before patients are moved. “A lot of these concerns are premature, until that happens,” he said. “If they find changes need to be made, I would assume they will implement them.”
Mr. Harkavy, who said he worked at Kirby for about a decade, added: “I believe the fears about patients are overstated. I never felt unsafe.”
But several employees — who insisted that their names not be used because they said they feared reprisals — described Kirby as a singularly dangerous place to work, in the best of circumstances.
City Councilman Ben Kallos (D-UES) has a couple of bills to force landlords to take scaffolding down more rapidly, but the real estate industry fights furiously to avoid the added costs.
What’s needed is leadership to forge some compromise to end a mess unique to New York. If cities can avoid eternal scaffolding everywhere else in the world, it can be done here, too.