New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Press Coverage

As students, parents and teachers across New York City have had to adjust to remote learning as never before, there is a palpable sense of anxiety over whether students are being given the best opportunity for success under the current circumstances.

Particularly for low-income students and those who do not have access to technology or reliable wi-fi, remote learning can be a significant challenge. Given the historic inequities in our public school system and with likely school closures for the rest of the year sure to cause major academic disruptions, now is the time for the city to enact systemic changes to ensure disadvantaged students do not fall even further behind.

One area that requires specific attention is the city’s specialized high schools. These elite institutions can provide an answer to the setbacks many students face this academic year. But they also remain out of reach for many students of color.

We’ve heard the de Blasio administration say that the best long-term way to increase diversity in NYC’s specialized high schools is by entirely eliminating the entrance exam known as the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT).

But students tutored by the Education Equity Campaign (EEC) during this admissions cycle proved that theory to be flawed. There is indeed another way to help students achieve educational success: comprehensive tutoring prep that focuses on raising skill level and increasing students’ confidence.

As two people of color who graduated from specialized high schools, we have dedicated our careers to social justice and education.

We believed the mayor’s original approach did little to actually help our children meet the standards for which they are capable. That’s why, alongside EEC founders Ronald S. Lauder and Richard Parsons, we embarked on a pilot program to offer free test prep to prepare disadvantaged students who otherwise would not have access to the extracurricular support necessary for success on the SHSAT.

The results speak for themselves.

This year, 12,422 Black and Latino students sat for the SHSAT. Of those, 470, or 3.8% were offered admission. In contrast, of the 197 students enrolled in EEC’s 7-week programs, 31 were accepted into a specialized high school. That’s 15.7%. Put another way. students of color in EEC programs were more than four times more likely to secure admission than their peers citywide.

And the EEC program only ran for seven weeks. If 31 students were able to achieve success after only a seven-week program, imagine the results if the city directed this support to more students of color.

Let’s be clear. Much more needs to be done. The demographic diversity of students offered acceptances this year is consistent with the dismal numbers of years past. It’s unacceptable that African American students made up only 4.5% of the total acceptances offered and Latino students received 6.6% of the acceptance pool for next year.

However, systemic problems require systemic solutions. That is why we are continuing our advocacy campaign by supporting a coalition of city and state lawmakers who are introducing legislation to bring programs like EEC’s to scale so that all students have access to the best educational opportunities.

For instance, state Sen. Leroy Comrie is sponsoring a bill that would create 10 new specialized high schools to remedy the fact that there are now only 15,000 spots available for 360,000 high school students. The bill would also establish a pipeline for success by expanding gifted and talented programs in communities so that students have access to quality education from the moment they enter the public-school system.

Complementing the state effort, we have also partnered with Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and City Councilmen Ben Kallos and Robert Cornegy to require the Department of Education to come up with a plan to provide every middle school student with free test preparation and to automatically enroll students in the SHSAT.

 

Electeds on the Upper East Side are continuing the citywide effort to keep local government connected with its constituents during the worst crisis the City has seen in recent memory.

Last Tuesday, Councilmember Ben Kallos (D-Upper East Side, Midtown, El Barrio and Roosevelt Island) brought together NYC Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot, a senior analyst at NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and a plethora of Upper East Side electeds in a virtual town hall via Zoom to talk about the coronavirus.

Among the other electeds in attendance were U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens), Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright (D- Upper East Side, Yorkville, Roosevelt Island), State Senator Liz Krueger (D-Upper East Side, Lenox Hill), Council Member Keith Powers (D-Upper East Side, Carnegie Hill) and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer (D).

 

At Mount Sinai, nurses blew the whistle on PPE shortages by posting pictures of themselves in garbage bags. Afterwards, along with protective gowns, they received warning notices about their jobs as well.

Health-care workers are already risking their health to save lives. They should not also have to risk their jobs when they tell the truth.

Together with my colleagues Mark Levine, Carlina Rivera, Ben Kallos and Adrienne Adams in the City Council, and a wide coalition of health-care unions and worker advocates, we are proposing legislation to protect health-care workers from being fired for speaking out.

At a time when the very lives of our hospital and health-care workers are on the line, it is unconscionable that they would be fired for ringing the alarm bell about health and safety issues. Our bill would prevent doctors and nurses from losing their jobs if they speak publicly about conditions in their hospitals.

 

As the American people hunker down under a patchwork of evolving emergency orders and health directives, our communities are grappling with extraordinary circumstances disrupting and reorienting our lives and the economy. To flatten the curve of community spread during the increasingly deadly COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Cuomo has placed New York on PAUSE; Health officials have issued stay-at-home and social distancing directives; schools, playgrounds, and non-essential facilities are closed. Further restrictions may be imposed. The duration uncertain.

But when it comes to the fate of civil rights during states of emergency, historically the paradigm is less uncertain—there is an irresistible tendency across the globe for authorities to suspend the normal order in the name of imminent, amorphous threats of unknown duration, leading to the incremental curtailment of freedoms that we take for granted (like unfettered travel, transportation, assembly, and enterprise to name a few). The new normal makes prioritization of due process seem quaint, but it is even more critical when the exigencies of the moment impose security measures that inadvertently raise old voter-access hurdles to new, perhaps insurmountable heights.

In this case we can dispense with skepticism over the emergency itself. The pandemic is most certainly real. But already, COVID-19 has scrambled our democratic process. The Democratic National Committee has postponed its convention as 15 states are postponing 2020 primaries and some are adjusting voting policies so residents aren’t forced to choose between safety and casting a ballot. That’s the goal.  

 

 New York City council member Ben Kallos and Houston city council member Amy Peck join ‘America’s News HQ.

 

Kallos Promotes Electronic Voter Registration

Council Member Ben Kallos

Council Member Ben Kallos

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted more lawmakers to consider electronic voter registration as an option, Gothamist reported Tuesday.

As the piece explains, a current bill from State Senator Zellnor Myrie (D-Brooklyn) and Assemblymember Michael Blake (D-Bronx) grew out a push by City Councilmember Ben Kallos (D-Upper East Side, Yorkville, Lenox Hill, Carnegie Hill, Roosevelt Island, Midtown East, Sutton Place, East Harlem) to allow residents of the five boroughs to register to vote online. Despite the bill passing into law, the city’s Board of Elections would not honor online registrations because the city Campaign Finance Board created the system. 

“While we’re telling everyone to just stay home, it’s wrong to still require people to print out a voter registration form, fill it out by hand, get a postage stamp, go to a post office, expose themselves to mail it, when we could just as easily do it online,” Kallos told Gothamist. “And then, similarly, it’s a little bit crazy that we would require very low-wage workers at the Board of Elections, often making minimum wage, to go in at a time like this and literally transcribe what people hand write into a computer, when we could just skip the step…let people enter it from home and keep everybody safe during the process.” 

 

But the city faces a potential $6 billion blow to its revenue this year as the coronavirus has forced businesses to close. The mayor has asked city agencies to find more than $1 billion in savings, and said this week he’ll have to make “tough, tough budget decisions” as the city works to finalize its own budget by June.

Freddi Goldstein, a spokesperson for the mayor, said there was “nothing to confirm right now” on potential cuts. A spokesperson with the Department of Youth and Community Development did not respond to requests for comment. But individuals who help run or support summer youth employment programs have heard big cuts are on the table. 

“Providers have every reason to be worried,” said Manhattan City Councilmember Ben Kallos, who proposed a universal summer program for the city in February. 

The preliminary summer youth budget tends to be cut every year before the budget “dance” of restoring funding. But trying to restore summer funding this year will be more challenging than usual, Kallos said. 

The need for these programs will be just as great, or perhaps greater, as it’s possible the city will continue to ask families to practice social distancing throughout the summer. 

“When school is out, ch

 

If it wasn’t for the damn coronavirus pandemic, the Upper East Side would be well on its way to obtaining the city’s first narrow snowplow to keep protected bike lanes clear during winter.

But residents and cyclists in Council Member Ben Kallos’s district still have a chance to get the much-needed equipment. All they have to do is email the lawmaker or tweet at him.

Allow us to explain what the hell we’re talking about…

Earlier this year, Kallos created a ballot of projects he would consider funding under the Council’s participatory budgeting scheme — which allows district residents to tell local representatives how they think a portion of a pol’s discretionary funding should be allocated.

First on Kallos’s list (see list, right)? “Mechanical cleaner and plow for bike lanes.”

Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you don’t think much of participatory budgeting…), the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Council to shut down this year’s reality show, “How Should We Spend a Tiny Portion of Our Extra Cash?”

But Kallos is pushing ahead.

 

Soon after the shock ruling, City Council member Ben Kallos called for Gamma Real Estate’s 847-foot condo tower at 3 Sutton Place to be shortened by more than half, since Gamma used a similar tactic to win approval.

 

UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — Upper East Side City Councilmember Ben Kallos isn't planning to let social distancing measure get in the way of constituent outreach.

Kallos will be holding his customary "First Friday" meetings — where residents of his district can drop in to his office to discuss neighborhood issues — via video conference as New Yorkers are encourage to stay home to help curb the spread of coronavirus.

The Upper East Side lawmaker is planning to host at least 100 constituents on Friday, April 3, via the video conferencing service Zoom, according to a spokesman. Upper East Siders interested in attending should RSPV on Kallos' website.

Kallos' conference will go live around 8:15 a.m. on Friday.

 

The state bill grew out of a push for an online voter registration system here in New York City, led by City Councilmember Ben Kallos.  He said three years ago that he wanted to make registering to vote as easy as calling an Uber. His bill passed the Council and was signed into law by Mayor de Blasio in 2017. But the New York City Board of Elections has indicated it would not process the forms completed online through a system built by the New York City Campaign Finance Board, unless it is required by a change in state law. 

Kallos said it’s time for the state to act, not just to make registering to vote easier, but to reduce the risk to public health. 

“While we're telling everyone to just stay home, it's wrong to still require people to print out a voter registration form, fill it out by hand, get a postage stamp, go to a post office, expose themselves to mail it, when we could just as easily do it online,” he said. “And then, similarly, it's a little bit crazy that we would require very low-wage workers at the Board of Elections, often making minimum wage, to go in at a time like this and literally transcribe what people hand write into a computer, when we could just skip the step...let people enter it from home and keep everybody safe during the process.” 

 

UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — More than 200 students played in an online chess tournament funded by an Upper East Side lawmaker over the weekend, marking the first time the annual event was played virtually.

A total of 235 student participated in this year's Council Member Ben Kallos Chess Challenge, a spokesman for the lawmaker told Patch. The tournament, originally set to take place at the Upper East Side's Eleanor Roosevelt High School, was played online because New York City school are shut down as the city deals with the outbreak of coronavirus.

 

Kallos Thanks the “Heroes” Keeping the City Running During the COVID-19 Outbreak

Council Member Ben Kallos

Council Member Ben Kallos

Last Monday, Council Member Ben Kallos (D-Yorkville, Lenox Hill) wrote an opinion piece for LaborPress.org thanking the workers who are providing vital services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kallos began by voicing his appreciation for the medical workers responsible for treating the City’s thousands of COVID-19 patients. He went on to thank public transit employees, who are not only transporting essential personnel across the City, but are also keeping heavily used public areas clean and sanitary during the crisis.

Among the other groups who received thanks in the article were grocers, utility workers and maintenance workers.

“While many of us are safe in our homes, there are workers, some making as little as $15 an hour some without benefits, who are putting their health and their families’ health at risk to keep New York City safe,” said Kallos. “These workers, who do so much, also receive little recognition for their efforts, as much of their work is done out of sight. Maintenance workers, cleaners, transit workers, healthcare workers, grocers, all have been affected by this pandemic in unseen ways. Join us in showing our appreciation.”

 

New York is currently facing a pandemic that is challenging many of the systems we take for granted. Millions of us must now work, learn, and live — exclusively at home. We are able to do this because of the countless heroes who are keeping this City’s essential infrastructure running.

While many of us are safe in our homes, there are workers, some making as little as $15 an hour some without benefits, who are putting their health and their families’ health at risk to keep New York City safe. These workers, who do so much, also receive little recognition for their efforts, as much of their work is done out of sight. Maintenance workers, cleaners, transit workers, healthcare workers, grocers, all have been affected by this pandemic in unseen ways. Join us in showing our appreciation. Ask yourself these questions:

 

The government is shutting down the city’s small businesses to slow the spread of coronavirus and flatten the curve. As we take this drastic step to save the patients needing serious medical attention, we must do our part to save our vulnerable small businesses and our economy.

Five steps can help save small businesses during this pandemic-induced recession, inspired by student loan policies designed to relieve and manage debt. Many of us with student debt knew that if we had difficulty finding that first job, had a gap between jobs, or worse, we could defer payments until things got better. The federal government allows loan forgiveness if you make career choices benefitting the public.

While big corporations, government, and the information economy may survive, according to the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis there are 461,000 small businesses employing 4.1 million people endangered by the economic crisis. Bold and urgent steps can help save our city’s mom and pop shops and their workers.

Many small business owners need or will need relief from paying rent, assurance they won’t get evicted, and payroll support until they can reopen. As the federal government debates its next move, New York City can take these five steps to save small businesses:

  1. Stop Commercial Evictions
  2. Defer Property Taxes
  3. Defer Commercial Rent Payments
  4. Defer Mortgage Payments
  5. Guarantee Jobs and Healthcare for Workers

As Congress again uses American tax dollars to help banks with zero percent interest rates, we need something back. Big banks getting federal help should be required to defer mortgage payments for commercial and residential landlords whose tenants are impacted by the coronavirus. Similarly, New York City could also defer its property tax collections.

Commercial and residential landlords who claim deferrals from mortgage and tax payments should be required to defer rent payments from affected tenants affected. For its part, New York City should also stop commercial evictions, which is already has done

 

The highest hurdle to telecommuting is securing sensitive city data, said Garrido, who complained the problem has been foreseeable for years and evidenced in the city’s failure to adopt telecommuting rules he’s been pushing for more than a decade.

City Councilman Ben Kallos, who has worked as a software developer, said telecommuting and data security are “very easy to set up.”

“Every corporation in America does this. Doctors do this. It is very easy and normal to do,” he said. “I’m concerned about city workers who could be working from home and are being forced to come in.”

 

A group of lawmakers wants all city eighth-graders to be automatically registered for the entrance exam for specialized high schools and get free after-school test prep in order to boost the enrollment of black and Latino students at the prestigious schools, the Daily News has learned.

A bill co-authored by City Council Members Ben Kallos (D—Manhattan) and Justin Brannan (D—Brooklyn), and supported by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, urges the Education Department to make the test opt-out rather than opt-in, and extend after-school test preparation to every eighth-grader planning to take the exam.

The proposal comes as city officials announced that only 11% of students admitted to specialized schools this year were black or Latino, compared to 70% of all city students — a figure virtually unchanged from years past.

 

On Friday, Charter Communications announced that it would begin providing its Spectrum broadband and Wi-Fi for free to families with students in grades K-12 or in college who don’t already have a Spectrum broadband subscription. Altice USA announced a similar program on Friday.

Kallos said that sending out iPads with T-Mobile LTE data plans would likely be quicker than having families sign up for broadband internet service, but it might not be the best long-term solution. “I appreciate wanting to get the service up and running using LTE,” he said. “But I think that they’re really doing families a disservice by not taking advantage of the Charter offer.”

Kallos said that the city should instead be focusing on access to broadband service and providing devices like Chromebooks, which tend to be cheaper than iPads and may be able to run more programs at the same time. Laptops and Chromebooks also come with keyboards, while keyboard attachments are typically sold separately for iPads. Many city schools do also use Chromebooks for regular instruction, and the Education Department will be providing guidance to schools on how to lend those out to students. “Everything is on the table to ensure our students continue to get the quality education they deserve, and we’re grateful to Apple and T-Mobile for their partnership, as both companies are offering significant discounts for their products and services,” city Education Department spokeswoman Isabelle Boundy wrote in an email. “We are open to working with additional partners to serve the children of New York City at this challenging time, and look forward to further conversations with Charter.”

 

UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — An Upper East Side lawmaker is asking neighborhood residents to lend a helping hand to a local senior center that has its hands full aiding those who are most vulnerable to the serious effects of coronavirus.

Councilmember Ben Kallos asked healthy Upper East Siders to reach out to staff at the Isaacs Center — located on the campus of the New York City Housing Authority's Stanley Isaacs Houses on First Avenue and East 93rd Street — to volunteer at the center in a tweet sent Monday. The center is helping seniors deal with the coronavirus outbreak by delivering meals to seniors who ar being advised to stay in their homes to reduce contact with people who may be able to transmit the virus.

The Isaacs Center has suspended all of its services except for meal delivery and case management to reduce the potential for exposure for the seniors who rely on the center, according to a statement released by the center's executive director Gregory Morris.

 

NEW YORK — Monday morning, the signs are everywhere: closed.

Hundreds of senior centers across the city were close because of coronavirus. But Jacklyn Reed, 69, of Harlem, said she still needs her meal.

“I’m sick. I’m a dialysis patient. I have cancer. I’m getting my meal. It's a life saver,” said Reed.

At the King Towers senior center between 112th and 113th streets on Lenox Avenue, seniors have to grab and go.

Across town in Yorkville, seniors are picking up their lunch at the Isaacs Center on 93rd Street and 1st Avenue.

Barbara Scavone got her meal Monday afternoon, but she was not happy; she says she misses her friends.

Councilmember Ben Kallos represents the Upper East Side, Midtown East, Roosevelt Island and East Harlem; he tweeted this call to action: "The Isaac Center is looking for volunteers to serve the community in this time of need."

“We are looking for some heros, some volunteers who are feeling fine, who are willing to go there, pick things up, deliver to seniors, knock or ring and leave it there, and keep the social distancing and get people that food,” asked Kallos.

Reach out if you want to be a volunteer: communitysupport@isaacscenter.org