New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

City and State

City and State The Best & Worst New York City Lawmakers by Editorial Board

The Best & Worst New York City Lawmakers

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.

 

The criteria

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.

1

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.

3

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.

4

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. 

5

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.

The totals

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.

 

 

Some caveats

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.

  1. Helen Rosenthal
  2. Robert Holden
  3. Corey Johnson
  4. Mark Treyger
  5. Daniel Dromm
  6. Ben Kallos
  7. Keith Powers
  8. Mark Levine
  9. Steven Matteo
  10. Chaim Deutsch
  11. Antonio Reynoso
  12. Joe Borelli
  13. Alicka Ampry-Samuel
  14. Peter Koo
  15. Donovan Richards
  16. Robert Cornegy
  17. Adrienne Adams
  18. Carlina Rivera
  19. Diana Ayala
  20. Justin Brannan
  21. Margaret Chin
  22. Costa Constantinides
  23. Barry Grodenchik
  24. Stephen Levin
  25. Ydanis Rodriguez
  26. Rafael Salamanca
  27. Paul Vallone
  28. Fernando Cabrera
  29. Ritchie Torres
  30. Brad Lander
  31. Karen Koslowitz
  32. Laurie Cumbo
  33. Andrew Cohen
  34. Francisco Moya
  35. Rafael Espinal
  36. Vanessa Gibson
  37. Mathieu Eugene
  38. Jimmy Van Bramer
  39. Rory Lancman
  40. Carlos Menchaca
  41. Kalman Yeger
  42. Deborah Rose
  43. Eric Ulrich
  44. Alan Maisel
  45. I. Daneek Miller
  46. Inez Barron
  47. Mark Gjonaj
  48. Ruben Diaz Sr.
  49. Andy King
  50. Bill Perkins

City and State Hearing expected on bill to equip NYC school buses with stop-arm cameras by City and State

Hearing expected on bill to equip NYC school buses with stop-arm cameras

The New York City Council aims to hold a hearing this month on a bill aiming to equip school buses with cameras to catch illegally passing vehicles, Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez said during a panel hosted by City & State and BusPatrol on Tuesday.

“We’re looking to have a hearing mostly likely the 16th or 18th of December,” Rodriguez said.

The bill, sponsored by Councilman Ben Kallos, would require the city to install cameras on nearly 10,000 school buses transporting students across the five boroughs that would record cars that pass when a bus’s stop sign is deployed. A new law signed by the governor in August gave local officials the ability to put cameras on buses, with the goal of finding and fining drivers found to be illegally passing buses letting children off. Both Suffolk and Nassau counties have already approved similar measures.

City and State How De Blasio’s absence left the City Council in charge by By JEFF COLTIN

How De Blasio’s absence left the City Council in charge

When New Yorkers filled Midtown Manhattan for the Puerto Rican Day Parade, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was in Iowa. When the power went out on the west side of Manhattan, shrouding his constituents in darkness, de Blasio was, once again, in Iowa. And when anything happened in City Hall, during the month of May, de Blasio wasn’t there, except for a few, rare hours.

De Blasio officially launched his presidential campaign three months ago, and is still hunting for his breakout “special moment” before the next debate. (If he fails to qualify for that one, as he did with last week’s, the mayor says he may drop out.)

But while de Blasio has been on the trail slamming the Republican-led U.S. Senate, the New York City Council has spent the summer dealing with business as usual.

City and State What NYC Charter Amendments Didn’t Make It On The Ballot? by Rebecca C. Lewis

What NYC Charter Amendments Didn’t Make It On The Ballot?

New York City voters will have a lot to decide on this November, with five questions and 19 proposals in total to change the city charter. But even with that large number, there were still a number of proposals that did not make it onto the ballot in the end, including comprehensive city planning and democracy vouchers. With their omission this time around, it could fall to another revision commission or the New York City Council to make any additional changes. 

City and State The 2019 Manhattan Power 100; 66 - 100 by Editorials

The 2019 Manhattan Power 100; 66 - 100

72. Ben Kallos

New York City Councilman 

This Upper East Side reformer has carved out a niche as a fierce advocate for increased government transparency and bolstering the city’s campaign finance system. This year, Ben Kallos has been grabbing headlines for his push to implement larger matching funds for political candidates, a measure that was approved on the 2018 ballot. The second-term councilman is also a champion of education, affordable housing and public health – and he invites constituents to engage him in conversation.

City and State City Council bill aims to impose prevailing wage on all city-subsidized projects by Jeff Coltin

City Council bill aims to impose prevailing wage on all city-subsidized projects

New York City Councilman Ben Kallos is reintroducing a stalled bill that would require all construction workers to get paid the prevailing wage on any projects getting city subsidies.

Under state law, any project built under a government contract must pay workers the prevailing wage. Kallos’ bill would cast a much wider net, mandating the prevailing wage for not just direct government contracts, but for any projects getting grants, bond financing, tax abatements or any other sort of support valued over $1 million from the New York City government.

City and State Is Corey Johnson Already Mayor? by Jeff Coltin

Is Corey Johnson Already Mayor?

Corey Johnson and Bill de Blasio are not friends.

And for Johnson, the New York City Council speaker whose friendliness is his defining trait, that’s saying something.

Johnson didn’t even wish the mayor a happy birthday, something the speaker admitted at a City Hall press conference on May 9, the day after de Blasio turned 57. “I meant to, and I forgot. And now you made me feel bad,” Johnson said, with the obvious disappointment of somebody who puts a high value on such social currencies.

City and State Everybody loves Gale by Jeff Coltin

Everybody loves Gale

 

“Gale is 100 percent an honest broker. There’s no b.s. with her,” Banks said. “She tells you what’s on her mind, and she’s open to your ideas and suggestions and points of view.”

Brewer’s straight talk could easily come off as brusque, but people in politics who are used to hedging and circuitous language are quick to describe it as one of her best assets.

“People actually really appreciate somebody who just gives it to them straight and is honest and thoughtful about it,” Powers said.

“Gale Brewer gives me courage to be as honest as I am,” Kallos said. “She is one of the most honest people in politics, and I hope to be a close second.” Kallos emulates Brewer – “I want to be Gale Brewer when I grow up. I say it all the time” – and he means that in another way, too. He’s mulling a run to succeed her as borough president when she reaches the office’s term limit in 2021.

City and State NYC purged 200,000 voters in 2016. It wasn’t a mistake. by Stacey Asip- Kneitschel

NYC purged 200,000 voters in 2016. It wasn’t a mistake.

“Sadly it’s another case of Albany getting in the way of anyone having good elections in this state, or of Albany to fix the Board of Elections, give it back to the people and take it away from the party bosses.” – New York City Councilman Ben Kallos

“It’s interesting to see that the two people whose conduct was found culpable in Brooklyn lost their employment and yet the people involved in some of the other purges identified by the AG in Queens and Manhattan are still there. Why weren’t those people fired?” New York City Councilman Ben Kallos, a longtime critic of the city election board’s hiring system, asked rhetorically.

Not quite scapegoats, the two suspended Brooklyn clerks appeared to be more like settled-upon sacrificial lambs. A city Board of Elections spokeswoman recently described them both as “retired.” But in 2016, what they appear to have been doing was following orders.

City and State New campaign finance reform would return power to the people by Ben Kallos, Morris Pearl

New campaign finance reform would return power to the people

On Nov. 6, New York City voters will have the chance to limit the corrupting influence of large political contributions by voting “yes” on Ballot Question 1, a proposal from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Charter Revision Commission to lower donation limits and increase public matching funds.

New York is already one of the few cities that matches campaign contributions up to $175, a system that empowers normal citizens – who do not have thousands of dollars to spare – to financially support their preferred candidates. By doing so, it reins in the influence of big money in politics, and most candidates in New York City participate.