New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

City and State

City and State How would NYC cut $1 billion for the NYPD? by Rebecca C. Lewis

How would NYC cut $1 billion for the NYPD?

After nearly two weeks of protests in New York City against police brutality and racism, following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, policy demands have begun to crystalize. None are without controversy, but perhaps the most contentious is the call to defund the New York Police Department. Criminal justice activists are calling for the city to slash the nearly $6 billion annual budget by $1 billion, and reinvest that money in social services like homeless outreach and mental health counseling. 

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Most lawmakers have avoided committing to specific dollar amounts. That’s in part what prompted Stringer to put out his analysis, something to get the ball rolling. “This is a baseline,” Stringer told City & State. “You can certainly go a little higher… Before we did this, there was no movement.” City Councilman Ben Kallos has backed a plan cutting $1 billion over four years, while Councilman Carlos Menchaca has called for at least $1 billion in cuts in the budget this year, but has not yet offered specifics on how to achieve those cuts. City Councilman Daniel Dromm, chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, echoed two of Stringer’s proposals – capping overtime and cutting costs associated with a new class of cadets.

City and State NYC Council bill could reignite gig worker debate by Annie McDonough

NYC Council bill could reignite gig worker debate

A simmering debate on whether gig workers should be classified as employees has become more urgent during the coronavirus pandemic, which has demonstrated the importance of essential workers like ride-hailing drivers and food delivery cyclists.

When the state Legislature finalized the budget earlier this month, it omitted a measure that would have created a task force to study whether gig workers should be considered employees and to propose new labor protections. With that, the debate on classifying gig workers seemed to have been mostly concluded for the year. Plus, it’s not clear if the Legislature will get a system for remote voting in place by the end of the session in June, meaning they may not be able to vote on a stand-alone gig worker bill.

But now, the New York City Council may make progress on the issue where the state Legislature has stalled – determining whether gig workers should be classified as independent contractors, as they currently are, or as employees. The council held its first official remote meeting on Wednesday, and City Councilmen Brad Lander and Ben Kallos introduced a bill that would extend paid sick leave to gig workers. The pair also introduced a nonbinding resolution that called on the state Legislature to classify gig workers as employees. Their bill would set an important precedent if it passed, or it could at the very least reignite the efforts of those who want gig workers to be classified as employees.

City and State How remote learning will work in New York City by Annie McDonough

How remote learning will work in New York City

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.”

City and State Holden, Kallos to propose new city ‘moonshot’ division by Annie McDonough

Holden, Kallos to propose new city ‘moonshot’ division

Holden, Kallos to propose new city ‘moonshot’ division

Two New York City lawmakers are launching a moonshot bid to introduce more technological expertise to city government.

Councilmembers Ben Kallos and Robert Holden – who chairs the Council’s Committee on Technology – will propose the creation of a new city Office of Technology and Digital Services, the purpose of which would be to make tech expertise more readily available to city agencies through technology officers who could be embedded in different agencies to help problem-solve or build new software or digital services. 

City and State NY City Council may require truck underride guards by RAINIER HARRIS

NY City Council may require truck underride guards

The bill has been referred to the Committee on Transportation which Rodriguez chairs. Councilmember Kallos told City & State in a phone interview that he expects the bill to move quickly through the council because it has the support of the chair of the relevant committee and Speaker Corey Johnson is likely to support the bill, given that Johnson wrote in 2014 which became law in 2015. 

Kallos said he works especially hard on the issue of side guards because the mayor has recently opened a marine transfer station in his district, on the East Side of Manhattan, where “garbage trucks operated by the city are entering a ramp that bisects a children’s playground.”

In terms of how the side guards would be paid for, Kallos said it would be on a “case-by-case basis.” Kallos has not responded to follow-up emails asking for clarification as to what that means. 

A similar bill, the Stop Underrides Act of 2019, was introduced in Congress in July 2019. That bill, sponsored by Rep. Steve Cohen from Tennessee and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, called for the mandatory installation of side underride guards and strengthening rear underride guards to prevent other motor vehicles from sliding underneath. 

In a letter opposing the bill, the American Trucking Association said that equipping 12 million trailers with side underride guards, costing approximately $2,900 each, would prove disastrous for the trucking industry and “result in what is likely the largest unfunded mandate on a private sector industry in US history.” The letter added that the “expected cost of labor in installing these guards would exceed the industry’s annual net revenue, essentially putting trucking out of business, and grinding our economy to a screeching halt.” 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.