New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Gotham Gazette

Gotham Gazette De Blasio, City Council Look to Move Ahead with Private Sector Retirement Savings Program by Samar Khurshid

De Blasio, City Council Look to Move Ahead with Private Sector Retirement Savings Program

In his State of the City speech in January, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised that the city would create a system of retirement security for millions of New Yorkers who work in the private sector and may not have access to employer-provided savings plans. It was a revival of an effort the mayor had first pushed in 2016 but that bumped up against the change in presidential administrations and federal approvals apparently needed. But eight months after de Blasio’s speech at the start of this year, the New York City Council is ready to look at the idea through two bills that will be examined at a hearing later this month.   

Gotham Gazette Launch of Required City Reporting on Required Reports Shows Gaps in Reporting by Samar Khurshid

Launch of Required City Reporting on Required Reports Shows Gaps in Reporting

The New York City Council regularly passes bills mandating that city agencies create reports on their work, ostensibly as part of the Council’s oversight responsibilities. From city jail populations to hate crimes statistics to use of force by police officers, the Council has passed bills requiring a report be delivered to it.

The Council passes so many reporting bills that last year, it passed legislation that would help it track the number of total reports required under local law, the City Charter, or mayoral order. The bill compelled the city’s Department of Records and Information Services to create a central list of every single report required from every city agency, board, or office.

The result: a 57-page document that lists a whopping 842 required reports of various types due at a variety of time intervals. Of those, 490 are listed as not received by DORIS, despite some being producing by agencies on a regular basis, raising questions for Council members about whether agencies are refusing to comply with the law or are overwhelmed with burdensome reporting mandates.

Gotham Gazette Report Shows Nation-Leading Extent of New York's Nonprofit Sector by Noah Berman

Report Shows Nation-Leading Extent of New York's Nonprofit Sector

New York has the largest nonprofit sector in the country, according to a new report from state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

In 2017, New York nonprofits boasted over 1.4 million jobs and $78 billion in employee wages, both top marks across the United States, according to DiNapoli’s report released Tuesday. Between 2007 and 2017, the state added 175,000 jobs in the nonprofit sector, an increase of 14 percent. Nonprofit employment consisted of 17.8 percent of all of New York’s private sector employment in 2017. Nonprofit employment sits at about 10 percent nationwide.

“Nonprofits play an important role in every region of New York, delivering vital services to New Yorkers, from hospital care and education to legal services and environmental protection,” DiNapoli said in a statement.

Gotham Gazette Fixing the City's Broken System that Puts the Social Safety Net at Risk by Ben Kallos and Helen Rosenthal

Fixing the City's Broken System that Puts the Social Safety Net at Risk

The recently-passed New York City budget greenlights billions of dollars to some of the most vital programs across the five boroughs. These dollars will help to fund homeless shelters, emergency food pantries, senior services, mental health services, and early childcare for the most vulnerable New Yorkers.

The City of New York contracts with over 1,000 community-based organizations (CBOs) to provide these essential human services at a cost of $6 billion annually. But thanks to the City’s broken procurement system, CBOs are forced to wait a very, very long time to see their money. In fact, according to a recent Comptroller’s report, human service providers wait an average of 221 days before being reimbursed for services and labor they have already provided.

Gotham Gazette Calling for 'Climate Emergency' Declaration, Council Members Examine City's Progress in Renewable Energy by Caitlyn Rosen

Calling for 'Climate Emergency' Declaration, Council Members Examine City's Progress in Renewable Energy

The likely future of devastation caused by climate change is one of several reasons activist Becca Trabin said New York City needs to declare a climate emergency.

“You look out at this beautiful cityscape. You don’t just see these tall buildings that are standing here today, you see what this space will look like if we continue on our current trajectory,” Trabin said. “I see devastation all around, I see death. And I see that there is still time to avert that trajectory.”

Trabin was surrounded by about 90 activists in front of City Hall on Monday – including City Council Members Ben Kallos, Costa Constantinides, and Rafael Espinal – who rallied ahead of a hearing of the Council’s Committee of Environmental Protection that included discussion of a resolution to declare a climate emergency in New York City. 

Gotham Gazette Council Passes Campaign Finance Bill Roiling Early Mayoral Race by Noah Berman

Council Passes Campaign Finance Bill Roiling Early Mayoral Race

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a likely 2021 mayoral candidate, and City Council Member Ben Kallos, the lead sponsor of the bill, defended the legislation, including retroactivity that will make candidates return money raised in 2018 above new lower donation limits if they choose to opt into the newer of two programs that has more public matching.

That portion of the bill stands to benefit Johnson and hurt competitors like Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

“We are literally doing something that is entirely consistent with what we did three months ago and now all of a sudden we are being criticized for it,” Johnson said at the press conference, referring to actions the Council took to make new campaign finance rules approved by voters last year apply to the special election for Public Advocate.

Gotham Gazette City Council Expected to Pass Bill Raising Cap on Public Matching Funds for Campaigns by Ethan Geringer-Sameth

City Council Expected to Pass Bill Raising Cap on Public Matching Funds for Campaigns

A City Council committee is expected on Tuesday to pass a bill aimed at reducing the influence of large donors on New York City candidates and elections by creating the possibility for candidates to essentially raise all smaller donations and earn enough public matching funds to fully reach the spending limit imposed by the city’s campaign finance program.

If adopted, the bill, sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, would lift the cap on the amount of public money a campaign can receive as a percentage of the spending limits on candidates who choose to participate in the matching funds system. If passed as expected on Tuesday by the Council’s governmental operations committee, the bill would then move to a Thursday vote of the full Council, where it would be overwhelmingly likely to pass.

Gotham Gazette City Council Hears Bill to Expand Public Match in Campaign Finance Program by Samar Khurshid

City Council Hears Bill to Expand Public Match in Campaign Finance Program

That charter change was quickly implemented through local law, sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, for all special elections before the 2021 general election, thus applying to multiple races this year.

Kallos, a Manhattan Democrat, has also proposed increasing the public funds cap to roughly 89% of the spending limit, effectively allowing candidates to run their campaigns entirely on small contributions and the subsequent public match, and diluting the effect of wealthier, larger donors. And he hopes to put that reform into effect for the 2021 city election cycle, which will feature a massive number of local races, from citywide and borough wide posts through the City Council.

“I think this is a gamechanger,” Kallos said at Monday’s hearing, citing the recent citywide public advocate special election as proof that increasing the public funds match reduced big donations. He pointed to the latest campaign finance disclosures from all the campaigns, which showed that contributions of $250 or less made up 61% of all contributions, up from 26.3% of all contributions in the 2013 public advocate race, according to his office’s analysis of the numbers.

Gotham Gazette Council Member Kallos Pushes Next Increase in Matching Funds Available Through Public Campaign Finance System by Samar Khurshid

Council Member Kallos Pushes Next Increase in Matching Funds Available Through Public Campaign Finance System

New York City Council Member Ben Kallos is moving forward with a bill to increase the amount of public funds a candidate running for elected office can receive from the city’s campaign finance program, in order to further reduce the influence of big money donors in local political campaigns.

New York City’s voluntary campaign finance program matches small dollar donations in order to afford candidates without deep pockets or wealthy donors a more level playing field in elections. In November, voters approved a ballot question that increased the matching ratio from 6-to-1 for the first $175 of a contribution to 8-to-1 for the first $250 for citywide offices ($175 for all other offices), and increased the maximum amount of public funds that could be paid out from 55% of the spending limit for an office to 75%.

The changes also reduced individual contribution limits across the board and gave candidates running in the 2021 city elections the choice to opt in to the new rules, which otherwise go into mandatory effect beginning 2022.

Gotham Gazette Report: Under New Law, Small Donors Drove Public Advocate Special Election Campaigns by Samar Khurshid

Report: Under New Law, Small Donors Drove Public Advocate Special Election Campaigns

According to CFB’s own analysis released the day after the election, the most common contribution amount was $10, down from $100 in previous public advocate elections. “The matching funds give candidates the incentives to raise money the right way, by going to the New York City voters they want to represent in government, not to big-money donors or special interests,” said Amy Loprest, CFB executive director, in a statement on February 27. “If we want a government that is closer and more responsive to the people, it has to start with how candidates fund their campaigns.”