New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Gotham Gazette

Gotham Gazette Democracy Vouchers’ May Come to New York City by Ben Max

Democracy Vouchers’ May Come to New York City

Before introducing democracy voucher legislation or the CFB post-election report, however, Kallos is looking to see one of his currently-pending campaign finance reform bills passed in the waning days of this legislative session. Co-sponsored by 29 members in the 51-seat Council, the Kallos bill would increase the public matching threshold for how much candidates can receive relative to the spending limit in their races (there are lower thresholds for City Council races than borough-wide and city-wide races).

The bill had a hearing in April and Kallos said he is pushing to see it passed this term. The Manhattan Democrat saw his online voter registration bill passed on Tuesday by the governmental operations committee he chairs. The full Council is expected to pass it on Thursday and de Blasio has indicated he will sign it into law.

The de Blasio administration has indicated support for Kallos’ bill to increase the public matching threshold, which would allow candidates to run their campaigns based more on smaller, matchable donations (eligible donations up to $175 are matched six-to-one, to a certain percentage of the spending threshold, which Kallos’ bill would increase).

Gotham Gazette Online Voter Registration on Verge of Passage in New York City by Samar Khurshid

Online Voter Registration on Verge of Passage in New York City

As New York State’s archaic election and voting laws continue to dampen voter turnout, the New York City Council is about to take a step to encourage participation. The City Council’s governmental operations committee will vote on Tuesday, November 14 to approve a bill allowing online voter registration for city residents, Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the committee, told Gotham Gazette on Thursday. The bill is then expected to pass the full City Council on Thursday.

“With the historic low in turnout on Tuesday, online voter registration will be an essential tool to help more residents become voters,” Kallos said in a phone interview, referring to the 22 percent of registered voters who showed up to the polls to vote for mayor. Following the committee vote, the bill will head to the Council floor for a vote at its next stated meeting, he said.

Gotham Gazette City Council Passes 'Open Budget' Bill Mayor Has Yet to Support by Samar Khurshid

City Council Passes 'Open Budget' Bill Mayor Has Yet to Support

The New York City Council passed legislation on Tuesday mandating that the government agency that oversees the city’s $85.2 billion annual budget provide all budget documents to the public in an easily accessible and machine-readable format.

The legislation, sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the governmental operations committee, requires the Office of Management and Budget to post documents released in the annual budget process to the city’s open data portalwithin 10 days of posting them on their website. OMB produces multiple iterations of the city’s budget each year as the annual expenditure plan is negotiated between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council. These include the preliminary budget proposal, the executive budget proposal and the final adopted budget, each of which contain hundreds of pages with detailed breakdowns of agency spending and city revenues. The agency also issues a budget modification document in November.

Gotham Gazette City Council Members Still Navigating Outside Income Divestment Ahead of Deadline by Rachel Silberstein

City Council Members Still Navigating Outside Income Divestment Ahead of Deadline

There were and continue to be criticisms about the requirement that City Council members relinquish virtually all outside income. Some stemmed from concerns that an outright ban on outside income could discourage small business owners from running for office, according to Council Member Ben Kallos, who co-sponsored the legislation and chairs the governmental operations committee. The bill was tweaked to make allowances for passive income and would not force electeds to dissolve their business entities completely.

“It’s just what we could reasonably expect from people. So, if somebody has spent their career as a small business person, and brought that small business experience to the City Council,  which can be invaluable…,” said Kallos. “After four years or eight years, [that person] could return to their community, and continue doing what they did to begin with.”

Rather than stripping a small number of elected officials of their non-governmental livelihoods, the goal was to ensure that Council members focus on their districts full-time, and to avoid any real or apparent conflicts of interest.

“It is a concern for me that someone with business before the city could hire a member of the City Council in the hopes of gaining influence,” said Kallos, who represents Manhattan’s 5th Council District.

Kallos said that before taking office in 2014, he personally retired from the practice of law in three states and dissolved LLCs for companies he had started. He said he is still in the process of dissolving several non-profits he created.

“All of them have had, literally had no business since I got elected. But, it can be a complicated and weird, long process,” he said.

While dissolving these entities is not required by the bill, Kallos said, “I felt that as the author of the law in question, I have to set a good example and go one step further than the law requires.”

Gotham Gazette Protecting Tenants from Construction Harassment by Opinion

Protecting Tenants from Construction Harassment

We’ve seen it in our districts. A new landlord takes ownership of a building and starts a construction project that never finishes in order to evict long-term residents. They may turn off the cooking gas indefinitely; they may even knock out the boiler with no explanation.

For too many New Yorkers, this nightmare is their reality. The stories are plentiful: heat and gas shutoffs in the middle of winter, jackhammering causing cracks in apartment walls, loss of power, and lead dust in the air lasting for months on end. For years, city and borough officials and community advocates have encountered a critical mass of stories like these, detailing the unscrupulous conduct of landlords as well as the insufficient response from the City of New York.

Gotham Gazette City Releases Latest Progress on Open Data Plan by Ben Brachfeld

City Releases Latest Progress on Open Data Plan

The new datasets released in the update include NYPD complaint data on felonies, misdemeanors and violent crimes reported between 2006 and 2016; details of City Council participatory budgeting projects from 2012 onwards; data on the programs, benefits and resources for 40 health and human services available to New Yorkers; and a Department of City Planning database of more than 35,000 records on public and private facilities from 50 sources. Other new aspects of the program include legal mandates for compliance with FOIL requests and on timing of responses to data requests.

Though FOIL requests involving data are being streamlined, City Council Member Ben Kallos, a longtime advocate of open data, thinks that it can be improved further by passing his “Open FOIL” bill, which would create “one searchable database of Freedom of Information Law requests sent to city agencies.” Kallos also believes that the city could do more outreach about the existence of the open data initiative.

"The City is getting better and better at getting the word out about Open Data,” Kallos told Gotham Gazette. “I for one want to see Open Data classes taught at our city libraries so anyone can learn how to use the data sets, not just techies." Indeed, while many data sets are available, they aren’t always easy to digest or utilize to find patterns or other takeaways.

Gotham Gazette High Participation in Campaign Matching Funds, But Several Big Name Opt-Outs by Felipe De La Hoz

High Participation in Campaign Matching Funds, But Several Big Name Opt-Outs

Told of his colleagues’ reticence to participate, Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the Governmental Operations Committee and one of the matching funds program’s most steadfast defenders, expressed frustration and said he was “surprised to see so many elected officials not taking part.”

Gotham Gazette Bill Seeks Fix to Conflicts Disclosure Deadline for Candidates by Sam Raskin

Bill Seeks Fix to Conflicts Disclosure Deadline for Candidates

Extending the deadline would also level the playing field between first-time candidates and seasoned politicians, argued Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the committee and prime sponsor of the legislation. “Experienced candidates, or candidates retaining lawyers or compliance professions, may be knowledgable about the financial disclosure deadlines,” Kallos said. “New candidates, however, may lack such experience or the funds for experienced campaign staff.”

Kallos recalled that he failed to meet the disclosure deadline himself when he ran for City Council in 2013, noting that campaign novices are often not aware of the disclosure requirements until it is too late. “There is a potential for such candidates to be disproportionately impacted and found out of compliance before they are ever notified of the requirement,” he said.

Gotham Gazette Pushing Back, Board of Elections Head Insists on ‘Personal Responsibility’ for Voters by Samar Khurshid

Pushing Back, Board of Elections Head Insists on ‘Personal Responsibility’ for Voters

The government operations committee, chaired by Council Member Ben Kallos, met to discuss the BOE’s $136.5 million proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year. Council members sought answers from the board about the latest WNYC report, which came after a series of reports by Bergin exposing problems at the BOE, including tens of thousands of voters purged from the rolls ahead of the presidential election. Kallos said his wife was one of those voters whose vote did not count, and that she received a notice from the BOE just last month.

“There is a quasi-manual, quasi-automated process,” said Michael Ryan, BOE executive director, insisting that the board could not send notices to voters who aren’t in the system until they provide relevant missing information to the board.

Referring to a specific voter highlighted by WNYC, who shuttled numerous times between two poll sites in attempting to cast her vote, which eventually was not counted, Ryan said the voter’s actions on Election Day seemed “suspicious” and also said WNYC’s report, “simplistically analyzed a complex process.”

Gotham Gazette City Council Members Question Campaign Finance Board Audit Process by Samar Khurshid

City Council Members Question Campaign Finance Board Audit Process

For City Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the governmental operations committee, and City Council Member David Greenfield, a committee member, those delays in audits are just one reason that they believe the CFB’s system is flawed and in need of change. In December, Kallos, Greenfield, and other Council members ushered through nearly two dozen campaign finance related bills, some of them tweaks to how the Campaign Finance Board operates. Several of the measures were based on recommendations from the CFB, others were seen as addressing problems with the CFB identified by Council members and their consultants.