New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Gothamist

Gothamist Vacant Storefronts Proliferate in NYC, And It’s No Easier To Identify Owners by Beth Fertig

Vacant Storefronts Proliferate in NYC, And It’s No Easier To Identify Owners

Taking a walk along Third Avenue in the 80s and 90s near his home, City Councilman Ben Kallos points to one empty storefront after another and recalls some of his favorite Upper East Side shops and restaurants.

“This was an amazing steakhouse,” said the Manhattan native, referring to a place on the west side of the avenue. Across the street was a Modell’s Sporting Goods; he also sees a former taco place and a storefront with a red awning that used to be Pesce Pasta. “It was a great place for an Italian lunch and it's been vacant for a number of years,” he said.

Empty storefronts were a blight on the city long before the coronavirus pandemic forced so many restaurants and other businesses to close. Now, with thousands more businesses shuttered for good, including big chains, Kallos has introduced new legislation aimed at pressuring anonymous building owners to accept new tenants by naming them. His bill would also enable the city to collect tens of millions of dollars in unpaid fines.

Gothamist NYPD Deploys "Creepy" New Robot Dog In Manhattan Public Housing Complex by JAKE OFFENHARTZ

NYPD Deploys "Creepy" New Robot Dog In Manhattan Public Housing Complex

The NYPD's robot dog is once again stirring privacy concerns and cyberpunk prophesies of some New Yorkers, after the four-legged machine was spotted inside of a Manhattan public housing complex on Monday.

A video shared on Twitter shows the robot trotting out of a building on East 28th Street in front of two NYPD officers, then slowly descending the stairs as bystanders look on in shock. "I've never seen nothing like this before in my life," one woman can be heard saying.

The remote-controlled bot was made by Boston Dynamics, a robotics company famous for its viral videos of machines dancing and running with human-like dexterity. (Versions of "Spot," as the mechanical dog is known, can open doors, and are strong enough to help tow an 18-wheeler.)

Since October, the NYPD has dispatched the robot to a handful of crime scenes and hostage situations, raising fears of unwanted surveillance and questions about the department's use of public dollars. The mobile dog, which comes equipped with automated sensors, lights, and cameras capable of collecting "limitless data," is sold at a starting price of $74,000.

A spokesperson for the NYPD said the robot dog was on standby, but not used, during a domestic dispute at East 28th Street on Monday afternoon. After a man allegedly barricaded himself inside a room with a mother and her baby, officers showed up and convinced him to let them exit. The man was arrested for weapons possession, police said.

Gothamist NYC Stockpiles Nearly $1 Billion Worth Of PPE As Second COVID-19 Wave Looms by David Cruz

NYC Stockpiles Nearly $1 Billion Worth Of PPE As Second COVID-19 Wave Looms

And despite the volume of PPE presented, the city's reserve remains insufficient, according to Manhattan City Councilmember Ben Kallos, who chairs the council's contracts committee.

"Mayor de Blasio needs to be honest with New Yorkers about the status of our stockpile," Kallos told Gothamist/WNYC. "I'm just upset that they put this out without putting it in the context of what their goal is."

Kallos said that an administrator with the city Health Department testified at a City Council hearing last month that 13.5 million N95 masks are needed to keep the supply from running out.

"They're claiming victory with 9.3 million masks, which is only enough for 60 days when we know we faced shortages last time," Kallos said.

Gothamist Politics As Usual: City Council Democrats Approve Elections Commissioners by Brigid Bergin

Politics As Usual: City Council Democrats Approve Elections Commissioners

Pepe-Souvenir, an attorney from Brooklyn, works as the Title IX Coordinator for CUNY’s Central Office and serves as president of the Haitian American Lawyers Association. Nominated by the current Brooklyn Democratic Leader, Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte, Pepe-Souvenir garnered 42 votes. Only City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer opposed the appointment, as a matter of principle. 

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Only two members besides Van Bramer bothered to explain their votes. Manhattan City Councilmember Ben Kallos, who has long-championed reform at the Board of Elections and is running for Manhattan Borough President, said his conversation with Pepe-Souvenir left him satisfied that she would work to overcome long lines, broken machines and would work to expand early and online voting. 

Gothamist City Council Hears Plenty Of Skepticism On NYC School Reopening Plan by David Cruz

City Council Hears Plenty Of Skepticism On NYC School Reopening Plan

"My school is not ready to reopen, we do not have the proper ventilation system, our school population increases every year. And we're not prepared for this upcoming school year. And I think that every other school is not ready to do so either," said Diep. "This is coming from a student who did, in fact, struggle with online learning, and was able to be privileged to have the choice between remote learning and the hybrid learning system."

Because the emergency hearing was technically to consider a resolution declaring schools remain unsafe to reopen, it did not obligate the city officials, including de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, to appear and testify. As a result, Councilmember Ben Kallos mockingly marked them down as "absent."

"They're getting an 'F' in today's pop quiz," said Kallos. "And that's just putting it lightly."

Miranda Barbot, a DOE spokesperson, said in a statement, “The resolution was primarily to push back the first day of school, which we already announced earlier this week. We will testify later this month.“

Gothamist A Day Of Virtual Action To Push Online Voter Registration Amid Coronavirus Outbreak by Brigid Bergin

A Day Of Virtual Action To Push Online Voter Registration Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

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.” 

Gothamist City Council Staffers Achieve Major Milestone In Union Push by Brigid Bergin

City Council Staffers Achieve Major Milestone In Union Push

“We will be the first unaffiliated legislative staff union,” said Wilfredo Lopez, legislative director for City Council Member Ben Kallos. “So we're excited and also scared by that prospect. But it's momentous.”

The group represents a subset of the roughly 600 staffers who work for the Council, and includes only full and part-time staff who work directly for one of the 51 members, plus certain members of the Finance division. Members of the central staff are not included in this initial unionization push, which launched its membership card campaign just two months ago.

Gothamist After Falling Facade Kills Woman, City Officials Propose Using Drones To Inspect Buildings by Elizabeth Kim

After Falling Facade Kills Woman, City Officials Propose Using Drones To Inspect Buildings

Concerns about the inspection process of the city's building facades heightened after Erica Tishman, a 60-year-old architect, was killed last Tuesday while walking in front of an office building on 7th Avenue. In April, The property owner, Himmel + Meringoff Properties, was cited by the DOB for failing to property maintain its terra cotta facade. Poorly maintained terra cotta facades have a history of causing fatal accidents in New York City. Over the years, the DOB has noted that the weaknesses of the material can be difficult to spot and require an up-close examination. Preservationists have maintained that most property owners fail to do sufficient upkeep of terra cotta.

Adams and Brannan, who held a press conference on Sunday on the steps of City Hall, argued that drones can be a cost-effective solution for property owners and the city. To date, Councilmember Robert Cornegy and Ben Kallos have pledged to sign on as co-sponsors of the bill.

Gothamist Hudson River Park Takes Steps To Eliminate Disposable Plastics by Elizabeth Kim

Hudson River Park Takes Steps To Eliminate Disposable Plastics

The Hudson River Park Trust has announced an effort to dramatically reduce the use of disposable plastics by the park's vendors, restaurants, and other tenants, with the intent of becoming what the trust says will be the first public park in New York City to gradually move toward a “plastic free” environment.

Gothamist With Plastic Bags Banned, City Council Will Consider Paper Bag Fee by CLAIRE LAMPEN

With Plastic Bags Banned, City Council Will Consider Paper Bag Fee

On Tuesday, City Council members Margaret Chin, Brad Lander, Donovan Richards, Antonio Reynoso, Ben Kallos, and Keith Powers announced forthcoming legislation providing for a 5-cent fee on paper bags. Proceeds from every bag sold would be divided between the NYS Environmental Protection Fund, which would get 3 cents, and the city, which would use the remainder to buy reusable bags for New Yorkers (particularly low-income and elderly New Yorkers, who might have a hard time avoiding the fee otherwise).