New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Our Town

Our Town Finally, Sutton Place Park — almost by Leida Snow

Finally, Sutton Place Park — almost

You could practically hear the neighborhood’s sigh of relief. “I’ve lived near here all my life,” one woman exulted, at the unofficial opening of Sutton Place Park (SPP) overlooking the East River. “I was brought up here. And there were times I thought the construction would never end.”

Our Town OTTY 2019 Honoree: Writing laws for everyone by CHRISTOPHER MOORE

OTTY 2019 Honoree: Writing laws for everyone

East Side Council Member Ben Kallos says his answer is “cheesy.”

The 38-year-old rising star in Manhattan politics has been asked about his greatest accomplishment. He points first to the little girl that he and his wife welcomed last year.

“My daughter is the end-all and be-all of my life. And to the extent that’s an accomplishment, it starts and ends there—just to have the privilege of being a father. But I think that’s just a personal milestone,” he says, speaking at his desk in his East 93rd Street office. Snow falls on the other side of the window. He’s wearing a blue suit, white shirt and no tie, talking easily and without the requisite staff members that so often sit in on a politician’s interview.

“I take paternity leave pretty seriously and family leave pretty seriously,” he adds, “and I admit I’ve been a little bit of a bully with any men that I know who aren’t taking leave because I think both partners regardless of gender should be taking an equal and active role in the child-rearing process.”

Our Town "Condo on stilts” paused by Michael Garofalo

"Condo on stilts” paused

“In the event of an emergency, first responders are going to be called upon to run up hundreds of feet of empty building to rescue people in these apartments.”

Council Member Ben Kallos

 

As the city prepares to tighten restrictions on developers' use of mechanical voids — large, empty spaces within buildings that primarily serve to inflate the height, views and market value of the floors above — a planned Upper East Side tower frequently cited by critics as among the most egregious examples of the practice is in limbo as the Department of Buildings evaluates void-related objections concerning the project.

 

Our Town Writing laws for everyone by CHRISTOPHER MOORE

Writing laws for everyone

Kallos’s district includes the Upper East Side, Midtown East, Roosevelt Island and East Harlem. For his first three years on the council, he was the chair of the council’s Government Operations Committee, where he tackled more than the campaign finance issue. He also focused on using technology to aid access to government and took aim at patronage. He helped get rid of outside income for council members, and to end the practice wherein the council speaker had the discretion to give “lulus,” or specific financial disbursements.

What has he not done? He hasn’t stopped the city’s plan for a marine transfer station in the area. “Doesn’t mean I have given up yet,” he says.

One big surprise when he got to the council: the corruption. He remembers being told that he needed to “go along to get along” and hearing advice against making any waves. “These are all the things that you might read about in a book,” he says.

Our Town EXCLUSIVE: 640 new school seats for UES by Michael Garofalo

EXCLUSIVE: 640 new school seats for UES

The city aims to add 640 new public school seats on the Upper East Side as part of its upcoming $17 billion five-year school capital plan.

Plans for expanding the neighborhood’s school capacity appear in the School Construction Authority and Department of Education’s proposed capital plan for fiscal years 2020-2024. The 640 Upper East Side seats are among the 2,794 new seats the plan calls for in School District 2, which includes the Upper East Side, Midtown, Chelsea and much of Lower Manhattan.

An SCA and DOE spokesperson did not comment on whether the city has identified potential sites for the 640 new seats. But Council Member Ben Kallos, who advocated for the agencies to expand school capacity in his Upper East Side district, said that the added seats will most likely be located in a new school.

“My preference is for one large school,” Kallos said, adding, “Based on the work I’ve been doing with the SCA to find a location for this school, I believe that there will be a site large enough to accommodate all 640 seats, if not more.”

The 640-seat Upper East Side project will cost an estimated $92.85 million, with an expected completion date of March 2025, according to the proposed capital plan. The city hopes to start design work by Sept. 2020 and begin construction by Dec. 2021.

Our Town The newsletter that saved a life by Doug Feiden

The newsletter that saved a life

The 10 scariest words in the English language, Ronald Reagan used to joke, are these: “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you.”

Kathleen L. Steed embraces a very different world view. Officialdom, she believes, can offer comfort, company, support and holiday cheer.

And every once in a while, it can even rescue you from mortal peril.

“The word ‘miracle’ is overused and overworked,” said the 73-year-old Yorkville woman, a retired private investigator and hospital fundraiser.

“But this really is a story about a miracle,” she added.

It surfaced on Dec. 13 at the annual holiday party of Upper East Side City Council Member Ben Kallos as some 70-plus constituents mingled in his district office on East 93rd Street.

Over baked ziti from the Italian Village Pizza on First Avenue and gallons of apple cider and other nonalcoholic beverages, Steed buttonholed Josh Jamieson, the communications director for Council District 5.

“Your newsletter saved my life,” she said simply.

Jamieson said he was stunned.

Thus began a conversation between a pair of newsletter aficionados.

Jamieson has worked for Kallos for nearly three years, and his duties include writing, editing and curating most of the document, which reaches thousands of constituents online and in a hefty print edition that can range from 30 to 50 pages.

It’s so comprehensive and labor-intensive that he’s regularly on the receiving end of good-natured ribbing from Kallos and Jesse Towsen, his chief of staff, over both the newsletter’s length and its encyclopedic scope.

A recent issue, for instance, was chockablock full with listings for UES events, lectures, exhibits, book groups, support groups, writing circles, yoga workshops, dance rehearsals, ballet workshops, exercise classes, cooking classes, legal clinics, medical services and homeless services.

Not to mention the screenings of “Casablanca,” symposium about the 1830s, drag queen story hours and discussions of the U-boat attacks on allied shipping in the North Atlantic during World War II.

Steed, who has lived in the same rent-stabilized, walk-up apartment on Third Avenue since 1977, is every elected official’s dream: She’s a self-professed “information junkie” who actually reads all their newsletters. Voraciously.

As an active senior who lives alone and likes to keep busy, she can often be found at gatherings, parties and other activities for the elderly that she’s spotted in the newsletters of Kallos, state Senator Liz Krueger, state Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright and U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, as well as nonprofits like the Lenox Hill Neighborhood Association and Health Advocates for Older People.

Of those six community newsletters, Kallos’ is by far the longest, while Krueger’s is a close second, Steed said. “Sometimes,” she confessed, “I don’t read it all the way through ... I just scan it!”

Nonetheless, she made it to page 46 of the 49-page July newsletter and focused on an event listing: “In honor of World Head and Neck Cancer Day,” it said, “please join us for free head and neck cancer screenings offered through Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.”

Our Town Territorial dispute over cleanup program by Michael Garofalo

Territorial dispute over cleanup program

By their very nature, press conferences regarding City Council expense funding allocations are generally rather staid affairs.

But a Dec. 5 announcement on public funding to tidy Upper East Side sidewalks turned into a raucous standoff between the cleanup crews of two nonprofits that each help formerly homeless and incarcerated individuals reenter the workforce through street cleaning jobs.

Next to a litter-strewn tree bed on the East 86th Street sidewalk, the workers of Wildcat Service Corporation — clad in neon green vests, pushing wheeled garbage cans and bearing implements of trash collection — had gathered to celebrate $85,000 in funding allocated to the organization by local Council Member Ben Kallos to clean a number of “problem areas” in the neighborhood.

Then, loudly approaching from the direction of Third Avenue, came the men of the Doe Fund’s street cleanup program in their signature blue uniforms, chanting, “Ready, Willing, Able — Doe Fund for life!”

The advancing Doe Fund lines were met with a retaliatory chorus as two sides met near the entrance to Shake Shack: “We are the Wildcats, the mighty, mighty Wildcats.”