It has been one year since I began serving as your City Council Member. I am deeply proud of the work we have done together and excited for the road ahead. Though there certainly have been difficult times, especially in recent days and months, it is time for our city to come together in mourning of those we have lost and with resolve to move forward.
I look forward to meeting you at an upcoming event--or perhaps my holiday party tonight, 12/23, from 4-7p.m. at my District Office at 244 East 93rd Street. You can RSVP at BenKallos.com/Events.
If you would like to compare my goals with actions over the past year, please have a look at my 2013 Policy Book. I am proud of these achievements--but I know there's much, much more to do. Thank you for your support this year. I am looking forward to the next three.
Rallying Together - As a community, we held dozens of rallies and actions protesting the Marine Transfer Station, covered on CBS and in amNY, Gothamist and DNAInfo.
Seeing the Problem Firsthand - In June, I joined our neighbors on a 12-hour citywide tour of sanitation stations with the City Department of Sanitation organized by Pledge2Protect and Asphalt Green in order to learn more about how we got here and share my strong opposition to the Marine Transfer Station with the Sanitation Commissioner.
Protecting Our Neighborhoods - Our community must be protected as construction occurs. After the Department of Design and Construction issued a flawed safety plan for construction of the site, I joined Congresswoman Maloney and other elected officials in the neighborhood expressing our concerns and demanding additional information. The agency has promised to respond fully. To see a summary of all the community concerns, please have a look at the TV Show RepresentNYC on Manhattan Neighborhood Network, where I am joined by neighborhood leaders in the fight against the Marine Transfer Station.
Moving Forward - We must keep fighting for the facts to win out in the end. I am currently seeking legislative solutions for a greener city. If you have ideas, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. To sign our petition to fight the marine transfer station or sign up for a list that will offer more frequent updates, please visit BenKallos.com/MTS
Soon after taking office, I launched a "Livable Streets" program to promote safety for drivers, pedestrians and bikers, as covered in the Daily News and Our Town. Devastatingly, neighbors and friends are being injured or even killed from preventable collisions. After soliciting information on unsafe intersections and desired street improvements from 60,000 households, my office produced two reports: "Dangerous Intersections" and "Street Improvements." I submitted the information to the DOT and NYPD and am working with them to improve the safety conditions of our local streets.
I also went into the community to hear from you, holding forums on:
As part of "Livable Streets," I implemented a BikeSafe program, providing free safety vests to restaurants that participated in a safety seminar, and encouraging residents to report unsafe commercial cycling. You can read more in my Our Town Op Ed: "Seen More Safety Vests? That's a Good Thing." Please share your ideas for safer streets at BenKallos.com/livable-streets.
- Safety along Second Avenue construction;
- Bike Lanes and Bike Safety;
- Commercial Bike Safety;
- Adopt a Planter program to allow neighbors to beautify our streetscape; and
- Vision Zero.
Revitalizing the East River Esplanade
$35 million in funds will bring critical improvements to the East River Esplanade. I was proud to partner with Congresswoman Maloney to advocate for the much-needed funds. I have proposed solutions to revitalize the Esplanade through public/private partnerships to fund repair of the piers through public/private partnerships, implement green noise barriers, and more.
When prestigious scientific research center Rockefeller University’s renovations were approved, they agreed to join the conservancy to become more involved in the Esplanade's future, provide $8 million to repair the esplanade’s seawall, a $1 million dollar endowment to maintain the esplanade in perpetuity, $150,000 to the esplanade conservancy and to expand community programming. Read more about these benefits for for our neighborhood in the New York Times.
I have enjoyed meeting with many of the schools in the district. If I have not yet met with yours, please contact email@example.com to set a time.
Universal Pre-K - My advocacy for the Mayor's plan to ensure all New York City children have access to pre-k was featured in the New York Times. Our efforts met with success: The state budget allocated $300 million for pre-k across New York State, with most of it for New York City. Our city will now have one of the most expansive pre-k programs in the country. I am pleased to see the city is using vacant space to ensure more students access pre-k, a policy idea I proposed and support.
STEM Funding - I invested nearly $1 million in discretionary funds on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) for students, including computers and devices that students need in order to learn. STEM jobs are the careers of the future, and we must ensure that our children are well-prepared.
Protesting a Bad Test - I joined PS 290 students to protest a test that was poorly written and questioned by principals across the city. We must trust our educators and students to know when a test works and when it does not.
Mock Vote - I worked with PS 290 to bring a mock vote in advance of November's election to Fifth Grade students. The students received a lesson on civics and voting before filling out their own ballots in order to absorb the value of voting and practice those skills early and often.
Summer Reading Challenge - I was proud of the students who took part in my first-ever Summer Reading Challenge. These remarkable students read 5 books, and I was happy to present them with a certificate of excellence.
Specialized Schools - As a Bronx Science graduate, I know how important it is that specialized schools remain about what you know, not who you know. I participated in a rally to keep the test as the sole measure of admission, and work to improve diversity in these institutions through other mechanisms.
Roosevelt Island Library - I was honored to sponsor and join a forum on the future of Roosevelt Island's library. To participate in a survey on the future of the library, click here.
Advocating for a Rent Freeze - Along with the Mayor and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito, I advocated for a rent freeze for tenants in stabilized units, organizing 22 Council Members to call for an end to a system that has favored landlords for too long. Though the Rent Guidelines Board ultimately decided on a 1% increase in rents, this is still a historic low for tenants. Later this year, we organized a rally to demand a rent freeze in 2015.
Lower Rents for Senior and Disabled New Yorkers - This year, I had the opportunity to sponsor and vote for an expansion of Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) and Disabled Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE). The legislation lowers income eligibility for those receiving SCRIE and DRIE benefits to $50,000 from $29,000 – which will help many more seniors and disabled residents live at ease in New York City.
Saving First Avenue Estates - As covered in the New York Times, I fought alongside community groups to preserve the affordable housing in historic First Avenue Estates, which landlords City & Suburban have long sought to demolish. The Landmarks Preservation Committee voted with us, the community, and the building remains.
Against Downsizing - In April, I rallied with tenants to demand a moratorium on Section 8 Downsizing. Seniors and disabled New Yorkers are being pushed into smaller homes. Since then, HPD has ceased downsizing of the elderly from one bedroom to studio apartments.
More units - I am proud to support the Mayor's plan to save or preserve 200,000 affordable housing units.
Lunch 4 Learning - As a leader and signatory on the Lunch 4 Learning movement, along with Public Advocate Letitia James and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito, I am pleased that universal free lunch was instituted in New York City middle schools and hope to see it expand.
Breakfast After the Bell - This year, we advocated to bring universal, in-classroom breakfast to New York City children--paid for by the federal government. In school breakfast participation, New York City ranks among the lowest. This common-sense program will help ensure no child, regardless of background, goes hungry.
Free Summer Meals - My team spread the word about the free summer meals distributed by the Department of Education from June 27th through August 29th, distributing information to dozens of families.
GrowNYC Locations - I was proud to bring a GrowNYC Fresh Food Box to the Stanley Isaacs Senior Center. The Fresh FoodBox delivers produce for just $10 to New Yorkers from all backgrounds. Now, they have multiple locations throughout the district.
Cooking with Kallos - “Cooking with Kallos” demonstrations over the summer were designed to show attendees at the 82nd St. Green Market that cooking can be simple, healthful and fun. Please visit me next year for more events.
Healthy Happy Meals - My "Healthy Happy Meals" bill requires that kids' meals that include toys as incentives meet specific nutritional standards. According to The New York City Department of Health, half of elementary school children are overweight, while one fifth of kindergarten students and one fourth of head start students are obese. It's hard enough for parents to make healthy choices for their kids without the fast food industry spending hundreds of millions on advertising to children. The bill aims to help families make free choices. You can see positive coverage of my plan in the Daily News, AP, CNN, WABC, CBS and more.
Paid Sick Leave - I was proud to cast a vote in the City Council to expand the paid sick leave act so it covers 1 million residents. It took effect on April 1st of last year, and will make it easier for working New Yorkers to earn the money they need and still stay healthy. My office is here to assist if you need any information on the program.
Informal open house discussions each "First Friday" of the month at my district office between 8a.m. and 10a.m. have allowed me to hear community issues and meet residents like you. Policy Nights have also allowed active and engaged residents to make their voices heard and create change. If your New Year's Resolution is to get more involved in your community, please join us. You can RSVP at BenKallos.com/Events, call 212-860-1950 or email RSVP@BenKallos.com.
I also launched a program called "Ben In Your Building" to come to your building with you and ten our more neighbors to discuss the issues of importance to you.Finally, once a month, every month, we bring our office to you from 4-7p.m. at Stanley Isaacs, Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, Roosevelt Island Senior Center and Lexington Houses.
As Chair of the Governmental Operations Committee, I have worked to oversee city agencies and implement reforms when they are needed.
Reforming Community Boards - New York City's 59 Community Boards are at the heart of local government--but for too long, they have been isolated to average New Yorkers and used for political gain. You can read about my policy report and City Council resolution to reform the boards in The Queens Chronicle, The Brooklyn Eagle, The Bronx Times and our very own Our Town.
One proposal has already become law. Together with my colleagues, I passed a resolution to allow 16-and 17-year-olds to join and contribute to their local community boards. We called this the "Scott Stringer Resolution" because our city's comptroller joined a board himself when he was sixteen. You can read about it in The Daily News, Brooklyn Eagle, SI Live, Gothamist, DNAInfo, NYMag’s DailyIntel and amNY or watch a short segment on Pix11.
Reforming the Board of Elections - In the Council, I have responsibility for overseeing the Board of Elections, an institution with a long history of patronage, nepotism and inefficiency. Whether it's a hearing with Council Member Gentile on the Department of Investigation report on the BOE's poor practices or taking on a pricey plan to convert old lever machines into voter kiosks, I won't back down when it comes to reforming the BOE. (Read more about it in the Daily News or watch on NY1.) When the Council appointed three new Board of Elections Commissioners, I worked with the Speaker to advocate for a more open process with public participation, instead of a back-room appointment. A Daily News editorial singled me out as seeking a "more open process." I am glad that this advocacy will result in an improved Board of Elections.
Billions in Budget Dollars - It is crucial that we spend city money the right way. I identified $4 billion in potential contract overruns by the City of New York and am closely monitoring them to ensure we don’t waste taxpayer dollars. I also introduced a bill with Finance Chair Julissa Ferreras to seek to collect the $1.5 billion owed in Environmental Control Board fines to the City of New York.
City Council Rules Reform
I was proud to be elected Vice Chair for Policy of the Progressive Caucus, helping to shape the Progressive agenda to move our city forward. We have been advocating to eliminate credit checks on job applications, expand public participation and more. The City Council adopted a series of major reforms to the rules of the body to make it more fair, open and transparent. I was especially pleased that the Council adopted changes to open its technology, an idea that was singled out as beneficial by the New York Times.
Our community voted on how our tax dollars got spent through Participatory Budgeting for the first time, and it was a great success. Instead of limiting the participatory funds to just $1 million, I expanded it to cover many more of the top vote-getters. Money I allocated to the community includes $1 million for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education; Bus Clocks to tell us when the next bus will arrive; and key funds for NYCHA housing. See all of the money I allocated in a searchable format at BenKallos.com/Budget/Results/2015
Transparency Bills - The public has a right to information, and my package of transparency bills, covered in Daily News and amNY, will help New Yorkers access it. Next City also summarizes open government proposals, and you can also read them and comment at BenKallos.com/legislation. I also put forward a bill that would transform our City's Freedom of Informational Law (FOIL) processes, which allow the public to access all government records. The goal is to make FOIL more responsive to journalists and to you. You can read more in Gotham Gazette.
Closing the Digital Divide - The New York Times covered my effort with Public Advocate Letitia James and 22 other elected officials to close the digital divide. We urged the New York State Public Service Commission to ensure any merger between Time Warner Cable and Comcast includes low-cost or affordable broadband for the millions of New Yorkers without it; consumer protections; and infrastructure investment. I also represented eight Council Members at the New York City hearing of the Public Service Commission on the merger.
City Record Online and Law Online - This year, I passed two landmark transparency bills that will improve access to public information. The first, City Record Online, puts our City Record document, with notices of meetings, land use activities, and more, online. The second, introduced by Council Member Brad Lander, which I co-sponsored, puts all New York City laws online, continuously updating, at nyc.gov. Before, the most accurate versions were only accessible through for-fee sites.
E-Hail App - Wouldn't it be nice to hail a New York City cab on your mobile phone? I proposed an e-hail app for yellow cabs to allow the city to modernize and provide New Yorkers with more e-hail options. You can learn more about the e-hail app in NY Times, AM New York, CNN Money, NY Post, International Business Times and more.
Open Source Software - I introduced legislation, reported on by the Gotham Gazette, that would preference free and open source software over contracts with proprietary software that force the city to pay over and over again for the same code. Free and open source software allows government freedom from restrictive contracts and the ability to share ingenuity across municipalities. A Civic Commons proposal would allow government to share code across platforms.
Public Information Commission - The Commission on Public Information and Communication has reemerged and will be transformed in coming months under the leadership of Public Advocate Letitia James. I was honored to be selected by my colleagues as a member and will be striving to make access to open data easier and more thorough.
Free Law Founders - The Free Law Founders (Freelawfounders.org) is a nation-wide coalition, for which I serve as Co-Chair, of elected officials from Chicago, San Francisco, D.C. and more, non-profit organizations, academics and software developers working together to modernize democracy for the digital age.
Agency Based Voter Registration - The Expanded Agency-Based Voter Registration Bill passed the City Council in November. The bill adds seven more agencies to those required to provide voter registration forms and strengthens the mandate to assist residents in filling out and mailing the registration forms to the Board of Elections.
Online Registration - My proposal to let New Yorkers register through a secure Board of Elections website online would draw in many more people to participate in the process.
Early Vote - I introduced a bill to allow New Yorkers to vote up to two weeks before Election Day. The Daily News wrote: "Some 33 states plus Washington, D.C., already offer early voting, but New York has never done so, Kallos said. As a result, the councilman added, New York ranked 46th in voter turnout in the last election, according to the United States Elections Project Study."
Voter Guide Bill - My voter guide bill could save the city millions by allowing the voter guide to be online only in certain election years.
Starting off and Moving Forward
Since then, the work hasn't slowed down--but nor has my excitement and commitment to be doing it. I hope to carry the same energy from 2014 into the new year as we go about building a better, stronger and more unified city. I hope you can join me at an upcoming "State of the District" event, where we will discuss these issues and more. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about details or share your thoughts.
Back in January, many of you came out for my inauguration ceremony. I was honored to have many of you join in to start off on the right note and to have so many community groups and elected officials participate in the program.