Press Coverage

Clarence Eckerson


Samar Khurshid

City Council Member Ben Kallos is always looking for ways to make government more efficient and accessible through technology and the use of data. To that end, Kallos, himself a programmer, introduced a bill last week that would require information generated or received by city agencies to be available through an interface that allows easy use of the data and, ideally, a streamlined experience for New Yorkers interacting with their city government.

This would occur through an Application Program Interface (API); essentially, Kallos explained, “a language dictionary so a piece of software can communicate with another software.” Such a system would facilitate the automatic availability of city data through mobile- or web-based applications, opening up opportunities for the private sector to create programs that interact with city government. A program that easily transmits permit and license applications, for example.


Erin Durkin

The city has instituted universal free lunch for middle schools, but declined to expand it citywide.

Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) asked  Fariña to also issue rules that school staffers could not go after parents to collect unpaid lunch fees later, but she declined to do that without studying it first.

“Students are not deprived of eating lunch because of money,” she said.


Gotham Gazette
Samar Khurshid

“I guess I have an overarching concern here,” Kallos responded, “just that you’re spending four times more on auditing and penalizing candidates than you are on supporting them and your candidate-to-liaison ratio far exceeds what would be allowed in a public school at this point [for student-to-teacher].” He said the candidate services unit should at least be on par with the audit unit, to provide more personal attention to campaigns, and later floated the idea of legislation to mandate it. “I feel a bill coming up,” he said.



Gotham Gazette
Samar Khurshid

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.”


Brendan Krisel

UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — A fleet of 79 brand-new buses will replace some of the oldest buses in New York City servicing five Upper East Side routes — the M14, M15, M101, M102 and M103 — officials announced.

The new buses, equipped with WiFi and USB charging ports, will be based out of the Tuskegee Bus Depot in Harlem, City Councilman Ben Kallos said in a press release. The depot will provide three to five of the new buses per week to the five Upper East Side routes, which should speed up local bus service. The buses stationed at the Tuskegee Bus Depot were some of the oldest in the city, causing frequent breakdowns and "missing buses" — when fewer buses run per hour than scheduled.

"Bus service on the East Side is about to get better with brand new buses that won’t cause disruptions in service from breaking down as often," Kallos said in a statement. "Residents complain about poor bus service every day, but after years of advocacy, we are getting the new buses we need."


Shaye Weaver and Allegra Hobbs

A number of East Side politicians, including Councilman Ben Kallos, Sen. Liz Krueger, and Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright, along with the East 79th Street Neighborhood Association, petitioned the MTA for the new buses after receiving a slew of complaints from commuters who wait long periods of time for their bus to come.

"Bus service on the East Side is about to get better with brand new buses that won’t cause disruptions in service from breaking down as often,” said Kallos. “Residents complain about poor bus service every day, but after years of advocacy, we are getting the new buses we need."

The new buses will eventually phase out the older buses, which is the primary cause of "missing buses," according to Kallos. 

The buses that run on all five routes come out of the Tuskeegee Bus Depot in Harlem and are some of the oldest, Kallos said.

"When local buses end up 'missing' that further compounds the problems," he said. "The M15 had the oldest fleet in the city. This is great news for M15 riders."

Locals and politicians on both the Upper and Lower East Side have for years been asking the MTA to fix the slow local M15 service or add additional Select Bus Service stops on the route.

Upper East Side residents have pushed for more local M15 buses or at least the addition of a Select Bus Service stop at East 72nd Street since the local bus takes too long to arrive. 

"You can stand there for 25 to 35 minutes and see three Select Bus Service buses go by," said Valerie Mason, president of the East 72nd Street Neighborhood Association, last year. "In the last six years, local service has deteriorated greatly."


Alex Swerdloff

The purpose of the legislation is, in part, to would allow workers more easily to arrange for child care or take on second jobs. Among its supporters is New York City's Mayor Bill de Blasio and council member Ben Kallos, who attended the rally today. He told MUNCHIES, "Fast food workers deserve respect from their employers and these laws will make sure we are taking steps in that direction." He called the legislation "common sense" and said it "will go a long way towards improving quality of life for New York City workers. I was proud to show my support."


Editorial Board

While responsible apartment managers adhere promptly to the spirit of the building safety law, recalcitrant owners leave the sheds up for years as a cheap way to avoid making building repairs. There are no deadlines set to force the work to be done or the sheds to come down.

The pole-and-metal roofed structures, designed to catch debris, attract it instead, along with idlers and loners, according to the complaints of nearby residents who are urging the city to take action. City Councilman Ben Kallos has proposed legislation to force a timetable of three to six months on building owners, but some insist that they don’t have the money to finish jobs. Thus sheds stay perpetually, as much a protection for scofflaw owners as pedestrians.


Madeleine Thompson

Until recently, the most crowded bus route in Manhattan also had the oldest buses in the fleet. According to data analyzed by the Bus Turnaround Coalition, which advocates for better bus service citywide, the M15 carries more than 46,000 passengers every day, though ridership has decreased roughly 10 percent since 2010. Thanks to a combined community effort, 79 new buses have already begun to replace the vehicles on the M15 route, as well as on the M14, M101, M102 and M103 routes.

“We spent an enormous amo”unt of time demonstrating the need for the buses,” Council Member Ben Kallos said. “When residents complain about bus service we pass it on to MTA and MTA usually tells us the buses were there.” Kallos, who has a background in software development, partnered with Civic Hackers to collect and assess bus data in order to demonstrate that bus service on the Upper East Side was spotty and often bunched. Between gathering the data and convincing the MTA, Kallos said the project “ended up soaking up about two years of my life.”

Betty Cooper-Wallerstein, the president of the East 79th Street Neighborhood Association and a former Council member, began collecting her own data many years ago by compiling results from survey cards she would hand out at community meetings. She would ask bus riders to note the route they took and their driver’s punctuality, both to monitor service standards and to give awards to the highest ranking bus drivers. “We have very many seniors,” Cooper-Wallerstein said, emphasizing the need for more reliable service so older riders aren’t waiting as longer or having to walk far away to a better line. Cooper-Wallerstein said she expects the new buses will be “a big help.”

Kallos credited state Senator Liz Krueger with helping set up the meeting last fall with Darryl Irick, the president of the MTA Bus Company, who confirmed that the M15’s vehicles were the oldest in the fleet and agreed to provide the new ones. “The MTA has advised me that the 79 buses is enough for a full replacement on the M15,” said Kallos, who takes that route to work. The remaining new buses will be distributed across the M14, M101, M102 and M103 routes, he added, “where we will continue advocating for more buses.”

The Bus Turnaround Coalition shows that the M101, M102 and M103 have the fourth, 15th and 22nd highest ridership in Manhattan. On the M101 route, one of every six buses arrives bunched.

The 79 new buses will have Wi-Fi, USB charging ports and digital displays displaying upcoming stops. They are also equipped with a pedestrian warning system to prevent collisions. “It can be tough to balance trying to keep people getting to work on time with pedestrians in the intersection who may or may not be obeying the law,” Kallos said. “This technology will really help drivers avoid any mishaps.


Nathan Tempey

Advocates have plenty of examples to point to when describing the lien sale process running amok. By their tally, 89 properties with community uses had their tax debt sold in 2016. Among them was Grace Baptist Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant, which sold last year to cover wrongfully levied tax bills, according to reporting by Urban Omnibus. The Al-Muneer Foundation, a mosque and community center, in Jamaica, Queens had its wrongfully issued tax debt sold in 2014 and had to fight to get the tax erased.

A church's failure to pay taxes or file for an exemption for one of three neighboring lots that make up the Imani Community Garden in Crown Heights led to its tax debt being sold in 2004. The affected lot is in the middle of the garden and contains a decades-old willow tree. In 2015, BNY Mellon's trust foreclosed on the debt, and a developer bought it at private auction. The new owner fenced the lot off from the other two sides of the garden, and is now planning to build an apartment building there, according to Buildings Department records.

Aging nonprofit administrators, dwindling church congregations, decentralized dioceses, and transient volunteer pools can all contribute to nonprofits missing the significance of bills or failing to file paperwork, according to people familiar with the issue.

"I’ve heard from some folks who are like, 'Why can’t some nonprofits fill out some forms?'" said East Side Councilman Ben Kallos, who lead the sign-on effort. "If this goes into the lien sale, no bank is going to say, 'Oh you don’t need to pay us back, you just need to fill out this form with the city.' The city should be reaching out proactively to folks."


Gotham Gazette
Ben Max

Two weeks after he announced the initiative, de Blasio and others who had spurred the effort -- especially Public Advocate Letitia James, City Council Member Ben Kallos, Comptroller Scott Stringer, liberal activist Bill Samuels, and members of AARP-NY -- held a celebratory rally at City Hall. They said they were pushing the federal Department of Labor to issue rules paving the way for their plan and that legislation would soon be introduced at the city level.

Several months later, in the waning days of the Obama administration, the Department of Labor did issue such a ruling, but just a few months after that, the new Congress passed a resolution to negate the permission the DOL had extended to large cities like New York. President Trump then signed the bill on April 13. According to multiple sources, and further illuminated by International Business Times reporting, the financial services industry has been opposed to allowing city and state-backed private-sector programs, which led to federal action.

In fact, rolling back city permission appears to have been a high priority for the Trump administration. In photos posted to Twitter by a visitor to his office (left), top Trump advisor Steven Bannon is shown to have listed the resolution number one under “Bills,” as part of several lists of priorities and pledges.

“This is a deeply disappointing move by President Trump and Congressional Republicans,” said Freddi Goldstein, a spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “As the mayor has repeatedly pointed out, fewer than half of all working New Yorkers have access to a plan that can help them save for their retirement years. This legislation does little more than block them from securing their futures.”


Gotham Gazette
Samar Khurshid

Fuleihan insisted that the city has baselined 65,000 slots for the program, showing that the administration is indeed committed to SYEP. He also noted that a joint youth jobs task force created by the Council and the administration to study the issue only recently released its recommendations and that those would be incorporated before the adopted budget. “I had no doubt that this was going to be another priority that we’re going to be working together on adoption now that we have the task force recommendations,” Fuleihan said.

The hearing touched on a number of other budget items, small and large, and many related to individual Council members’ purviews as chairs of Council committees. For instance, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, chair of the cultural affairs committee, brought up funding for the arts; transportation committee chair Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez questioned the administration’s refusal to back discounted Metrocards for low-income New Yorkers; and Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of governmental operations, pushed for budgeting to be linked with agency performance. In his typical refrain, Fuleihan repeatedly said OMB would work with the Council members on their individual concerns.

One of the larger issues addressed at the budget hearing was the city’s capital plan -- not the level of funding, but rather the process of allocation. Council members said the city has often allocated excessive funds for projects that are often delayed and that no plans exists to account for cost overruns.


Brendan Krisel

UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — Improvements to two neighborhood schools won funding during this year's participatory budgeting cycle, City Councilman Ben Kallos announced Thursday.

Nearly 2,500 residents from the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island voted on how to allocate $1 million to improve the neighborhood.

The projects that won funding are:

  • 1,514 votes – P.S. 183 Green Science and STEM Lab Classroom - $600,000
  • 1,139 votes – P.S. 198/77 Playground Renovation - $500,000

The cost of both projects exceeded the $1 million allotment, but Kallos said his office will chip in $100,000 in capital funds to make sure both projects are fully funded. If the project you voted for didn't make the cut, all is not lost.


New York Times
Winnie Hu

While Mr. Rubin said the city’s new scaffolding database would be useful, he added that it did not go far enough to address the problem. “As long as building owners find it cheaper and easier to keep up a sidewalk shed, rather than remedy the dangerous building conditions that make sheds required, the many problems that are caused by these ubiquitous sidewalk sheds will never be solved,” he said.

City Councilman Ben Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side, said he was “underwhelmed” by the building department’s efforts, adding that it will do little to address scaffolding that has overstayed its welcome. “We already know how big a problem it is, and unless the city is willing to take steps to get the scaffolding down, it doesn’t matter,” he said.

Mr. Kallos has proposed legislation that would give a building owner three months to repair a facade, with the possibility of a three-month extension, so that scaffolding can be removed within six months of going up, or sooner when no work is being done. The legislation has drawn support from many residents and business groups, including the New York State Restaurant Association and the New York City Hospitality Alliance.


Ameena Walker

While its a step in the right direction, annoyed New Yorkers are saying its not enough and call for legislation that will penalize property owners who keep the sidewalk sheds up for extended lengths of time to avoid making necessary repairs. “We already know how big a problem it is, and unless the city is willing to take steps to get the scaffolding down, it doesn’t matter,” City Councilman Ben Kallos told the Times. He has proposed a bill that would require building owners to make facade repairs within three to six months so that scaffolds aren’t up for longer than that.


As a result of the new map, the DOB was able to order 150 scaffolds to be dismantled since work had been finished. Though the database consolidates data, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will help scaffolds come down any quicker. “We’re erring on the side of safety to keep them in place so no one gets hurt,” said DOB Commissioner Rick Candler.


Our Town
Madeleine Thompson

Mayor Bill de Blasio rolled out a new initiative last week to offer universal pre-kindergarten to all New York City 3-year-olds, though kinks in the original program have yet to place all 4-year-olds in their preferred schools. Before the mayor’s announcement, Council Member Ben Kallos already had a rally planned for April 30 to demand additional seats for 4-year-olds within his district. “Pre-K for all must include the Upper East Side,” Kallos said at his event. “Three hundred 4-year-olds are being told that they have to take a commute down to the financial district.”

There has been progress on the Upper East Side, however. Since 2013, seats available for 4-year-olds enrolling in pre-K have increased fourfold, from about 150 to about 600. This school year, though, 900 4-year-olds applied to fill them. As of 2014, more than 2,700 children in that age group lived on the Upper East Side, some of whom choose private school. Numerous elected officials attended Kallos’ rally, including city Comptroller Scott Stringer and state Senator Liz Krueger, all of whom echoed Kallos’ call for de Blasio to keep his promise.


Mike Smeltz

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Officials and parents rallied Sunday on the Upper East Side, calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to open up more pre-kindergarten seats in neighborhood schools.

As WCBS 880’s Mike Smeltz reported, Irina Goldman was planning on placing her 4-year-old into the City’s Pre-K program this upcoming school year. Living at 83rd Street and First Avenue, she was really looking for anything within a 20-minute walk.

But as many parents in the neighborhood are facing, her child was placed in a school six miles away in Lower Manhattan.

“When I found out, honestly, I cried, just out of frustration,” Goldman said.

Upper East Side parent Rob Bates was also hoping he could get his son, Michael, a pre-K seat a program somewhere – really anywhere – in the neighborhood. But Michael, 4, was assigned to a program in Union Square – at least a 30-minute subway ride away.

Bates said the trip was a huge burden for their family.

“The subways are very crowded, and it makes us nervous,” he said. “You know, you have a fragile little child. You don’t want to put him on a crowded subway like that, especially for that length of time.”

In all, more than 900 Upper East Side families with 4-year-olds applied for the Pre-K program. A third of them were given seats outside the neighborhood, creating a logistical nightmare for parents.

Goldman said her family has no clue now if they are going to send their child to pre-K at all.


Gotham Gazette
Samar Khurshid

A bill heard by the City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations on Thursday aims to further limit the influence of big-dollar donations and special interests in city elections. The bill, co-sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, who chairs the committee, would tweak the city’s public campaign finance system by removing a cap on public funds disbursed to candidate campaigns by the Campaign Finance Board (CFB).

The city’s campaign finance system is held up as a national model that incentivizes small dollar donations by matching them with public funds. Each qualifying contribution up to $175 is matched 6-to-1 by the city, through the CFB, allowing candidates with a lack of access to personal wealth or deep-pocketed donors to run competitive campaigns. Currently, the CFB only matches public funds up to 55 percent of the spending limit for a particular seat.
Shaye Weaver

"If you own a piece of land where the zoning says you can't build a skyscraper in this part of the district, you don’t get to draw an imaginary line in the sand," said City Councilman Ben Kallos, who filed the appeal with other elected officials and the Carnegie Hill Neighbors group this month.


Tanay Warerkar

Neighbors and local elected officials have however argued that that consensus was ludicrous, and that it would be hard to imagine a building going up in a 10-by-22-foot lot. Neighbors have already filed two appeals against the project, according to DNAinfo, and now led by their local City Council member, Ben Kallos, they have filed a third. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has expressed her opposition to the project as well.


New York Daily News
Erin Durkin

“We’ll be able to see who’s getting hurt, where and why so that we as a city can make construction safer. We must count every life,” said Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan), the bill’s sponsor.



Councilman Ben Kallos, who co-chairs the East River Esplanade Taskforce, applauded the plan. “I will finally be able to run the full length of my district from Midtown East to East Harlem,” he said.



Local officials, including City Council members Ben Kallos, Dan Gardonick and Ydanis Rodriguez; Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer; and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney also cheered the decision, with Garodnick noting that, “while we still have some considerable gaps, our plans just got a whole lot closer to reality.” Another $5 million will be allocated to a study of the Greenway’s remaining parcels, with the goal of clarifying next steps in finishing the entire waterfront.