Below is a re-post of my City Council office's 2021 Annual Report. For the original, click here.
As New York City begins its recovery from the pandemic accountability and transparency in government are of the utmost importance. Elected officials must be accessible and able to prove to New Yorkers that they are focused and working diligently to bring New York City back better than ever before.
Despite our physical office having to be closed, we have continued to serve you by phone and online. Our monthly newsletter never stopped, First Friday moved to Zoom, and we even held a virtual State of the District to keep residents informed. Just as we have done every year since I have been in office, we continue to report to you with a comprehensive list detailing over 100 issues we have worked with residents and local leaders to win over the last 7 and a half years and what we have still left to do.
As a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science and even before becoming a new father, education has always been a top priority. When the Mayor promised “universal pre-kindergarten” and didn’t give us any seats we worked together to add more than 1,000 seats. When we were surrounded by new construction with children turned away from schools and no new budget for school seats I wrote the law to force transparency and won funding for 824 new school seats. We've invested $6.5 million in STEM education, rebuilt our schools, and are building new gyms and green roofs for schools. We've helped schools open safely during the pandemic, and launched a new French dual language pre-kindergarten. We carried legislation that we passed into law for students to offer LGBT support in schools and parents to put GPS tracking on every school bus. With the digital divide exposed by the pandemic, we introduced legislation to guarantee every student a laptop with digital textbooks that aren’t racist and outdated and even proposed desegregating online learning. We won funding for Summer Youth Employment and are fighting for Universal Youth Jobs. We’ve renovated a century-old library where I first got my library card and even built a new library on Roosevelt Island. As a student who was too ashamed to stand on the poor lunch line, we moved breakfast after the bell, won free school lunch, and now I am fighting to end youth hunger by serving dinner as part of universal after school.
Our recovery must be driven by jobs for one-in-five New Yorkers who lost them during the pandemic and raising wages for others. That starts with a universal Internet guarantee built on having won affordable high-speed internet for low-income New Yorkers. We will be growing jobs right here at a new biotech incubator at Rockefeller University that we’ve been working on since my first day in office. We also cut the ribbon on a new half-billion-dollar campus expansion of Rockefeller University and the brand new Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island.
In one of the wealthiest cities on the planet in a country where we pay farmers not to farm, hunger isn’t a question of resources, it is a question of information, which is why I continue to push my legislation to make government benefits barrier-free with Automatic Benefits. We can offer retirement accounts to workers who don’t have them at no cost to employers with Retirement Security for All legislation that Trump can no longer block.
When the pandemic shut businesses down, we fought for and won outdoor dining. I am proud to have co-sponsored the law to make outdoor dining permanent and even offer funding to help businesses retrofit for improved ventilation and accessibility.
Parks are more important than ever as we seek refuge from tiny apartments that weren’t built for a pandemic. Working alongside Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney as Co-Chair of the East River Esplanade we have now secured $874 Million for a resilient waterfront. This is on top of a $3.3 million renovation of Carl Schurz Playground, $1 million for a new pool and basketball courts at John Jay Park, a $2.9 million expansion of Sutton Place Park, $1.4 million in security cameras for hard to patrol parks, and having a new conservancy for almost every park. We even opened indoor tennis for free or low-cost year-round.
Affordable Housing & Over Development
As a lifelong tenant, I know that even with thousands of vacant apartments, the affordable housing crisis persists. We were able to build or preserve 1,000 affordable housing units in the neighborhood with 6,000 citywide as a land-use subcommittee chair. We’ve also won three rent freezes for one million rent-regulated tenants. When a whistleblower shared that real estate developers were getting billions in tax breaks without offering the affordable housing they promised I wrote the law to get hundreds of thousands of affordable homes back on the market. You can see what’s available and apply at HousingConnect.nyc.gov.
We continue to fight overdevelopment that is displacing rent-regulated affordable housing and threatening our communities. We managed to stop the march of supertall buildings for billionaires into residential neighborhoods by winning the first of its kind rezoning. Following that momentum, we closed the mechanical voids loophole in residential districts as we seek to make the voids illegal in commercial districts that include Billionaire’s Row. Then we beat the Jetson’s tower on stilts. I also wrote the law to turn down the volume on after-hours construction noise. After having their proposal for a tower that is illegal to build next to a park rejected 4 times, the New York Blood Center is back again with a proposal to build 334-foot tall commercial tower that would leave the only playground in the East 60s in shadows for much of the day and you must make your voice heard.
In New York City there are more homeless children in our shelters than single men, together with their families they make two-thirds of our homeless. That’s why I co-founded the Eastside Task Force for Homeless Outreach and Services (ETHOS) getting faith-based organizations, nonprofits and City agencies together to build and support more services for the homeless in the neighborhood. Together we’ve opened supportive housing for women and children, a new supermarket style food pantry, and won a near-unanimous resolution in support from Community Board 8 to build a new Safe Haven, all within blocks of where I live and I couldn’t be prouder. With more vacant apartments than homeless families, I’ve proposed renting or buying vacant apartments to end homelessness for families.
Big money has had a stranglehold on politics leading to a corrupt government that has failed to serve the people, like saying it would do something about the affordable housing crisis while taking money from real estate developers. That’s why I think elected officials should follow my lead by refusing big money from real estate, corporations, and lobbyists and why I wrote the new full public matching campaign finance system that matches every small dollar you give with 8 public dollars so candidates can run the right way and win.
Our government was so corrupt when I started, that I had to write the laws to make it illegal for Council Members to earn outside income from people with business before them and to make the Speaker’s lulu slush fund used to buy Council Member loyalty illegal too. We amended the Charter not once, but twice, winning reforms at the ballot to pace the way on campaign finance along with term limits and urban planners for Community Boards, as well as limiting the revolving door for elected officials who become lobbyists. We even investigated the Rivington scandal.
We need to make it easier to vote. That’s why I authored laws to let you request your absentee ballot online and make sure it is counted which was finally implemented. I also wrote the law to let you register to vote online that was blocked by a corrupt Albany legislature.
You should know where your tax dollars are going which is why we’ve had participatory budgeting and why I wrote the law to put the budget online. I’ve even proposed $15 billion in fat to trim from the budget, savings we could use to fully fund nonprofits serving youth and seniors.
Public Health & Safety
When the Covid-19 pandemic started, the first thing we did was try and help our City and state secure hospital beds which were in huge demand early on. We succeeded and were able to open 550 new hospital beds in the district. We were also able to launch a supply clearinghouse, and we continue distributing masks, sanitizer, and food. Over the years we've focused on public health with laws to take on Legionnaires' disease and make happy meals healthy, and we've worked to connect New Yorkers with the benefits they need automatically. We wrote the law to create the Office of Food Policy as we fight to adopt good food purchasing.
Getting around our district has improved immensely over the last 7 and a half years. Thanks to the vigilance of Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney we finally opened the Second Avenue Subway. We also won new transit options including ferries, bike share, faster buses through Select Bus Service, and even renewed the tram. As part of Vision Zero, we invested in infrastructure to make our streets safer and launched a bike safety program that made it safer to be a pedestrian. We are now working to make the 59th Street bridge safe for pedestrians and cyclists to cross along with forcing the City to plow bike lanes and pedestrian intersections.
I believe in climate change and evidence-based governance. That's why I authored and passed a resolution making New York City the largest city on the planet to declare a climate emergency. The following year the Mayor adopted our ban on the sale of single-use plastic bottles in parks. Through Grow NYC we have funded Fresh Food Boxes and green markets, to offer locally sourced sustainable farm-fresh produce to thousands of residents in the district. I spent years fighting to expand composting, only to see it canceled by the Mayor, and I am committed to working with you to bring it back. We can reduce the carbon footprint of dirty buildings, build green energy infrastructure right here like Renewable Rikers and offshore wind for a recovery that puts climate first.
Quality of Life
Cleaning up doesn’t just mean corruption in government, it also applies to the neighborhood. We’re fighting hundreds of miles of scaffolding, some of it almost old enough to vote, with legislation to force repairs so it comes down quickly. We even put a new, covered trash can on every corner and are working with Wildcat to keep streets clean.
Every moment I get to work for you is a pleasure. I am so grateful for your support and partnership in accomplishing so very much. Please let me know what’s most important to you? Share your priorities at BenKallos.com/survey-2021
Yours in service,
BY THE NUMBERS
Constituent Service Cases: 15,792
Introductions Authored: 137
Introductions Enacted into Law:42 (31%)
Resolutions Authored: 23
Resolutions Adopted: 9 (39%)
City Council Attendance (excluding Paternity Leave): 98.25%
Land Use Matters Adopted: 11
Rezonings to Stop Overdevelopment: 2
Lawsuits Against Overdevelopment: 2
Legislation Sponsored Adopted or Enacted:1,180 (65%)
Ben in Your Building: 65+
First Fridays & Brainstorm with Ben: 70+
Mobile Hours: Hundreds
Free Legal Clinics: Hundreds
Community Meetings: Hundreds
Event Registrations: 6,000+
Reusable Bags Distributed: 4,900
Participatory Budgeting Investments in Community: $10.3 million
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- 824 New K–8 School Seats Secured for the East Side
- Adding More Than 1,000 New Pre-Kindergarten Seats for the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island Along with Better Pay for Teachers
- Taking on Youth Hunger with Breakfast after the Bell and Free Lunch
- End Youth Hunger with Universal After School, Complete with Dinner
- Fighting for Universal Youth Jobs
- $6.5 Million Invested in STEM Education from Hydroponics Labs to New Laptops
- $5.9 Million for Green Roofs
- New Gym for Eleanor Roosevelt High School and Playgrounds
- New Gym Secure for P.S. 151 and P.S. 527
- $8.2 Million Building Retrofit and New Open Space for P.S. 77 and P.S. 198
- Reopening Safely During a Pandemic and Securing School Nurses
- Pandemic Exacerbates Need for Laptop for Every Child and Ending Racist Textbooks
- Desegregate Online Learning
- Rebuilding Award-Winning Public Schools
- New School for Children's Academy
- Launched Dual Language French Pre-Kindergarten
- GPS for School Buses
- Gender Sexuality Education Law Authored by Middle School Students
- Five Years of Public School Student Art Shows at Sotheby’s
- $2.5 Million Renovation for East 67th Street and Roosevelt Island Libraries
- Supporting Excelsior City and State University Scholarship
JOBS & ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
- Won Affordable High-Speed Internet for Low-Income New Yorkers
- Universal Internet Guarantee
- Opening Rockefeller University’s New Half-Billion Dollar Campus
- Rockefeller Incubator
- Opening and Collaborating with Cornell Tech
- Automatic Benefits Law, API and Study
- Retirement Security for All
- Outdoor Dining
- Proposing a Worker-Led Recovery by Raising Wages for Human Service Workers
IMPROVING AND CREATING NEW PARKS
- Secure $874 Million for a Resilient East River Esplanade
- Reconstruction of Carl Schurz Playground Completed
- $1 Million for John Jay Pool and New Basketball Courts
- $2.9 Million Expansion of Sutton Place Park
- Free Summer Tennis and Discounts at Sutton
- $1.4 Million for New Security Cameras in Hard to Patrol Parks
- James Cagney Place Recognized as Official Pedestrian Plaza
- Launching and Supporting Conservancies with a Quarter Million Dollars
- Play in Our Parks
- Revitalizing the Waterfront Management Advisory Board
FIGHTING FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND AGAINST OVERDEVELOPMENT
- Getting More Affordable Housing on the Market
- More than 1,000 Affordable Apartments Built or Preserved in the District
- 6,000 Affordable Homes Built or Preserved on City Land
- Rezoned Sutton to Stop Supertalls: Court Fight Continues
- Tower on Stilts Defeated
- Won Citywide Rezoning to Close Voids Loophole
- Won Three Rent Freezes and Three Historic Lows
- Lowering the Volume on After Hours Construction Noise
- Safer Construction with Law to Count Every Life
- Ending Downsizing of Seniors into Studio Apartments
- Protected Quiet Side Streets from Overdevelopment and Won Mandatory Affordable Housing for New Neighborhoods
- Reformed the Board of Standards and Appeals
- Protected Landmarks Citywide and Recognized for Preservation
- Opening New Free and Affordable Art Spaces with ChaShaMa
- Opening Up Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS)
- Tenant Safety Protection Laws
- Blood Center
- Blackwell House Ribbon-Cutting
HELPING THE HOMELESS
- Co-founding the Eastside Taskforce for Homeless Outreach and Services
- Welcoming Supportive Housing for Women and Children to the UES
- A New Food Pantry for the Upper East Side
- Opening a Safe Haven for Homeless New Yorkers on the UES
- House Homeless Families in Vacant Apartments Now
- Authored the New Public Campaign Finance System to Get Big Money Out
- Eliminated Outside Income and Legal Bribery
- Weakening the Influence of Special Interest Money in Politics
- Charter Revision 2019: All Five Questions Passed
- Charter Revision 2018: Won Term Limits for Community Boards and Urban Planners
- My Bills for Online Voter Registration and Voter Information Portal Improve Elections
- Absentee Ballot Tracking Implemented by the Board of Elections
- Opened the City Budget to the Public
- Focusing on Better Management
- Millions for the Community Voted for by Residents in Participatory Budgeting
- Demanded Answers on the Rivington Nursing Home Scandal
- $15 Billion in Contracts
- Fully Funding Non-Profit Human Service Providers
PUBLIC HEALTH AND SAFETY
- Coronavirus: Opening New Beds, Expanding Testing, Securing and Distributing Masks, Serving Meals
- Police Reform
- Healthy Happy Meals Law Takes Effect
- Legionnaires’ Disease Prevention Law Implemented
- Creating Office of Food Policy & Fighting for Good Food Purchasing
- Emergency Prep Go-Bags
- Opening 2nd Ave Subway
- Select Bus Service for M79 and M86 with Automated Bus-Lane Enforcement
- Prioritizing Pedestrian Safety
- Bringing Bike Share to the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island
- Ferry Service for the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island
- Bike Safety Program Gets Results with Safety Improving Over Five Years
- Won Dedicated Bike Lanes on Queensborough and Brooklyn Bridges
- Roosevelt Island Tram Approved for Another 50 Years
- Snow Plows for Bike Lanes and Pedestrian Intersections
- Declaring Climate Emergency
- Banning Toxic Pesticides
- Fresh Food Box
- Sale of Single-Use Plastic Bottles Banned in City Parks
- Composting on the Upper East Side
- Renewable Rikers Act Passes
- Fighting to Protect Climate Works for All
- Offshore Wind
QUALITY OF LIFE
- Inspect All Scaffolding to Keep Pedestrians Safe and Planning to Take Down Unnecessary Scaffolding
- A New Trash Can on Every Corner
- Cleaning up the Neighborhood with Wildcat Service
- Improved Quality of Life Enforcement