Upper East Side Council Member Ben Kallos officially kicked off his campaign last week to become the next borough president of Manhattan, running on a platform of anti-corruption and community empowerment.
“We have a proven model of success. When the community is supported by their local Council member and borough president, we have been able to accomplish things people thought was impossible,” Kallos, 38, said in an interview with Our Town.
The Democrat is the first person to officially announce their candidacy in the race to succeed term-limited BP Gale Brewer. Councilman Mark Levine (D-Morning Side Heights-Hamilton Heights) and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D-WF/Manhattan) have been noted as potential candidates.
Kallos said he wants to continue the work he started on the Council, which he notes has included adding a thousand pre-kindergarten seats to his district, securing $200 million for parks and cleaning up the streets of the Upper East Side by adding green trashcans on every corner.
He also pointed to his record on cleaning up the political system. When he first ran in 2013, Kallos rejected donations from real estate companies and corporations, saying he hoped it would push other members to do the same. Since then, he helped pass legislation to ban outside income for members.
Kallos believes his stances on anti-corruption and community empowerment go hand-in-hand.
“I've always felt like government wasn't listening to the people,” he said. “And in that way, it was often corrupt, with corrupt politicians saying one thing to the community and then doing another for the benefit of the wealthy, often billionaire real estate developers, and as they enter, they sell out their own communities, forcing their voters out in favor of wealthier people.”
Height Limits for Supertalls
During his time on the Council, Kallos has supported height limits for development and says he wants to continue to keep developers in check by getting the community boards involved in the planning process sooner if he’s elected to the BP’s office.
As part of that, Kallos said he wants to make sure each board has an urban planner on staff to empower them in the development process. He also noted that while he supports these regulations, he’s not anti-development, but wants developers to put resources back into the neighborhoods in which they’re building.
When speaking about their work with Kallos, leaders of the Upper East Side described the councilman as someone who is caring, a good listener and invested in working with the community.
Community Board 8 chair, Alida Camp, said Kallos has been a good partner of the board since he’s taken up his role on the city council. She said he often attends the board’s meetings instead of sending a representative from his staff.
Camp noted Kallos’ work to improve the quality of life in the neighborhood by cleaning up the sidewalks. She also said that while the councilman has traditionally supported height limits on supertalls, she and the board were looking for Kallos to commit to a 210-foot height limit that other elected officials have publicly endorsed.
“We’re one of the few areas that’s without a height limit,” she said, adding that the board hopes the limit would protect tenement buildings, affordable housing and small businesses.
Activism and Assistance
Valerie Mason, president of the East 72nd Street Neighborhood Association, said she appreciated how Kallos has empowered community groups and taught them how to be activists.
She said she’s seen Kallos help with not only larger group problems, but assisted individual constituents with their personal issues as well.
Betty Cooper Wallerstein, who serves as the head of the East 79th Street Neighborhood Association, said the quality most distinct about Kallos is how much he cares. She said this was particularly important because she has seen a lot of representatives who come into office with their own ideas and are not open to what others have to say.
Wallerstein said she’s seen Kallos listen to constituents, evaluate what they’ve had to say and changed his position on things because of what the community needed.
“That’s special,” she said.
For those outside the Upper East Side and not as familiar with his record, Kallos said he wants to people to know that he’s on their side.
“I work for them,” said Kallos. “If they're willing to collaborate, if they're willing to work side by side, I'm willing to work with them and working to empower them. And I don't think there's a limit to what we can accomplish.”