New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Press Coverage

City Council Member Ben Kallos, who represents a large swath of the Upper East Side, testified at Wednesday night’s meeting, and though he said the campaign finance system currently in place is “the model campaign finance system in the country,” he also agreed there’s “room for improvement.” Kallos, who last term chaired the Council committee with oversight of the city Campaign Finance Board and has been a longtime reform advocate, said he’d like to see changes to “shift the balance of power away from the wealthy and…back towards the people it was designed to serve,” and he believes those changes can be implemented effectively without “putting this existing system at risk.”


This weekend, May 12 and 13, the free LIC Flea & Food market will open in Long Island City at 5-25 46th Avenue from 11am to 6pm. It’s your chance to visit the market while it’s actually in its namesake LIC: It will move over to Astoria beginning the weekend of May 19. 


City Council members are demanding the city yank the license of a sanitation company whose driver killed two people in the Bronx and lied to cops about it.

Councilman Antonio Reynoso and other pols stood outside the city Business Integrity Commission's office Wednesday to push for the shutdown of Sanitation Salvage, one of the city's largest private trash haulers.



UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — An Upper East Side private school has pledged to complete a $1 million renovation project on part of the East River Esplanade in an agreement to lease the space, city officials announced this week.

The Brearley School will lease "The Pier" — an 3,720-square-foot elevated platform above the John Finley Walk between East 82nd and 83rd streets — for the next 20 years with the option for two 10 year renewals, City Councilman Ben Kallos announced.

The school will be required to make $1 million in capital improvements to the space, which has fallen into disrepair and often leaks water onto the John Finley Walk, and will be responsible for maintenance and upkeep for the duration of the lease, Kallos said.


“It forces you to appeal to all voters as opposed to one Democratic base,” James added. “And this means more engagement, and less polarization and more democracy. It means listening to people you might not usually listen to and a freer exchange of ideas and is consistent with our principle of democracy and free elections,” James added. She later also suggested that if the mayor’s commission failed to take up the proposal, a separate Charter Revision Commission being created by the City Council, through a bill co-sponsored by James, could step in.  

Also in attendance Tuesday were Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and City Council Members Brad Lander, Antonio Reynoso, and Ben Kallos, all Democrats. James, Stringer, and Adams are all widely considered to be contenders for the 2021 mayoral race and share overlapping bases of supporters. It’s unclear, though, whether a runoff, instant or otherwise, will come into play in that race and who might benefit from which format. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. is a fourth likely Democratic mayoral candidate, and several others may also jump into the race, creating a crowded field more apt to produce a runoff.

The 2013 Democratic mayoral primary narrowly avoided a runoff, with eventual winner Bill de Blasio earning just above the 40 percent threshold. There was a Democratic runoff in the 2009 primary for public advocate, which de Blasio won. The 2001 Democratic mayoral primary was also settled through a runoff.


City Councilman Ben Kallos (D – Manhattan), a software developer who previously raised concerns about some of the existing kiosks not working properly, was flabbergasted after learning about the amended contract.

“If [CityBridge] is not going to have to make millions of dollars of its payments for a decade, then they should build all the kiosks now,” he said. “They shouldn’t be getting an extra two years.”


t was 1939, construction was wrapping up on the East River Drive, the waterfront was being reinvented and dozens of property holders were cutting deals as their riverside rights began to vanish.

Case in point: The Brearley School. It limited its claim for the loss of air and light and the surrender of riparian rights to a symbolic $1 when the city obtained an easement for its playground and pier.

It did not, however, walk away empty-handed: In return for getting out of the way of the highway, Brearley got the city to build a new elevated structure above the promenade deck for its use as a play space.

And for the past 79 years, the private all-girls school has been leasing the 3,720-square-foot, steel-and-concrete platform that rises above the East River Esplanade’s John Finley Walk between 82nd and 83rd Street.

Unfortunately, for the past half-century, the city-owned hulk — called “The Pier,” for the jetty it replaced, and “The Overhang,” because it juts out over the Esplanade — has become one of the most detested and unsightly visual objects on the Upper East Side.

“I have spent my entire life walking up and down the Esplanade, passing under this overhang — and watching it fall apart,” said 37-year-old City Council Member Ben Kallos, who represents the area.


27163662058 bdb1558259 o Power Politicians: The Officials Who Call the Shots on Real Estate


Ben Kallos

New York City Councilman, Manhattan, District 5

If a developer wants a rezoning or a special tax exemption for its project, it has to convince the City Council that the development will benefit the neighborhood and New York City at large. The first step in that process is getting a “yes” vote from the subcommittee on planning, dispositions and concessions, which is chaired by Upper East Side Councilman Ben Kallos. Since taking over the gig in January, the second-term Democrat has adopted a more aggressive stance toward evaluating land use applications than some of his predecessors. He asks each developer how much subsidy they’re receiving from city, state and federal sources, what the cumulative value of their tax abatement is, whether they’re using minority- and women-owned businesses for construction, if they have a local hiring plan, and whether their workers are getting health insurance and earning a living wage.   

“We’re squeezing as much affordable housing out of every dollar as we can,” Kallos said.

In December 2017, the council passed a bill he co-authored that would impose fines on landlords who receive the J-51 or 421-a tax breaks and flout the law by failing to register and offer stabilized leases for rent-regulated units. He also spearheaded a package of bills passed by the council last May that sought to reform the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA), the little-known body that grants zoning variances to developers who claim they are financially burdened by the zoning code. The legislation requires the BSA to write more thorough decisions, create a map of variances and notify local community boards, council members and borough presidents when it receives an application.

However, Kallos may have waged his fiercest battle last year against Gamma Real Estate, the developers of a planned 800-foot-tall residential tower at 3 Sutton Place. He helped pass a 10-block rezoning in the East 50s that will discourage projects like Gamma’s by forcing builders to adhere to “tower on base” standards, meaning 40 to 50 percent of the building has to sit below 150 feet. The developer is appealing the new zoning with the BSA, arguing its tower should be grandfathered in under the old, less-restrictive zoning.  


People would still be allowed to bring their own plastic bottles to those places, but wouldn’t be allowed to buy them there.

The measure would also provide for filling stations at parks and beaches, so people could fill up reusable bottles at those locations.

The measure is backed by Council members Ben Kallos and Rafael Espinal.

As CBS2’s Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, Kallos wants to start by stopping the sale of bottled water at city parks, beaches, golf courses, skating rinks, etc. Espinal would like to extend it to anything in a plastic bottle, like juice, soda, tea, etc.

“It would actually help and make a dent in the one billion plastic bottles that New York City throws away every year,” Kallos said.

“There are studies that show that if we don’t stop the current trend of the amount of plastic we’re using, we’re going to have more plastic than fish in our ocean,” said Espinal.

It’s a controversial proposal, Kramer reported. The International Bottled Water Association worries about dehydration.


The bill must pass through the State Assembly and the Senate before it can move forward. Per the Times, the Assembly has been “generally supportive of a ban but not a fee,” however, the Senate has not weighed in yet on the proposal.

Last week, New York City Councilman Rafael Espinal Jr., and Councilman Ben Kallos announced plans of their own to introduce a bill that would ban the sale of disposable plastic bottles at the city’s parks, beaches, and golf courses, reports the New York Times. The proposed ban hopes to encourage more people to rely on refillable bottles, and while sales of beverages in plastic bottles would be prohibited, park visitors would still be allowed to bring in their own plastic bottles.

“New Yorkers love convenience, especially because we are always running from one place to another, but this will make us pause and realize the impact that our actions are having on our environment,” said Espinal in a statement to the Times.


After President Trump rolled back a six-year Obama-era ban on selling bottled water at U.S. national parks last year, New York City Council has responded by introducing a ban of their own on single-use water bottles at city parks and beaches.

“In the face of the Trump administration's regressive and profit-driven agenda, it is time we step up and do our part to curb our reliance on single-use bottles,” said Council Member Rafael Espinal, who on Monday introduced legislation alongside Council Member Ben Kallos and Environmental Protection Chair Costa Constantinides.


Councilman Kallos said the Trump decision spurred him to action. He said he has wanted to ban disposable plastic water bottles since trying to buy one himself while visiting San Francisco several years ago and being told he could not. So he bought a reusable bottle to tote around — something he now does in New York.

“You see plastic bottles everywhere,” he said. “It makes New York look like a dump and we can do better.”

This is not the first time that New York has taken a stand against plastic bottles. In 2008, the office of the City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, stopped buying bottled waterfor Council offices. A 2009 state executive order barred state agencies from buying bottled water, to save taxpayer dollars and improve the environment.

The city has also targeted other plastic waste. In 2016, the Council sought to encourage shoppers to give up plastic store bags by charging 5 cents for most plastic and shopping bags. But that law was blocked last year by state legislators, some of whom argued that it imposed a regressive tax on the poor, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Mr. Kallos and Mr. Espinal said their proposed ban on plastic bottle sales was more limited than the plastic bag fee and less likely to draw interference from state lawmakers.

City Councilman Ben Kallos, left, a sponsor of the ban, discussed its merits with Michael O’Neal, a co-owner of the Ballfields Café in Central Park. A manager at the café said a ban could cut into his bottom line. CreditChang W. Lee/The New York Times
City Councilman Ben Kallos, left, a sponsor of the ban, discussed its merits with Michael O’Neal, a co-owner of the Ballfields Café in Central Park. A manager at the café said a ban could cut into his bottom line. Credit Chang W. Lee/The New York Times


Michael Whyland, a spokesman for the Assembly speaker, Carl E. Heastie, said that while Mr. Heastie, a Democrat from the Bronx, had not yet seen the proposed ban, “The speaker has always said that the city has the ability to enact a ban on unnecessary plastic waste.”

Mr. Kallos and Mr. Espinal said they will introduce bills next week to lay out more details about the proposed ban. Mr. Kallos said that vendors in city recreational areas could face penalties for selling plastic bottles, including possibly having their concessions revoked.


Kallos says he sees the impact of the law’s flaws. Across the street from his Council office, shedding has been in place for eight years despite a lack of work.
“Every day I see scaffolds where work is not happening at existing buildings,” he says.

Industry professionals tell City Limits privately that such delays could occur for legitimate and unavoidable reasons, such as a dysfunctional co-op board, delays in receiving city permits, new owners, a broke landlord who inherited an old walk-up, a building exchanging hands. Imposing a six-month limit, one architect warned, was “arbitrary” and could create a risk to public safety. And some wonder why a landlord would needlessly allow a shed to stay up if it was hurting their commercial tenants, who pay him rent.

The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) says Kallos’ proposed law will inconvenience the developer and the public and bring further delays. “The bill is well-intentioned but there are too many unintended consequences, insists REBNY’s Carl Hum, senior vice president of the organization, which represents more than 13,000 building owners and professionals.

Kallos’s office tells City Limits that the bill was reintroduced in 2017 and that negotiations are continuing with the DOB, REBNY and the Rent Stabilization Association (RSA), a trade group for residential building owners, which did not comment. “We have to negotiate with other people in the room,” Kallos says.

Kevin Dougan, director of the New York State Restaurant Group, supports the bill, as does the New York Hospitality Alliance. Dougan says that more than 600 of his members (mostly in Manhattan) report seeing a 40-percent slump in earnings because of the sheds, in an industry where profits are low as is.

In a 2016 sweep, the DOB says, it found that 98 percent of the sheds are necessary to protect the public, ordering the remainder to be removed. But that’s a number whose accuracy Dougan doubts, given the lack of inspectors. Kallos says the sweep did not determine whether work was active at each site.


Ben Kallos, a software developer who championed then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “Reinvent Payphones” initiative in 2013, noticed some kiosks in his district were partially out of order, and offered Wi-Fi but not free calls.


"Spring has finally sprung and with the new trees and planters can't wait to turn every pedestrian island into a small garden," Kallos said in a statement. "I am glad I was able to collaborate with our city agencies to launch and expand this great program to beautify the neighborhood."

Seventeen tree guards to protect the new trees from neighborhood pets were also installed as an extension of the Adopt-A-Planter program launched by Kallos in 2014 to bring trees to the First Avenue bike lane, officials said.


“We are a welcoming community. And whether it is women in need or others, we are going to work with you.”

City Council member Ben Kallos

For New Yorkers, the issue of homelessness is virtually impossible to ignore.

Approximately 63,495 people are homeless in New York City, 22,293 of whom are children in the public school system and 17,085 are parents with children, according to the NYC Department of Homeless Services, in figures from April 12 cited by City Council Member Ben Kallos.

These numbers only account for people in shelter system and do not represent the minority of homeless individuals — about 3,700 people — who sleep on the streets.

City leaders and homelessness experts discussed the situation on April 12 at the Ramaz School during a forum that addressed avenues for alleviating the problem in New York City, specifically on the Upper East Side.

“It really is more of a think tank,” said Barbara Rudder, a co-chair on the Health, Seniors, and Social Services Committee of Community Board 8. The forum, which was attended by over 60 people including Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, was meant to share information about the homeless problem with the public and discuss workable solutions to fix it.

To the experts on the panel — who included representatives from the NYC Department of Homeless Services, the Neighborhood Coalition for Shelter, the Doe Fund and the Women’s Mental Health Shelter — affordable housing is the first step. In the years between 2005 and 2015, rents have increased by 18.4 percent while incomes have increased by just 4.8 percent.

Kallos, whose district includes Yorkville, Lenox Hill and Carnegie Hill, discussed his efforts to increase the number of supportive housing facilities in the city. He mentioned his success during his re-election last year when he assisted in the acquisition of seventeen two-bedroom apartments for homeless women and their families.

“We are a welcoming community,” remarked Kallos. “And whether it is women in need or others, we are going to work with you.”


City Councilman Ben Kallos, who represents Sutton Place and the Upper East Side, testified Tuesday that residents had been fighting to rezone Sutton Place before Gamma even bought its development site.

"If the BSA is going to live up to its purpose which is to grant relief to developers when there is undue hardship, it cannot grant this exemption because these developers knew exactly what they were doing at all times and decided to assume risk despite the clear and present intentions and efforts of the community," Kallos said at a Board of Standards and Appeals hearing.


The Department of Buildings decided to release the data to give residents a better idea of when permits are issued and when they expire, and allow watchful neighbors to track sheds they suspect of overstaying their welcome.

"Real-time mapping not only increases our ability to monitor structures such as sidewalk sheds, but also shows how we are harnessing technology to hold building owners accountable," Rick Chandler, commissioner of the department, said in a statement.

Many attempts to reduce the proliferation of unwarranted scaffolding have been made over the years. After New York City Housing Authority residents complained that scaffolding at their developments was left in place long after work finished, the state passed a bill requiring them to be removed. And in 2016, City Councilman Ben Kallos introduced a bill that would penalize owners who leave scaffolding up when work is not being done, though the legislation has yet to gain traction.


The New York City Council is moving ahead with a bill to create a Charter Revision Commission to review the city charter, the city’s seminal governing document, with a committee vote on the bill set for Tuesday, and the full Council likely to vote it through on Wednesday. The Council’s commission is a separate effort from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s own commission, called by the mayor a few weeks ago.

On Tuesday, the Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations will hold a hearing on the latest version of its bill, whose prime sponsors are Public Advocate Letitia James, Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Member Ben Kallos (at the request of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.) James and Brewer initially put forth the idea last year, and Johnson got behind the effort after being elected speaker in January, when a new Council class was seated.


“All too often, there has been a strong correlation between people who give political contributions and groups that receive, or lose, millions in taxpayer funds,” said East Side Council Member Ben Kallos.

Historically, he noted, it wasn’t uncommon for some elected officials to use public money to “reward friends and punish enemies.” Now, PB walls off $1 million per district from being any part of that vicious cycle: “It puts those dollars back into the hands of the voters,” he said.

There are other benefits of the citizen-driven, decision-making process, said Kallos, who has utilized it since taking office in 2014. Considering that elected officials don’t always keep their word to voters, he added, “This is better than most campaign promises!”

Indeed, PB provides “almost instant gratification in which people can vote on a project, see the money allocated and then see it built,” he said.

And Kallos summed up the bottom line, saying, “Now, the people get to decide how to spend $1 million — irrespective of elected officials and the political process.”