Council Member Kallos Known for Winning Anti-Corruption Reforms Has Taken On City Hall and Real Estate to Win School Seats, Parks Investment, Transportation Improvements, and to Stop Supertalls in Residential Neighborhoods
New York, NY - New York City Council Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Ben Kallos is the first to announce that he is running to succeed term-limited Gale Brewer as Manhattan’s next Borough President.
The “reform democrat” is running on a platform of accomplishments and anti-corruption measures he won to help communities stand up to real estate as they fight for affordable housing, something that sets him apart as a candidate for Manhattan Borough President. Council Member Ben Kallos has been recognized by City and State who ranked him as one of the best city council members and as a workhorse who has passed more than 40 laws. Kallos won over a thousand pre-kindergarten seats for his district, secured $200 million for parks, and authored anti-corruption measures including a ban on lulus and outside income, all while refusing money from real estate that allowed him to bring the first of its kind grass-roots community rezoning to stop overdevelopment of supertall towers for billionaires to preserve and build affordable housing for everyday New Yorkers.
At the time of an announcement, Kallos unveiled seven endorsements from organized labor unions: Communications Workers of America Local 1101, Heat and Frost Insulators Local 12, New York Professional Nurses Union, Organization of Staff Analysts (OSA), Steamfitters Local 638, Sheet Metal Workers Local 28, and Utility Workers Union of America Local 1-2.
The Borough President’s primary role is in land use planning and decisions, where Council Member Ben Kallos has distinguished himself since he was a candidate by refusing big money from real estate and lobbyists. Without the corrupting influence of big money from real estate, he has won tens of millions of dollars in private investments for a resilient waterfront and lead winning fights alongside Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer for a first of its kind rezoning to stop the proliferation of super-tall towers in East Midtown and borough wide to stop buildings with giant empty mechanical voids meant to prop up the views of billionaires.
“We’ve proven that communities with a Council Member and Borough President who actually work for them instead of big money donors can accomplish almost anything. Without the corrupting influence of big money from real estate I’ve been free to stand up for residents alongside our Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and win. We’ve made so much progress and the stakes have never been higher, we can’t afford to lose momentum. Manhattan’s next Borough President must continue the work of Gale Brewer, standing up to the Mayor and real estate, in favor of communities. I know we can do it, because we’ve already done it, and Manhattan deserves a Borough President focused on each and every block in the borough. We’ve always opened our office to the community and will continue to do so, empowering residents to use the powers of our office to pass laws, vote on how to spend money, and to plan for the future of our communities,” said Council Member Ben Kallos.
Kallos struggles like so many New Yorkers at paying for market rent housing, sharing a one-bedroom with his wife and daughter. He does not own a car, and relying on public transportation, he faces the same daily MTA delays as everyone else. He faces tens of thousands of dollars of student debt that will take thirty years to repay, as child care costs exceed his college tuition. Like so many New Yorkers he feels that pressure every day and it motivates him to secure affordable housing, invest in public transportation, and make child care and education free.
The grandson of immigrants who fled anti-Semitism in Europe he was raised by his grandparents and single mother in Manhattan. Kallos graduated from the Bronx High School of Science where he received free and reduced lunch. Kallos worked his way through the State University of New York (SUNY) at Albany for undergrad and then Buffalo Law School, using his law degree as a union-side labor lawyer winning benefits for workers. Kallos began his public service as Chief of Staff to Assembly Member Jonathan Bing, after which he put Albany’s voting records online for the first time. Kallos went on to serve as the founding Executive Director of Bill Samuels’ New Roosevelt Initiative (then Effective NY), running an independent campaign to defeat corrupt State Senator Pedro Espada and leading a bi-partisan effort with academics to reform the state constitution.
In 2013, Kallos ran for City Council against an Assembly Member who had used his power to sexually harass his staff. Kallos received the endorsement of the New York Times for his “fresh ideas” in his upset victory in the Democratic primary.
No stranger to controversy, Council Member Kallos has taken on fights no one else would, winning reforms no one else could. When the City Council sought to give itself a raise, as the Chair of the powerful Committee on Governmental Operations, Kallos authored and forced passage of laws to eliminate outside income for council members and additional compensation for leadership and committee assignments called lulus. During the Mayor’s Charter Revision Commission, Kallos advocated for and won a match of small dollars with 8 public dollars up to 75% of the spending cap, which won by 80% with 1.1 million votes. Kallos went on to author the law to apply the new system to the Special Election for Public Advocate, and then a full public match on every small dollar up to the spending cap. The dramatic impacts of this new law have already been made clear as elections have been flipped from being financed almost exclusively by big money at 75% to nearly two-thirds small dollars at 60%, allowing for the first successful campaign for citywide office to refuse real estate money.
As an attorney, Council Member Kallos has personally authored laws to finally fix longstanding problems facing New Yorkers. Working with a whistleblower who identified tens of thousands of apartments receiving billions in subsidies without offering the affordability promised, Kallos authored Local Law 64 which will force landlords to register and offer existing affordable housing through Housing Connect starting in 2021. When students were turned away from gifted and talented programs, trapped on school buses that got lost, or going hungry, Kallos passed laws to take on these problems like tracking applications and admissions, putting GPS on school buses, and reporting on school meals served and participation to help end hunger in schools. For public health, Kallos passed laws to protect residents from Legionnaires Disease as well as fighting childhood obesity with Healthy Happy Meals. Ahead of the Climate March, Kallos made national news when he authored and passed a resolution declaring a climate emergency.
Within Land Use, the Borough Presidents also have a vote on the Franchise and Concessions Review Committee, and Kallos has stood up to the biggest media companies in America from Comcast to Spectrum to demand and win affordable broadband Internet for over one million low-income youth and seniors in New York City.
Kallos has much he still plans to accomplish in his remaining two years in the Council. He continues efforts to rezone the borough of Manhattan to curb overdevelopment for billionaires in favor of affordable housing with three land use matters that city planning has committed to studying including (1) restricting mechanical voids in commercial districts, (2) restricting the use of unenclosed mechanical voids or stilts, and (3) a requirement for minimum lot sizes.
In his district, Kallos is trying to keep every block clean with new trash cans on every corner, demanding real estate developers build affordable housing and new schools, and keeping close watch on the city to keep hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure on track.
On the legislative front, Kallos continues to focus on removing the blight of scaffolding and sheds from our sidewalks, protecting tenants from blacklist discrimination, banning pesticides and single-use plastic water bottles from our parks, protecting construction workers, and has even teamed up with Mayor Bill de Blasio to pass Retirement Security for All.
Ahead of the November Election, Kallos is focused on passing two questions on the ballot in particular, for which he testified in favor: an independent budget for the Borough President and Community Board review during pre-application in the Land Use process. If past is prologue and these measures pass, it foreshadows the kind of Borough President Kallos seeks to be, standing up to the City Council and Mayor as well as mobilizing the community for early involvement in the Land Use planning process.