DNAinfo.com UES Council Candidate Uses Tech Background to Connect with Voters by Eliza Fawcett
UPPER EAST SIDE — Call it City Council 2.0.
Ben Kallos, a Democratic candidate for the District 5 City Council seat, is using his experience as a tech entrepreneur to run a campaign promising everything from publishing city records online to expanding Internet service to serve more low-income families.
Kallos — a self-proclaimed progressive reformer who has advocated for accessible education, affordable housing, tax reform and equal rights — believes a background in computer programming and law will enable him to better connect with his constituency.
Some of his proposed initiatives include maintaining a website that allows for direct public interaction and publishing all city contracts online.
“I envision a site with all relevant information in one place, including the process of awarding contracts,” he said. “Allowing citizens and journalists more information will help combat the culture of back-room dealing.”
Kallos' candidacy recently received a boost after after sexual harassment allegations surfaced against Assemblyman Micah Kellner, who is also running for the seat, which currently belongs to Jessica Lappin. Kallos and Kellner will also face Ed Hartzog in the Sept. 10 Democratic primary. David Garland is running for the seat as a Republican.
On Kallos' campaign website, visitors can view and comment on his ideas and his "127 solutions" through online forums — and the discussions have already begun. Community members can propose their own ideas, receive responses from his team and give other ideas a thumbs-up by clicking on a plus sign.
Most of the proposals have votes numbering in the hundreds. The most popular solution — “Require NYC government to always consider Open Source or Free Software for new software” — clocks in at nearly a thousand votes.
If elected, Kallos said the open forum discussions on his campaign website would continue.
The technology thread runs through his whole campaign, which Kallos said he is managing as if it were a tech startup.
He has implemented the "20 percent rule," popularized by Google, in which employees are encouraged to use 20 percent of their time and energy for a project of their own choice. Some team members focus their 20 percent on reaching out to labor unions, while others focus on transportation issues, he said.
Kallos previously created OpenLegislation.org, which makes legislator attendance and voting records in New York State available to the public. His computer code for the site also led to a national version, OpenStates.org.
“By bringing [records and information] out in public from behind closed doors, I think we are going to improve our democracy.” Kallos said. “We’re trying to empower voters and create a new type of accountability.”
Kallos' technology angle has started gaining fans in the district he hopes to represent. He was recently endorsed by Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist.org, and Richard Stallman (RMS), a longtime activist for free software.