2015 State of the District
Watch the Full Program:
Thank you to this afternoon’s program participants and to my staff, interns and volunteers without which, today would not have been possible.
More than a year ago, five hundred residents of this district joined me as I was sworn in as your City Council Member.
Thank you to those of you who were there then, those of you who are here today, and to all of you who have been there along the way.
Since that time, one year, one month, eight days later, much has been accomplished.
My team and I have been honored to assist more than 1,000 residents with problems ranging from potholes to evictions.
As Chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations, I have chaired 14 hearings, and passed 7 bills and 2 resolutions through committee.
I am proud to stand before you as a law maker who has passed 2 resolutions and four bills into law.
I’ve held 20 first Fridays and policy nights and attended 100 community meetings.
I secured $35 million in funding for the East River Esplanade and distributed $2.7 million in participatory budgeting.
With 2 years, 10 months, 19 days, 10 hours, 30 minutes and 10 seconds left, we’ve got so much more to get done, in precious little time.
Democracy depends on government that is transparent, open, and accountable, that empowers residents to have the information, access, and ability to play a meaningful role in the decision-making process.
These are your streets, your parks, your light, your air, and your city.
If it wasn’t clear already, this office belongs to you—and it is open to you.
On the First Friday of every month from 8am to 10am residents are welcome to join me in my office to discuss issues that matter to them. Attendance varies from a high of fifty to an average of ten to twenty. But I hold them each month because of how important it is to open government to provide a chance for residents to meet me face to face.
Democracy only works with your participation. Thank you to residents like Mel Lyman, Elsbeth Reimann and Carole Hughes who have been there each month and inspire me to keep going.
For those who join us at First Fridays, you may know that if anyone has a good idea for a policy or legislation they get invited to Policy nights, to mobilize people who want to create change.
With such precious time to get so much done, the only way to get more done then I otherwise could alone, it to empower residents with the tools and support they need from my office to help advocate for and set policy.
Mrs. Lorraine Brown, who did a beautiful reading of ‘Still I Rise,’ has been working with me to close the digital divide in public housing, a project that came from policy night.
Mrs. Myrna Lebow, concerned for the mental health of public school students following acts of violence in schools, far too many to name, advocated for more school counselors, and I was proud sponsor legislation that became law requiring reporting by the Department of Education.
I’ve hosted monthly forums on topics from safer streets to emergency preparedness so you can speak directly to city agencies.
Opening my office wasn’t enough, I decided to be even more proactive and come to you.
I launched a Mobile Office where my social work team goes into the community with hours at Stanley Isaacs and Holmes Towers, Robins Plaza and Lenox Hill, and Roosevelt Island. If you know of a community that needs my help, with a location to host us, please let me know so we can expand our services.
In order to make it even easier, I launched “Ben in Your Building” where I will come to your home if you can organize 10 neighbors to be there whenever it is most convenient for you. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with condo and cooperative boards, tenant associations, and concerned citizens in their apartments to learn from you and your neighbors what is most important.
I’ve also decided to give you one million dollars, through Participatory Budgeting which allows you to propose projects and vote directly on how your tax dollars get spent. Last year the community voted to bring bus count down clocks to the downtown M31 and crosstown buses and improvements to NYCHA including accessibility, new appliances, gardens, and security.
Most people do not know what a Council Member is, or what we do. Some Council Members don’t even know what a Council Member does. So I started an education campaign, visiting street fairs in the district to talk to you about how my office can help.
Through outreach like this, I have been able to discuss with many of you the issues of importance to you and your families.
I grew up across the street from it when it was active, have been a member of Asphalt Green, and ran for office in large part so that I could help fight it.
In my first months in office, I worked with Pledge 2 Protect — who tabled outside the event today — to reframe the narrative. Rather than fighting over where to spread harm, we advocated for investing in our future: reduce, reuse, recycle.
According to the Pledge to Protect talking trash report:
- We have 22,056 residents, 1,059 children, 6,755 minority residents, 1,173 units of public housing, and 6 schools, near this one station, more than all 6 other stations combined;
- If the Sandy Flooding of the FDR wasn’t enough, we showed that the station was being built in a flood plain;
- We could save $93 million a year, if we went from recycling just 15% to the Los Angeles rate of 45%,
You can take the pledge and read the report at Pledge2ProtectNYC.org
This year, we built a coalition with activists from Brooklyn who are also facing a marine transfer station in their residential communities.
All summer, we held rallies in front of Asphalt Green. Elderly residents and activists like Joan Cavanaugh, Barbara Heyman and Lorraine Johson got arrested for the first time in their lives.
During budget hearings I exposed the fact that the estimated capital costs for the station quintupled since the project began, jumping from $44 million dollars to $215 million dollars.
I commissioned a report from the Independent Budget Office that showed that it will cost New Yorkers three times as much to dispose of trash through this Marine Transfer Station than the current system of sending our trash to New Jersey with $600 million, or two-thirds of a billion over the next 20 years.
I have used this information to call on the administration to stop the marine transfer station for the good of all New Yorkers.
I support the proposal to move the ramp away from the center of the Asphalt Green fields. But I remain ever-vigilant and hopeful that logic, reason and facts will win over politics – and that the dump can finally be stopped.
According to New Yorkers for Parks, we have less open space on the East Side than nearly any other part of the city.
When Rockefeller University announced that it would be expanding their campus over the FDR, as part of a deal from a generation ago, I was pleased to follow the Community Board and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer in working with President Marc Tessier Lavigne to provide millions to support infrastructure and a redesign, with a first-of-its-kind million dollar trust to maintain their area of the waterfront forever.
Rockefeller University, through Vice President Tim O’Connor, will be representing hospitals and research universities along the Esplanade on the board of the Friends of the East River Esplanade, a nonprofit that I have designated as the conservancy to be the caretaker for our waterfront. Thank you to its founder and leader Jennifer Ratner as well as other volunteers for tabling today and your ongoing service.
Coming into office, I knew that the Parks Department projected a need to invest 115 million dollars in repairing our esplanade to avoid having to spend 430 million dollars to rebuild it.
I worked hard to secure 35 million dollars in funding in partnership with Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, as co-chairs of the East River Esplanade Task Force, to repair and revitalize our open space.
I will continue to work with agencies to invest in our waterfront on piers that have fallen into disrepair and adding concessions that can generate revenue and most importantly make our waterfront a destination.
I have long advocate for ferry service, along with Congresswoman Maloney.
Ferry service is yet another promise from my platform, which I will be coming to the East Side and Roosevelt Island by 2018, as announced by Mayor de Blasio in the State of the City.
We are taking back our waterfront so that it can become a center for transportation, commerce and recreation once again.
I support Vision Zero – with the goal that no member of our community should ever lose his or her life in a traffic collision.
Pedestrians, cyclists and motorists must all be able to use our streets safely.
I used my first newsletter to ask 60,000 residents to share their knowledge of the most dangerous intersections and desired street fixes and improvements.
I compiled the information into a “Livable Streets” report, and am now putting it into action. It is available for download at BenKallos.com/Livable-Streets
In the past year, I held three forums on street safety.
During my campaign and once in office, I have had thousands of conversations, many concerning commercial bicyclists, and a frustration, that complaints have gone unheard.
In response, I launched the “Commercial Bike Safety” program to empower every resident to help improve safety for pedestrians concerned about delivery bikes.
The program has a few easy steps:
- Educational Forum
We canvassed every restaurant in the district and held a forum for over one hundred of them where the Department of Transportation distributed FREE Safety Vests, bells and lights.
- More safety vests.
If you see or receive a bike delivery from a person with NO safety vest displaying business name and ID number, report it to the business, 311 and to me.
- Report unsafe biking.
If you see wrong way or unsafe biking, remember the business name and identification number from the safety vest then report it to the store, 311 and to me.
The most important is your communication with the restaurant, the power of your dollars, far outweighs the power of government to these stores.
When you call 311, DOT and NYPD will be notified and will take the appropriate steps to resolve the issue.
The program has already had success in curbing unsafe behavior, spreading awareness and increasing the use of safety vests.
CitiBike and bike lanes are coming to our district in the coming years. I will work with residents and city agencies to ensure we all have a voice in the locations and the implementation process.
I hear a LOT about the M79 — and living at 80th and York, I experience it, too. Recently the M79 won the “Pokey Award” for slowest bus in the city by the Straphangers Campaign.
I am working to make the archival bus time GPS information of these buses public, so we can hold the MTA accountable.
I also invested in Bus Clocks, so you will be able to see when your bus is going to arrive and plan accordingly.
We’ve all suffered through the construction of the Second Avenue Subway and I’ve done my best to support businesses along the corridor, through advocacy for funding in the budget to support with my own dollars. If you are going out for a meal or ordering in, please Shop Second Avenue.
I am proud to announce, the Second Avenue Subway is on track for completion on December 31, 2016.
While we wait, I’ve authored legislation that would allow you hail a New York City yellow or green cab easily on your phone. Since I proposed it, the idea has become so popular that the cities of Los Angeles and Chicago have already adopted it. I look forward to making it easier for everyone to hail a cab on their phone and get where they are going, fast.
You are my eyes and ears, and we can only improve transportation if we work together.
So please tell me the locations that need improvement and visit BenKallos.com/Livable-Streets
I have been trying to visit all 29 incredible schools in the district. Some have even visited me. If I haven’t visited your school yet, please contact my office to let me know.
My goal is to support our principals, teachers, parents and students. Providing resources and advocacy for what they need.
Far too many children go hungry every day. That is why I helped lead the Lunch 4 Learning Campaign to provide free school lunches to every student. We won free school lunch for middle schools.
I will continue fighting for all 1.1 million students to have a free salad bar, breakfast after the bell and lunch.
With hunger rampant throughout our city, I am committed to making sure our city’s children grow up healthy from cradle to career with a fair chance at the American dream.
Last year, I invested one million dollars in Science, Technology Engineering and Math education (STEM) education through my discretionary funds to improve our labs, computers and equipment. Our children must be prepared for jobs in what has become a STEM based economy.
I learned how to code growing up, and it opened up a world of possibilities. Every child deserves that chance.
Education is also about learning to be a good citizen. That is why I have made special effort to connect our schools with our local democracy.
This year, I pioneered a mock voting program for children at PS290, offered civics classes to schools in our district, and gave a Summer Reading Challenge for dedicated students to read five or more books.
I am introducing a Council Member for a Day essay contest for students in grades five through eight.
My young adult voter registration bill would guarantee that high school seniors get voter registration forms in their classrooms and at graduation to encourage them to register.
But, as they get older, students are being crushed under a mountain of debt.
During my campaign, The New York Times endorsed my plan to create free CUNY right here in New York City. For every year a young graduate works and stays, they should be forgiven ten percent of their loans.
There is momentum for this idea: President Obama called for 2 years of free Community College and Governor Cuomo has called for low-income SUNY graduates to have loan payments covered for the first 2 years after graduation.
We must invest in students so they can power our city’s economy. Instead of crushing debt, students deserve opportunity.
What if finding an affordable apartment wasn’t impossible?
What if rents didn’t skyrocket each year?
What if our seniors and our disabled residents didn’t have to choose between medication and paying rent?
Last year, I was proud to help lead a coalition, that won a historic low 1% increase on 1-year leases for rent-regulated apartments. I will keep fighting for a rent freeze in 2015.
I was proud to fight side by side with tenants at Knickerbocker Plaza like Rita Popper and Harri Molese to protect former Mitchell-Lama residents from being downsized to smaller apartments. The City heard our voices – and now, seniors are now longer being moved from 1-bedroom to 0-bedroom apartments.
Recently, I introduced a bill to protect tenants from being placed on a blacklist simply for being named in housing court. And, last year, the City Council successfully raised the maximum income for residents receiving Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemptions and Disabled Rent Increase Exemptions.
And we must continue to develop responsibly once the Second Avenue Subway is built.
Any new building must contain affordable units.
We must fix our zoning code so that tall skyscrapers for the few do not block light and air for the many.
The future of our community depends on neighbors working together for responsible, community-driven development.
Since taking office, I have made it a mission to move government out of the backrooms and into plain sight.
As Chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations in the City Council, I have fought to reform the most entrenched dysfunction.
Though changing government takes time, just one year later, some of the results are in:
The City Council passed Rules Reform to make it more fair and accountable with legislation that will be online for you to do what you wish.
I identified 4 billion dollars in potential waste in contract overruns.
I fought corruption at the Board of Elections, fighting for them to post jobs publicly instead of using them as patronage and won their adoption of a conflict of interest policy. I also successfully advocated for a transparent process for appointing three new commissioners, who swore under oath to instate these key reforms.
Finally, I passed four laws to improve transparency, efficiency and participation in our city:
- The City Record Online Bill will make public meeting and contracting notices available to you online instead of locked away in a file cabinet.
- Online Voter Guide Bill saves the city millions of dollars by allowing the city voter guide to go online-only which already started this year.
- The Agency Based Voter Registration that will help New Yorkers participate by making it mandatory that more city agencies assist people in registering to vote.
- Open Law, introduced by Council Member Lander, which I co-sponsored, will put the law online so you can actually see the laws by which you are governed without an expensive Lexis or Westlaw subscription.
When government is efficient, honest, and technologically sound, it is easier for residents to have a say, get help and get ahead.
I hope to see you again soon, far before next year’s State of the District, at a First Friday, Policy Night, Mobile Hours, Ben in Your Building, Cooking with Kallos, Street Fair, Participatory Budgeting, Forum, Community Meeting, or just saying stopping by to say hello.
One year ago, I promised to faithfully discharge the duties of Council Member to the best of my abilities.
Today, I promise to continue to fight as hard as I can to make the changes we want to see in our streets, our neighborhoods and our city.
But the state of our district depends not just on me, but on you, because together we can ensure it keeps getting better.