The race for Manhattan borough president is still well over a year away, but New York City Councilman Ben Kallos has already locked up literally dozens of labor union endorsements. And now he has gained the support of arguably the most prominent individual to weigh in on the race so far – Rep. Carolyn Maloney.
Maloney is the first, and so far only, member of Congress to endorse a candidate in the Manhattan borough president’s race. She’s also the first sitting lawmaker to back Kallos’ campaign. “It’s about getting things done, and I’ve been proud to work with Council Member Ben Kallos to deliver for the East Side, which is why I am endorsing him to bring the same results to the entire borough as the next Manhattan Borough President,” Maloney said in a statement provided to City & State.
Although he has been leading in union endorsements, Kallos has lagged behind his competitor – City Councilman Mark Levine – when it comes to support from fellow elected officials. But support from someone as significant as Maloney could give Kallos a boost as the race heats up. “I think Maloney is very, very important,” Kallos told City & State. “There are only three Congress members that really represent Manhattan, and so I think it is a big deal.” Four House members represent at least some portion of Manhattan, but Rep. Nydia Velasquez’s district includes only a sliver of the borough and covers more of Queens and Brooklyn.
Maloney joins 73 labor unions, including some smaller locals, that have publicly backed Kallos for Manhattan borough president, a number that the councilman proudly touts. Those include the New York Professional Nurses Union, the New York State Iron Workers District Council and a variety of locals of unions like the Iron Workers District Council.
As of now, Levine has no union endorsements. Kallos said that his own strong stances opposing real estate interests and standing up to Mayor Bill de Blasio, as well as his past as a labor lawyer representing unions, drove the support he’s seeing now. He added that union leaders were urging him to make his run official last year, prompting him to announce in October, jumping in early even by today’s standards. “Anyone who’s ever done politics in our city knows just how our unions, our organized labor is,” Kallos said. “This is a union town, and between the support of Congress member Carolyn Maloney and labor unions, I see a strong path moving forward to be the next Manhattan borough president.”
In addition to his union backers, Kallos also points to his record of standing up to real estate and other big dollar interests. He has forgone campaign contributions from members of the real estate industry since he first ran for office in 2013. And while that practice has grown more popular among progressive candidates, Kallos said he also does not accept any corporate or lobbyist money, going a step further. “For me, it’s about credibility with the voters, and them knowing that the person who is saying they’re willing to stand up for the neighborhood isn’t selling them out,” Kallos said. He said his independence from developers has allowed him to negotiate with them to build more schools, reduce the impact of major developments and engage in a “first of its kind” community rezoning. “So there’s been a lot that I’ve been able to do in my local districts, but a lot more that I’d like to do for the entire borough of Manhattan,” Kallos told City & State.
Last year, Kallos also got legislation passed that revamped the city’s campaign finance system, lowering contribution limits and increasing the matching ratio for public funds to decrease the influence of large donors while empowering small donors. And he advocated for a City Charter amendment – approved in November – that ensures borough presidents a baseline budget to protect them from potential mayoral retaliation for taking a stand against administration interests. He offered both as further evidence of his commitment to being an independent advocate for Manhattan, following in the footsteps of Borough President Gale Brewer.
One potential obstacle for any candidate announcing as early as Kallos is keeping up the momentum until the 2021 election. But he said that he doesn’t expect that to be an issue as he continues to roll out new ideas, both as part of his campaign and as he finishes his City Council term. “The seeds we’ve planted now will continue to grow,” Kallos said. “I’m not worried about losing momentum because I think our record of accomplishment has only begun.”