Meet the City Council’s New Members: Ben Kallos

Meet the City Council’s New Members: Ben Kallos

Meet the City Council’s New Members: Ben Kallos
January 28, 2014

Growing up in the same Upper East Side neighborhood he will now represent, Ben Kallos attended Rabbi Arthur Schneier Park East Day School, where he learned about tikkun olam, the Jewish concept of “repairing the world.” The lesson inspired Kallos to conclude he wanted to make Jewish laws, in order “to make the world better.” However, when he was informed by a rabbi at the school that Jewish law does not govern the United States, Kallos was nonetheless unfazed, saying, “I want to be a lawyer, so I can make our secular laws, our everyday laws better for people.”

The idealism of Kallos’ youth developed into full-formed activism. He became very active in student government, and then graduated to jobs in real world politics as a staffer for former assemblyman Jonathan Bing and former public advocate Mark Green. Most recently, Kallos served as executive director of New Roosevelt, an organization founded by Bill Samuels to spur governmental reform in New York State. Kallos’ good government and advocacy roots were on full display in his campaign for City Council this year, during which he refused donations from lobbyists or special interests in favor of a more grassroots approach.

“It’s one thing to say to somebody, ‘Don’t take money from lobbyists or corporate special interests or for-profit developers,’ and it’s another thing to run for office and do it yourself,” Kallos said. “We focused on so many donations from so many members of the community that we were able to change the narrative.”

Now a member of the Council’s Progressive Caucus, Kallos wants to follow in the footsteps of his colleagues Brad Lander and Melissa Mark-Viverito by instituting participatory budgeting in his district, in addition to focusing on the need for more school seats in his district, senior services, and opposing the controversial E. 91st Street marine transfer station.

“With participatory budgeting, it’s a huge experience where the first time ever in that voter’s life, they will go into the poll, vote on how their tax dollars are spent and they will see the benefits of their vote,” said Kallos. “They will see community improvements and I think that will dramatically change the turnout that we see.”

District: 5
Neighborhoods Represented: Upper East Side, Roosevelt Island
Policy focus: Rules reform, education, senior services
Date of Birth: Feb. 2, 1981
Birthplace: Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
Education: B.A. in communications and psychology, SUNY Albany; J.D., SUNY Buffalo Law School
Previous Occupation: Executive Director, New Roosevelt
Family: Wife
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