Who am I?
My name is Ben KaIlos, the progressive candidate for the fifth City Council district, covering the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island in Manhattan. I am a third-generation resident of the Upper East Side, and the proud product of our city and state’s public school system as a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, State University of New York (SUNY) Albany, and SUNY Buffalo Law School.
I am currently the Executive Director of the good government organization New Roosevelt, a practicing attorney and statewide coordination committee chair for the New York Democratic Lawyers Council a voter protection project of the DNC. I previously served as Chief of Staff for Assembly Member Jonathan L. Bing, and Director of Policy and Communications for former Public Advocate Mark Green.
My proudest accomplishments are in government transparency and accountability. In 2007, when 2 million New York voters mysteriously disappeared from voter rolls, I personally built and launched VoterSearch.org, a free tool for voters to check their voter status that was adopted by MoveOn.org as VotePoke.org and most recently by President Obama as GottaRegister.com.
In 2009, after seeing how legislation is made in the State Assembly, and in spite of threats, I put the attendance and voting records for every state legislator online at OpenLegislation.org, allowing voters to see for the first time how their elected representatives voted.
For these acts, and for creating one of the first “open policy platforms” on my campaign website, KallosforCouncil.com, I have received the nickname “Mr. Transparency.” As the representative for the residents of New York City’s 5th District, I pledge to continue this work, opening my office and City Council to the community.
Why am I running?
As a member and leader of progressive Democratic organizations I have supported and elected far too many politicians whose promises to do the right thing fell short, forcing us to direct our efforts to advocating for them to keep their word.
We must break the cycle of supporting and electing machine politicians and instead train, recruit and support our own members as candidates. This way we can spend our time on researching better solutions, organizing and changing public opinion to support the progressive change we seek.
I have deep roots in this community and a long-standing desire to serve my district, my city, and my state. I am a third-generation Upper East Sider, whose grandparents fled anti-Semitism in Russia and Hungary to build a better life in New York City. I am a product of the New York public school system, and from an early age my mother, an adjunct professor at City University of New York (CUNY), strived to instill in me values of fairness and equality, including equal opportunity through education and hard work
These principles led me to work first as a labor attorney, fighting for the victims of the Delphi bankruptcy, who nearly lost the pensions they worked their lifetime for while corporate executives secured “golden parachutes” worth millions. In 2006, I was appointed to my Community Board, immediately founded a Youth and Education Committee and eventually became Chair of the Communications Committee and used the position to save tax dollars and make City Government transparent by putting everything and anything online on social media and the web.
Leaving my legal career, I pursued public service, first as chief of staff to Assembly member Jonathan Bing in Albany, and later as policy director for former public advocate Mark Green. Finally, I joined the good government organization as the founding Executive Director of New Roosevelt, leading the effort to oust corrupt Senator Pedro Espada.
But with every setback and every arrest of a corrupt politician I became convinced that I could only make our city a better place if I was willing to truly lead a life of public service. My hope is that, by being a different kind of candidate and a different kind of leader, one dedicated to transparency and accountability rather than personal gain, I might encourage others to take the same path.
My goals have been and will continue to be a transparency and open government.
As a Chief of Staff in the Assembly, I was shocked to discover that voting records were not available to the public without a freedom of information (FOIL) request. After asking Members of the Assembly to put voting records online for years, I took matters into my own hands and despite threats of civil and criminal prosecution, I put them online myself.
In my first year I hope to enforce an Open Data Law that I helped pass, one of the first in the nation, and expand it to include all City contracts. I also hope to pass a requirement that City Council and other Government agency meetings be filmed and posted online, whic was recently introduced as legislation.
I have already have created the first and only open platform for my City Council campaign where anyone can suggest a solution as well as comment and vote on those of our campaign and others empowering the community to really play a role in shaping our City. The project is a tremendous success with more than 125 solutions, with more than 20% originating in the community.
In my first year in office we hope to expand this program from online-based to the community by holding hearings and soliciting testimony by any form of communication.
My DFA Values
The foundation of any community is trust and a spirit of service. Our goal of transforming our government into one that is transparent and accountable to the people it represents is necessary for both. In order to trust our leaders, we must know that they are negotiating with special interests publicly, not behind closed doors. To foster a spirit of service, our residents must see candidates like me commit themselves to their duties.
Similarly, our security rests on caring for our neighbors as we care for our own families. Equal access to education, expanded social programs like Head Start which have been proven successful in enhancing opportunity for disadvantaged youth, and an end to discriminatory practices like stop-and-frisk are all important parts of our mission. To end conflict between neighbors, we must ensure their equal access to a better life.
Finally, the liberties of all to believe and live as they choose must be respected. My volunteers are Jews, Protestants, Catholics, Hindus, and Atheists, and come from all ethnic and economic backgrounds. My district is also diverse, and prides itself on celebrating this diversity. I pledge to maintain this quality as a representative in the City Council, and to help foster trust and collaboration between different communities.
My Campaign is People Powered!
My campaign is people-powered, by a group of more than 40 dedicated volunteers, soon to exceed 80, who share common values of transparency, acountability, and fairness. They come from diverse backgrounds and through our campaign they have pursued an equally diverse array of policies and projects.
We build our team with “commitment to excellence,” fostering open discussion and empowering team members to find a way to do things better. We maintain a “20 percent rule,” encouraging volunteers to spend 20 percent of their time pursuing their personal passion, whether it’s labor policy, LGBTQ issues, or urban planning.
One of our many undergraduate student volunteers, Anthony, joined to strengthen his organizing skills. For his 20 percent, Anthony took the lead on our “Bring Back Our Booths” campaign to return an MTA attendant to a district subway station, petitioning there at 6:30 at least one morning a week. His efforts have yielded nearly a thousand signatures, twice as many as we need to get on the ballot, in support of safe subways and garnered media coverage from CBS and NBC.
Another member of our team, Mike, had just arrived in New York from his home state of Iowa with a passion for labor and workplace rights. He began by writing policy and union briefs and calling the hundreds of labor organizations in the City. He now works alongside our campaign manager overseeing the day-to-day operations of the campaign, and will enter NYU Law School in the fall, largely in part to my mentoring and support, to begin his own career fighting for working families.
In addition to our team of volunteers, we have the hundreds of dedicated residents and community leaders who contribute to our online policy platform. Running one of the first open platforms, our campaign encourages anyone interested to submit solutions on our website, solutions that can then be voted on and improved upon by their peers. We believe this not only gets residents excited and involved in local government, but demonstrates our commitment to transparency and accountability, a commitment we will maintain in office.
We are running our campaign as a model for what an election should look like in the 21st century.