For a lot Roosevelt Islanders, Ben Kallos was the most well-liked guy in town. He was here for everything, a forceful speaker mixing in fun and gentle humor. Political reality, though, kept him from doing as much as he’d have liked.
By David Stone
Ben Kallos at The Girl Puzzle
My first post about him was Where is Ben Kallos? The answer was “everywhere.” In over five years at The Daily, I can’t recall a single local event where Ben didn’t show up. But there was a hitch, I discovered later: he was almost always late, the last to arrive.
I remember waiting in group outside Nisi for its grand reopening. Everyone else was there, the owners, eager customers, even state Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright. But because Ben had the scissors for the ribbon-cutting, it was delayed until he came jogging up past Good Shepherd Plaza.
Everyone liked Ben, but he was not at ease when confrontation unsettled the composed community he loved. He got caught in the middle during a scandal at the Senior Center, calling in the Department of Investigation when residents presented him with evidence of financial misconduct.
Then, he recommended the Carter Burden Network as an emergency replacement. Those were, as time showed, the right things to do, but flack flew. Replacing a homegrown group with outsiders was taboo for some, no matter the circumstances.
Not long after, I remember talking with him about it, and his discomfort was palpable. He’d done his duty but got put on the defensive. Taking sides is not in his nature.
Firm convictions about good government mixed easily with soft touches of his personal life. Not long after we launched The Daily, he took time out for calling me on a late Saturday afternoon, knowing I had questions for a story.
If I recall, he’d spent the day, among other things, at an opening ceremony for Cornell Tech, not taking the day off. And now, extending it with me, a reporter covering a tiny slice of his territory. Even so, he let me ramble, explaining that he’d struck a deal… with his wife, allowing him extra work time on a weekend.
His self-deprecating humor impressed me. There was no big ego you must wrestle around with Ben Kallos. But wat I remember best was his dismay over segregation in New York City schools. “Worse than before Brown versus the Board of Education,” he said, real sorrow in his voice.
But that was, I sensed, the worst of it for him, the inability for winning real change in a rigidly political city and state. Ben got things done, lots of things, but the biggest things, those closest to his heart, eluded him. That’s my opinion anyway.
The End of the Council Member Rope for Ben Kallos
The end draws near for Kallos, not by choice, but by law. Although there’s little doubt he’d have been reelected in a landslide if not term-limited out of office at the end of this month. Same was true when his predecessor, Jessica Lappen, stepped aside. But if term limits fit the current political mood in New York City, they are not a really good thing for Roosevelt Island and the Upper East Side.
Whether we want it or not – and it’s certainly “not” – we’re losing Ben Kallos
Look at the pictures. Always the same warm smile, but this one was a little different. In it, he’s reacting to my kidding him that he wasn’t the last to arrive for a change. Seawright got hung up at the COVID-19 testing center she helped bring to Roosevelt Island.
Although I’ve criticized as well as praised him, something he told me while we grabbed food from a buffet table at The Sanctuary on Friday struck me as so deeply Ben Kallos. “Thanks for holding me accountable,” he said to a reporter with a tiny relative audience. And he meant it.
Ben Kallos hopes to stay in public service, and we hope he does. Maybe more of his gracious accountability will run off on others, the longer he’s around.
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