When Adam Roberts first surveyed the field of candidates for NYS Assembly in District 73, he felt unconvinced. Nobody, from his vantage point, had entered with proven chops to make headway on important issues — issues ranging from mental health care to affordable housing — in Albany. He decided he’d feel “kind of guilty” if he didn’t jump in himself.
“It’s weird to be young, but the most experienced in a race,” he told Our Town.
Roberts, who was the last to launch his campaign in late February, served as an aide to former Council Member Ben Kallos and currently works at the American Institute of Architects, as the organization’s director of policy. His bid for NYS Assembly situates him in a large pool of candidates — including May Malik, Alex Bores, Kellie Leeson and Russell Squire — all vying for the seat soon to be vacated by retiring incumbent Dan Quart. For Roberts, issues like housing availability, safety and transportation all fall within his professional wheelhouse. Others — like antisemitism — are also “deeply personal.”
“I want to raise a Jewish family here on the East Side,” he said, “but it’s scary, the random attacks.”
Connection And Division
Roberts has, by his account, overwhelmingly connected with voters in the neighborhoods he’s called home for over a decade. Family members — his mother, sister and cousins — also live on the East Side, where Roberts recalls his mother telling stories of her two aunts living together in the early 1950s, when train service along the Third Avenue El stopped. “Most of the voters here are like my mother,” he said. “I’m confident if I could win my mother’s vote, then I can win your average primary voter here.”
But it’s also been a campaign punctuated by antisemitic provocations. On day one of his campaign, Roberts spoke with someone who spit at him; other days, it’s locals not so gently questioning his choice to spotlight antisemitism or threateningly tailing his team for blocks.
“There’s such a visceral fear,” Roberts said. “Part of the problem is that it’s become okay, in the fringes of the political spectrum, to be antisemitic for the first time in decades.”
He’s noticed these kinds of attacks aren’t unique to his campaign; they’re happening on the Upper East Side — and citywide — at an unnerving frequency. Leaders who are “willing to be proudly Jewish,” Roberts suggested, might help combat hate. Greater attention devoted to mental illness — exacerbated, Roberts said, by the pandemic — and education would also go a long way.
In His Wheelhouse
Other issues on Roberts’ agenda align with his prior political and professional work. In the realm of housing, Roberts led a charge to rezone SoHo and NoHo for more development and would like to see similar efforts pursued citywide. At the American Institute of Architects, he also helped to concoct a guide for shelter design more attune to the needs of those seeking refuge.
His architectural insight intersects, too, with criminal justice; In what may eventually be a post-Rikers New York, Roberts feels dissatisfied with current construction plans for borough-based jails. “These facilities don’t seem to be focused on actually treating mental health and stopping the cycle of violence,” he said. “They’re just nicer versions of Rikers.” A greater focus on improving mental health care, if elected to NYS Assembly, is one way in which Roberts hopes to lessen violent crime.
Also at the American Institute of Architects, Roberts has worked to win significant funding for the MTA and supported congestion pricing. In the NYS Assembly, he’d continue his efforts to boost public transportation — especially the long-awaiting Second Avenue subway expansion, which would see multiple train lines extended north and south through Manhattan.
“This is the first time in 100 years of this project that there’s actually sufficient federal funding available to complete it, or at the very least bring it down to Houston Street,” Roberts said. “And yet, nothing’s happening in that regard.”
Then, there’s trash — far too much of it on the streets and sidewalks that locals traverse daily, according to Roberts.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” he said.
“I’m confident if I could win my mother’s vote, then I can win your average primary voter here.” Adam Roberts