Gabriella Romero is an attorney in the Albany County Public Defender's office. Now, the advocate and activist is also one of several candidates vying for the 6th ward Common Council seat.
Romero was born and raised in Albany. The Albany Law School graduate says she is no stranger to public service.
"My parents were lifelong unionized state workers. And they kind of raised me to emphasize public service and being involved in your community. I really, really was invigorated to run over this past summer, with the kind of social justice and civil rights movements that gained a lot of momentum after the murder of George Floyd. I just started reaching out to local leaders and my neighbors and friends. And I said, 'What are we going to do about it?' And for me, it really manifests itself as wanting to get more politically active."
Romero shared her desire with friends and family, then contacted the Board of Elections and worked out a plan to run for Richard Conti's Common Council seat. Conti, elected in 1997, is one of five senior Albany Common Council members who are not running for another term this year.
"He's such a wonderful kind of rock in the Common Council. And I've been watching the Common Council meetings since this past summer when they all went virtual. And it's really funny, like, they'll all, they'll be something they're talking about. And they'll say, 'Richard, what do you think?' And so I bet that the council is very sad to lose someone like Richard because he really was someone that everyone looked up to. And I really appreciated his guidance. And in the few times that we spoke, because he has really straightforward answers to a lot of my questions.”
Susan Pedo, Ford McLain, Richard-Olivier Marius and Jeff Mayo are also running for the seat. Conti has not yet backed any of the candidates.
Romero says a big part of her campaign platform is police reform and changing the way people see public safety, ideas inspired by her work as a public defender.
"Some of those, quick ideas are, to release all police disciplinary records, in adherence with the repeal of 50A, making some type of like public forum that can be readily accessible by the by the community, but also reforming the Community Police Review Board, which is something that's going through the Common Council now, it's not official yet, but allowing them to have a little more teeth. Whether that's subpoena power, but also disciplinary power, I think kind of increases the transparency and the accountability that the police department really needs right now. Another thing that I think is really important is taking a large chunk of the police department budget and allocating it specifically for programs that would prevent crime in the first place. Albany County has a really wonderful program, the ACCORD program, that I think is great, it's just in its infancy and likely not going to reach the city of Albany itself. I know that there are people in the Albany police department that are watching the ACCORD program and are working on how they can bring that into the city. But I'd like to bring that to the forefront and make it a big priority."
Romero is also interested in re-imagining the Lark Street streetscape area, to which the city has already committed $1.3 million for paving, sidewalks and lighting. Additionally she sees the issues of COVID relief, business relief and housing insecurity impacting the 6th ward.
She says she believes the voice of every neighbor should be heard, especially in local politics, and if elected promises to provide increased opportunities to hold local forums on everyday issues.
The Democratic primary takes place in June. Romero says she answers to no one but the voters.
"I'm just completely independent from all political ties. Like I have no family members telling you what to do or coaching me through this process, or connecting me with certain people. I don't owe anyone anything and I made all these connections on my own. And I think that that concept really resonates with people and that's where I draw a lot of my excitement for this campaign from the grassroots-cool feeling that this whole campaign has been."
The 6th Ward includes the Center Square neighborhood, encompassing Washington Park on its west side running from South Lake Avenue southeast to South Swan Street, bordered on the southwest by Myrtle Avenue and on the northeast by State Street and Washington Avenue.