A career and life of service

Publication Date

Gabriella Romero ’14 works and serves according to the Lao Tzu principle.

Go to the people. Live with them, Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say, “We have done this ourselves.”

Gabriella Romero '14

“This translates to real life, in my work as an attorney in the Albany public defender’s office and on the Albany Common Council,” Romero said. “It’s so important to be client and community focused when making decisions and enacting policy.”

The first Latina to represent Albany’s (N.Y.) 6th Ward, Romero is also the first public defender to serve on the Common Council. The two positions dovetail in ways that make her a powerful ally and advocate for the public.

Her work as an attorney allows her to really get to know people. To understand them, their needs, struggles and successes. To see how systems – legal, social and economic – constrain or uplift their lives.

“I was driven to run for Common Council after widespread demand for police accountability and transparency in 2020,” said Romero, who was elected to a four-year term in 2021. “As a public defender, I am uniquely qualified to identify cracks in our government systems in need of reform.”

“My policy areas center around increasing government transparency, providing more oversight for the police department and protecting tenants,” she added.

Her goals have the support of her fellow lawmakers and voters. In just a couple of years, she’s already introduced and passed three pieces of legislation.

Local Law H passed in November 2022 and creates a public-facing database for all code violations in the City of Albany.

“This database allows tenants/prospective tenants, landlords and interested community members to view and watch movement of code violations as they progress from reporting to closure,” Romero explained. “It was unanimously passed!”

Local Law Q passed in June 2023 and codifies the relationship between the new public safety commissioner (the final arbiter of police discipline) and the Community Police Review Board (CPRB).

My policy areas center around increasing government transparency, providing more oversight for the police department and protecting tenants."

“My bill requires the commissioner to consider the CPRB recommendations for police discipline and if they disagree with CPRB suggestions, they must explain why,” said Romero, who is an Albany Law School graduate. “This bill solidified the ballot proposal from 2021 that expanded the powers of Albany’s CPRB; it was passed overwhelmingly by the City of Albany’s voters.”

Finally, her first piece of legislation to pass was Ordinance 9.41.22. Initially vetoed by the mayor, who was then unanimously overridden by the Common Council, it repeals a decades-old law banning skateboarding in downtown Albany.

“Banning a form of transportation only in the lower wards violated our city’s own equity agenda,” explained Romero, who herself is an Albany native. “To only have penalties on those moving and living in a specific jurisdiction is and was an injustice.”

Romero is equally busy making a difference in her day job. A felony trial attorney, she doesn’t just represent clients in the courtroom. She does her best to help them overcome whatever led to their criminal charges in the first place.

“I really work hard to provide a complete picture of those accused to the judge and prosecutor, and then connect clients with services to address the underlying root cause of behavior,” she said. “For example, any client of mine who consumes substances is offered access to drug and alcohol evaluations.”

A team of client advocates also provides transportation services and meeting reminders, and helps with social services applications, housing opportunities and family court navigation.

“I’m so proud to be in an office that prioritizes client-centered representation,” Romero said of the public defender’s office. “This is the most effective approach to address underlying criminal behaviors. When a client is housed, supported and healthy, we can work more effectively on fighting their charges.”

Romero is also proud that her career path took her through Union. The experiences she had were instrumental in molding the public servant she’s become.

“I truly loved my time at Union! I was able to explore everything a liberal arts education can offer – including puppet-making, intro to ballet, a history/science class about the origins of vampirism, and documentary filmmaking,” she said. “And after I graduated, I was a Minerva Fellow in Estero de Platano, Ecuador. This program shaped my perspective to be holistic in my approach to helping people.”

Romero studied psychology at Union.


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