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NY-22 congressional primary ballot: Democrat Sam Roberts comes out of retirement to fight for rights

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Congressional Candidate Sam Roberts chatting with a community member at the Syracuse Community Choir Concert in Thornden Park in July.

The name Sam Roberts has occasionally been on ballots in Onondaga County and the surrounding area for more than three decades. The former county legislator and state assembly member is now a Democratic congressional primary candidate. 

Roberts is running in the Aug. 23 primary for New York's 22nd Congressional district, which covers Onondaga, Madison and Oneida counties, He's up against Democrats Chol Majok, a Syracuse Common Councilor, Sarah Klee Hood, a Town of DeWitt counilor, and Francis Conole, an Iraq War veteran. Meanwhile, Steve Wells and Brandon Williams are facing off in the Republican primary.

In an interview with WAER, Roberts said he was compelled to come out of retirement and run for the congressional seat.

"[I] did some soul searching over the last few years, people have been talking to me about running for mayor, running for county executive, running for Congress... looking at what's going on and what's happening in America, I'm retired now, and I said,'You know, you either sit on the fence and do nothing.' I said, 'Well I'm gonna jump off the fence and I'm gonna run,'" Roberts said in an interview with WAER.

The retired autoworker said he began in politics as a teenager, stuffing envelopes, delivering handbills, and canvassing. Roberts said his 10 years as a county lawmaker and two terms in the New York State Assembly prove he can get things done, even in partisan environments. He looks at how the Inflation Reduction Act recently passed in the Senate, and wonders why there isn’t more collaboration between the two parties on such important legislation.

"And it was a party-line vote, and this is something that is for the people, talking about the environment, talking about green jobs for the people, benefits, those kinds of things. Now, how the hell are you going to have a party-line vote? That should be unanimously passed if you are truly for the people," Roberts said.

Roberts said Congress needs to address a number of issues, ranging from poverty and the teacher shortage to housing and mental health services. But he says perhaps what is most concerning are the recent rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"All the rights that we've achieved over the years, here they go. They're trying to take them all away: the attack on women's reproductive rights, then they talk about human rights, talk about LGBTQ, you know all those kinds of things are being threatened, voter rights, all that stuff comes into play," Roberts said.

Roberts also served as commissioner of the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. He says he learned about the factors that lead to homelessness, and the importance of supportive services to keep people safe once they’re settled in a new home.

Early voting for the primary election begins Aug. 13. The winners of the Republican and Democratic primaries will compete in the November general election.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at srwillis@syr.edu.