how i get it done

How New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams Gets It Done

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: William Alatriste, New York City Council Media Unit

Last year, New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams made history when she became the first Black person to assume the role, making her the second-most-powerful person in city government. A moderate Democrat, Adams stepped into politics around 15 years ago following a career as a corporate trainer in the private sector. She began by serving on Queens’ Community Board 12, the borough’s second-largest, before being elected to represent District 28 in 2017. The 62-year-old says she discovered her purpose when she became a city councilwoman. “Walking in the chambers for the first time, my spirit said, ‘Welcome home,’” she recalls. Now, as Speaker in the first majority-female Council ever, Adams has a jam-packed agenda as she bears the responsibility of managing the interests of 50 members and acting as a check-and-balance to Mayor Eric Adams’s administration. She says her faith and her family anchor her as she navigates the challenges of her role. Adams lives in the neighborhood of Jamaica with her husband of 33 years, Joseph, and their nine-year-old dog, Skyler. Here is how she gets it done.

On her morning routine:
I wake up around five o’clock, but I don’t physically get up. I kind of just lay there, turn the radio on, and listen to the news. Before I physically get up — anywhere between, I’d say, seven o’clock and 8:30 depending on the schedule of the day — I always say a prayer. My faith is the core of who I am. I always start my day with gratitude and just thanking God. I usually ask for blessings for my family, for my staff, for people that are thinking about me extensively, wherever they may be. And then, I usually end my personal prayer saying, “Order my steps in your will and your way, and make me the best me that I can be on this beautiful blessed day.” I usually do not eat breakfast, but I will probably have a cup of coffee before I leave the house.

On a typical workday:
The role of the Speaker of the New York City Council is to manage 50 members, taking their priorities and the interests of their districts to heart on a daily basis. We’re dealing with a budget at this time, and we’re negotiating on behalf of New Yorkers. We are equal partners in government with the mayor of the city of New York. Our responsibility is to be the check and the balance when it comes to the mayor and his administration, to make sure that we truly are the voices of the people of the city and hearing what their needs are. Days in the City Council, they’re not the same. I can go anywhere from a legislative breakfast to a small business gathering, then to a meeting with a colleague in their district to do a presentation to a school, to seeing how some children in my district are doing and talking to their principals, to a City Council hearing. That’s what keeps everything really exciting for me.

On finding her purpose:
I did not go out and seek to become an elected official. My career was in corporate America for many, many years, until my husband and I became empty nesters. Life just told me to sit down for a minute, to take a break, to take a few breaths. And my husband said, “Why don’t you figure out what you want to do next?” As women, we morph into different people throughout our lifetime. I was invited to a community board meeting. I’d never heard of a community board, and Community Board 12 is the second-largest in the borough of Queens, and it was tremendous for me to connect with them. Slowly but surely, the chair of the board saw something in me and in 2009 said, “You know what? I need to appoint you to be the education chair for this community board.” As the education chair, I became a vocal advocate for three school districts, and I realized how much we were lacking in our Black and brown communities across the city. And it made me very, very concerned. It made me angry.

I got out there advocating for our kids and saying, “Why am I out here yelling to get a library inside of a high school? This is preposterous. Other communities, they want nice lighting, some nice things in the cafeteria, some flowers in a classroom, beautiful things like that. And here we were advocating for the basic necessities for the quality of education for our kids.” In doing that vocal advocacy over those years, I think that people saw some things in me that I didn’t necessarily see in myself.

Once I accepted that and once I became the first woman elected to represent District 28 in the City Council in 2017, walking in the chambers for the first time, my spirit said, “Welcome home.” And I knew, at that moment, that I found my purpose. That was it. I love what I do.

On unwinding after a long day:
I’m usually in around nine o’clock or so, hopefully no later than 10 p.m. on any given day. My husband and my dog are always waiting for me. We have a “How was your day?” kind of thing for maybe half an hour. Then he usually says, “All right, see you when you come upstairs,” and I’m left in my zen space, which is my living room. I usually have my laptop in front of me with some business items, and at the same time, I have my TV on. It is totally brainless TV — old shows like Andy Griffith and The Beverly Hillbillies that make me literally laugh out loud. If I’m still up and the adrenaline is still flowing, I will usually pick up a book. That always knocks me out. Right now, I am reading Michelle Obama’s newest book, The Light We Carry.

On the challenge of achieving work-life balance:
This role is a 24/7 responsibility, so I don’t have a weekend, unless we carve it out really, really carefully. I’m the first wife, mother, and grandmother to hold this role. I’ve got a lot of folks that demand my time and deserve my time, and I’m eager to give it to them. My husband and I have raised a beautiful blended family for 33 years. We have four adult children and are the proud grandparents of 11 grandchildren. Doing this job would not be possible at all if I didn’t have my foundation, and his name is Joseph J. Adams.

On the pressures of being the first:
When I go out into my community and I hear things from young women who tell me that they look up to me, it’s beautiful and it’s tremendous, but it is a responsibility that I take very seriously. We’re leading the first women-majority Council ever in the history of the city of New York, and we do have a powerful dynamic sisterhood. We lean on each other for strength. Being in a role of this magnitude, there is never a time where I think that I’ve got it a hundred percent right. There’s always that part that says, “What if this part is wrong?” That’s where my faith steps in — all things work together for the good.

On the people who help her get it done:
I would not be where I am today without the support of my family, especially my loving husband. They are my rock and my daily motivation. The backbone of any elected official is their staff, the dedicated public servants who work hard every single day to serve our city. From the Council’s legislative and budget divisions, to our scheduling and community engagement teams, each person plays an essential role in improving the lives of New Yorkers, and in making my office run. I am particularly thankful for the dedication of my senior staff and special assistant, who is always on top of my busy schedule and helps me get through each day.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

How the Speaker of the New York City Council Gets It Done