News & Politics

Real estate lobbyist Melissa Rosenberg launches Assembly campaign

Will YIMBY politics be enough to win an open seat on the Upper West Side? Melissa Rosenberg hopes so.

Melissa Rosenberg is running in the Democratic primary for the 69th Assembly District.

Melissa Rosenberg is running in the Democratic primary for the 69th Assembly District. Kristen Blush

Melissa Rosenberg, a vice president at lobbying firm Kasirer, announced Friday that she is running in the Democratic primary for the 69th Assembly District, which covers parts of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Morningside Heights and Manhattan Valley. Democratic Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell, who has represented the district for the past 20 years, announced last month that he would not run for reelection.

Rosenberg is a registered lobbyist who represented the developers of the $2 billion Innovation QNS project in Astoria – and helped secure the support of Council Member Julie Won, who initially opposed the project before winning some key concessions.

In an exclusive interview with City & State, Rosenberg said that she was proud of her lobbying work. “It's about what you're lobbying for, and I stand by my work to create more housing during a housing crisis,” she said. “I think folks can have sometimes a visceral reaction to the word ‘lobbyist,’ but I just really see it as being an advocate and helping people navigate processes more easily.”

Rosenberg said she was inspired to run after witnessing Albany’s failure to address housing issues in the most recent state budget. “Watching what played out last year in the Legislature, and the complete dropping of the ball by the Legislature on housing, was something that just made me personally, like, fired up and frustrated,” she said. “That was a really big driver of my choice to get in this race. I thought a lot of the policies that were debated didn't really get a fair shot from the Legislature.”

Rosenberg said that she supports financial incentives for the development of affordable housing, similar to the expired 421-a tax break but with stricter affordability requirements. “I think without a tax program in place, what we're seeing right now is literally, like, almost no housing being built. So I'm in favor of putting into place a financial policy that enables construction of new housing in New York,” she said.

She also supports strengthening tenant protections, though not necessarily the “good cause” eviction legislation that is backed by socialists and many progressives but loathed by the real estate lobby. “I think the policy needs a little more work and a little more thought,” she said. “I think folks didn't really have time to dig into it enough last year and make sure there was a version of it that worked for both sides. I understand the concerns of property owners, but we need to make sure folks can stay in their homes. So I think with fine tuning, I could potentially be supportive, but I think I need to see a new version before I could really opine.”

Rosenberg is clearly planning to occupy the “YIMBY lane” in the Democratic primary – the candidate for liberals who feel that building more affordable and market-rate housing is a moral imperative. She’s a member of OpenNY, the influential YIMBY advocacy group, and hopes to get their endorsement in the primary. (Unlike Rosenberg, though, OpenNY supports the current "good cause" bill.) She is also aligning herself with Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, who has fought to increase housing development in the borough.

Although housing is clearly her main focus, Rosenberg said that she is also passionate about improving street safety and combating antisemitism. To that end, her campaign is making a deliberate decision not to have an account on X (formerly Twitter), due to owner Elon Musk’s apparent support for antisemites. Instead, the campaign will have a home on Threads, the X competitor favored by some New York politicians (including Levine).

The Democratic primary for the 69th Assembly District this summer could be a very competitive race. At least one other candidate has already jumped into the race – Eli Northrup, a well-respected public defender who is making criminal justice reform a central focus of his campaign. Two more candidates are rumored to be preparing their own runs for the Assembly seat.