Nick Roberts knocked on thousands of local doors looking for votes—here’s what he learned.

by | Jan 11, 2024

Indy’s youngest member of the City-County Council learned an important lesson before he even turned 21: Keep an open mind.

Democrat Nick Roberts has volunteered in politics since his days as a student at Lawrence North High School. He won his November election after three years of campaigning, knocking on more than 11,000 doors.

One of those was on Fall Creek Road in 2020. Seeing a Trump yard sign in the front yard, Roberts thought he might not receive a warm welcome—and he was right.

“You’re a Democrat?” the man asked.

“Get off my property.”

“OK,” Roberts said. “Can I leave this flyer about my campaign? My cellphone number is here, so let me know if I can help. I’m concerned with the same issues you are—streets, public safety….”

That was an opening, and Roberts went from being ordered off the property to sharing common interests with the man.

“I think we both started with preconceived notions. But then we had a real conversation about issues that matter to him—not national political issues, but the things that affect his day-to-day life.

“Maybe more than anything, people appreciate having a candidate come to their door and listen to them about the things they care about.”

Nick Roberts talking with Dave Humes of Kiwanis Sunrise of Lawrence at the North Shadeland Fall Festival 2023

Nick Roberts Was an Early Volunteer

The 2020 encounter was the kind of person-to-person breakthrough that appears to come naturally to Roberts.

“Nick was a great student who was very involved at LN,” said Brett Crousore, principal at Lawrence North. “He has always been active in politics, and he continues to serve our school by coming back to speak with young men and women.”

His success may be part of a trend, said Laura Wilson, associate professor of political science at the University of Indianapolis.

“I think voters are interested in fresh new ideas and energy as much as they are in experience,” Wilson told Fox 59 after the election.  

“You see a candidate you can really resonate with,” Wilson said. “It’s not someone your dad’s age or your grandparents’ age. This is someone who probably has a lot of similar experiences to you.”

On-the-job Training

Roberts, 23, defeated Republican Natalie Goodwin in November to represent the 4th District, which shares the North Shadeland Alliance area with District 3, represented by fellow Democrat Dan Boots.

It was Roberts’ first election victory, but not his first rodeo: While still in high school at age 17, he served as campaign manager for Democrat Poonam Gill in her bid to unseat Rep. Brian Bosma in the Indiana House of Representatives in 2018. They lost by 11 points but learned valuable lessons.

“In that campaign and others, I’ve seen the difference it makes to knock on doors and be involved in the community,” he said.

“My strategy has always been to get out there to community events and meet people where they are. That’s made all the difference.”

If 80 percent of life is showing up, as someone once said, Roberts is doing it right—complete with a website that lists his personal cellphone number and email. His Facebook page includes frequent updates from events across the district.

“There are a lot of problems with our political process, and the way to change that is by getting involved—by sinking your teeth into the things that actually matter,” he says.

To him, that means strengthening public safety partnerships, including at Castleton Square Mall, improving infrastructure, and investing in mental health programs. He says the state’s infrastructure funding formula works to Indy’s disadvantage, but the city must still find the means to invest in streets, sidewalks, and trails.

L-R: Nick Roberts, Joe Garrison, and Pastor Matt Landry of Castleton UMC serving in the rain at our 2023 summer mobile food bank.

North Shadeland Supporter

Roberts has been a regular fixture at North Shadeland Alliance events and credits the group with helping support local businesses, advocate for city services, and improve police-community relations.

“There’s a lot of good people doing great work in the North Shadeland area,” he said. “They’re out there every day, putting in the effort.”

Roberts lives in the Lighthouse Cove neighborhood near 96th Street and Mollenkopf Road. In three years of knocking on thousands of doors on the far Northeast Side, he’s encountered his share of skepticism, apathy, even hostility, but is more optimistic than ever.

“Almost everybody wants the same things, right? They want better streets, lower crime, a better downtown,” he said.

“And I think, in many ways, most people agree on how to how to get to that point. The last few city budgets have passed the council with 100 percent Democratic support and 100 percent Republican support.

“There’s a lot of push for good governance. That’s not partisan—It’s just practical.”

John Strauss is a former reporter and editor for The Associated Press and The Indianapolis Star who lives in Eagle Nest.

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