Adler has been a practicing attorney in Austin in the areas of eminent domain and civil rights law for 35 years. For eight years he worked as the chief of staff and later general counsel to Democratic State Senator Eliot Shapleigh in the Texas Legislature. He has also worked with or board chaired Austin-based nonprofits and civic organizations, including the Texas Tribune, Anti-Defamation League, GEN-Austin, Breakthrough Austin, and Ballet Austin.
Steve Adler was born to a Jewish family and first lived in Washington, DC and grew up in Kensington, Maryland. His father was a World War II veteran with the U.S. Navy who later became a film editor with CBS News. His mother was a homemaker.
In 1978, he graduated from Princeton University with a B.A from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He then attended the University of Texas at Austin School of Law and received his juris doctorate in 1982. After graduating from University of Texas, Adler remained in Austin to practice law.
In the mid 1980s, Steve Adler co-founded the Barron, Graham & Adler LLP law firm, later Barron & Adler, LLP. He represented primarily landowners who were dealing with eminent domain and condemnation cases where the government or a private company seek to acquire their property. In addition to this practice, Adler spent most of the 1980s, his early legal career, doing civil rights employment discrimination cases. This work included representing women as well as Hispanic, African American and other minority workers in federal court, before the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission and on matters filed with the Austin Human Rights Commission. He represented clients seeking equal treatment and opportunity in the workplace, redress from sexual harassment and denial of equal pay for equal work.
Adler has argued before state appellate courts, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and the Texas Supreme Court and was named a Texas Super Lawyer from 2007-2013 and one of the Best Lawyers in America in 2007-2014.
Adler has been involved in a number of community organizations in the Greater Austin region. In 2010, he joined the board of GENaustin (formerly Girls Empowerment Network), an organization that provides education and mentoring to middle school girls in local school districts to help them make good choices.
From 2009-2012, Adler served as the board chair of the Anti-Defamation League Austin Region where he contributed to the creation of the Austin Hate Crimes Task Force and expanding the No Place for Hate anti-bullying program from just a few schools to over 300 schools throughout Central Texas.
Steve Adler has served on the Ballet Austin board since the late 1990s and he has supported the organizations work to provide community access to arts, and the creation of new works, including collaborations with organizations in other major cities in the United States and abroad.
Adler was on the founding board of directors for the Texas Tribune in 2009. He was later appointed board chair, a role he resigned from in January 2014 in order to launch his run for Austin mayor.
In 1996, Steve Adler assisted El Paso Democrat Eliot Shapleigh in his run for Texas State Senate. He then served as Senator Shapleigh’s chief of staff and later general counsel from 1997-2005.
During Adler’s time working in the Texas Senate, he primarily focused on fairness in school funding formulas, teachers’ salary issues, state budget policy, environmental protection, and equity and access issues.
Steve Adler began his campaign in January 2014 for Austin Mayor and ran on a platform of reforming governance at the Austin City Council. His primary issues included governance, traffic congestion, education, affordability, environment and water, and neighborhoods. Adler entered into a run-off with City Council Member Mike Martinez in November after both candidates failed to get a majority of votes. Adler won the run-off in December 16, 2014 with 67% percent of the total vote. Adler is the city’s second Jewish mayor; the first was Jeffrey Friedman, who was elected in 1975.
Adler is the first mayor to serve as part of the "10-1" City Council system that was approved via referendum by voters during the 2012 election and implemented after the 2014 election.
Previously, the Austin City Council was composed of six at-large Council members and a mayor. The new system is composed of ten Council members representing geographic districts and the mayor.
The push to move to the geographic districts was prompted by Austin's dramatic population growth as well as a recognition that the former system often resulted in an underrepresentation of Austin's minority communities, particularly its rapidly growing Latino population. For years, the city's political establishment had abided by an unwritten "gentleman's agreement" that reserved one Council seat for a Latino and one for an African American.
In March, 2015, Adler denounced an anonymous group’s apparent attempt to draw attention to gentrification in historically black neighborhoods of East Austin by placing stickers on the doors of East Side businesses that proclaimed them off-limits to non-whites.
"This is an appalling and offensive display of ignorance in our city,” said Adler. “Our city is a place where respect for all people is a part of our spirit and soul. We will keep it that way."
Adler and the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development declared that homelessness ended among veterans in 2016. The City still has a problem with homelessness and violence. During the summer of 2016, a k2 outbreak around the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless caused several people to be hospitalized
Adler has been a proponent of the Office of Equity. Following a six-month search, Brion Oaks was selected September 2016 as the City's first Chief Equity Officer.
In summer 2017, Mayor Adler helped cities damaged by the caused of Hurricane Harvey. It helped Victoria, Houston, and Corpus Christi, TX. Austin ISD accepted new students, but at the same time, Mayor Adler accepted residents from Corpus Christi and Houston for a temporary stay in Austin.