A Merokean with deep community ties and the name recognition to match has set her sights on two-term Nassau County Legislator Steve Rhoads’s seat representing the 19th District.
Jill Levine, founder of the nonprofit Forever 9 Robbie Levine Foundation and the 5K Robbie’s Run, announced earlier this month that she would run as a Democrat against Rhoads, a popular Republican incumbent.
“In general, I really think there just needs to be a changing of the guard,” Levine said this week. “We need new ideas.”
Levine has nothing against Rhoads personally, she said. The two have met on several occasions. He attends Robbie’s Run — the annual 5K put on by her foundation — each year.
Friends of Levine, she said, have urged her over the years to run for office, but she never took their suggestions seriously.
“People said things like, ‘It’s the next logical step,’” she said, noting her background in pulling people together, a result of her management of the foundation that bears her late son’s name. “I’m a mom, though. I’m a resident. I’m not a politician.”
The March conviction of Republican former County Executive Ed Mangano in a retrial on federal corruption charges helped nudge her toward entering the race for legislator, she said.
“The past unethical things that have happened in this county, for lack of a better description,” Levine said, “I feel like we need to move away from that. Obviously, Mangano’s no longer here, but we still have a Republican-majority body.”
Describing herself as an independent thinker, she said she would like to help Democratic County Executive Laura Curran “bring ethics back” to county government.
And similar to the way Curran sold her qualifications during her run for the county’s highest seat, Levine frames her lack of political experience as a plus, in-stead focusing on her background in social work and the accomplishments of Robbie’s Run.
Levine grew up in Anne Arbor, Mich., and earned a master’s in social work at Boston University before moving to New York. She said she believes that approaching Nassau County politics with a social worker’s eye could create better results than the status quo.
“As a social worker, my job was to listen and to help people,” Levine said. “That means that it doesn’t matter where you are — you have to meet the client where the client is. [Representing constituents is] really the same thing. You have to hear their concerns, even if it’s not your own experience, meet them there and try to help.”
On Tuesday, Rhoads said he greatly respected Levine’s work at her foundation, adding that they have always been friendly.
“I’m looking forward to a discussion about the issues,” Rhoads said. “She’s certainly a formidable opponent. She has done some amazing work in the community with the foundation. She and I have always had a great relationship, and I look forward to talking about the issues.”