Seeking his third, two-year term as a Nassau County Legislator, incumbent Steve Rhoads will face first-time candidate Jill Levine in the race for the 19th Legislative District, which spans from Freeport to Seaford.
Rhoads was first elected to the seat in a special election in 2015. Prior to that, he served as a Nassau County attorney for five years. He is also an ex-captain and lontime volunteer of the Wantagh Fire Department.
Levine is best known for her work with Forever 9 Robbie Levine Foundation, which she founded in memory of her son. She frames her lack of political experience as a plus, instead focusing on her background in social work and the accomplishments of the foundation.
The Herald conducted a Q&A to provide the public with where each candidate stands on the issues.
Herald: Do you support the County Executive’s property tax reassessment plan?
Steve Rhoads: I voted to start the reassessment process when I was elected in 2015, and to extend contracts to finish the reassessment requested by the County Executive last year. Unfortunately, the accurate and transparent process we were promised is not what Laura Curran delivered. There’s no confidence that the values are accurate, and Curran’s last-minute decision to manipulate the level of assessment bypassed state law protections for 95 percent of homeowners. The County Executive [also] refused to disclose the formula used by the Department of Assessment to reach those values. I joined the Legislature in passing an “Assessment Bill of Rights,” which required simple, common sense measures that should have been taken by the administration. These reforms were designed to inform residents and increase transparency, and Curran vetoed each.
Jill Levine: I support the County Executive’s tax reassessment plan because it provides the most reasonable, practical and fair solution to a problem that has lingered for too long, but the current Republican majority has been throwing everything they can think of to stop its implementation. We need more honest governing that puts the needs of residents first. We need more unity and cooperation from our elected representatives in the Legislature to do what even they admit is the right thing to do — to implement the County Executive’s plan as quickly, efficiently and fairly as possible. We do not need legislators spending taxpayer dollars on mailings filled with half-truths and unfounded accusations about the County Executive’s plan.
Herald: How do you plan to address the ever-increasing price of living in Nassau County?
Rhoads: I have worked to identify areas within county government where savings could be achieved. I am proud to have passed four consecutive balanced budgets that have held the line on county taxes by achieving tens of millions of dollars in savings. Additionally, I have lobbied against Albany’s unfunded mandates that cripple local government’s ability to budget effectively. It is also important to encourage additional economic growth, support projects that increase the tax base and bring new revenues into Nassau County. I will continue to support development projects, including the Nassau HUB, which attract new businesses and enlarge the overall tax base. I also support, where appropriate, transit-oriented development projects like the one recently completed in Farmingdale. In these developments, housing opportunities are geared towards single professionals in downtown areas close to railroads and transit hubs, which provide easy commuter access.
Levine: Like many of my friends and neighbors, I am saddened to think that none of my children are likely to be able to afford to buy their first home, raise their families or build their careers here. I am equally disturbed about our seniors and veterans who are struggling to find affordable housing. We need more housing that is truly affordable for young working families, our returning veterans and our older residents who often live on set incomes. We need more job opportunities, reliable public transportation and vibrant downtowns that will attract young people. In order to create more jobs, we need to support our small businesses and entrepreneurs so they can survive in a competitive economy. We need larger employers to see that we have the labor force available, so that they will select Nassau to grow their companies. The HUB is a perfect example of the kind of fruitful community we need to retain our youth and attract new business.
Herald: You and your opponent have maintained an amicable relationship over the years — what sets you apart?
Rhoads: Knowledge and experience. My early career in state and town government along with my work as the Deputy Bureau Chief of the Nassau County Attorney’s Bureau of Tort and Civil Rights Litigation has given me a working knowledge of how to get things done while maintaining the perspective of an outsider. Whether it’s fighting a cabaret threatening a neighborhood in Wantagh, working with Democrats to get ShotSpotter technology in Freeport or fighting, even with some in my own party, to build the Wynsum Avenue playground in Merrick, I deliver results, not promises. And whether it’s blocking the county from charging fees to Little Leagues, expanding our RAVE panic button technology or fighting to get grant money for life-saving equipment, I have stood by our communities to improve our quality of life.
Levine: I believe I’m the right candidate for this position because I have no allegiances to any one party. I’m someone who has always worked to make my community a better place to live in because it’s the right thing to do. I’m unaffiliated because I believe our elected representatives should focus on issues and not political platforms. I’m running on the Democratic line because I generally believe in the County Executive’s objectives and support her initiatives, and I want to work with her to help make the right decisions that are in the best interests of residents. It’s time we put partisan politics aside and get down to doing the hard work of honest governing. I believe I’m the person who can reach reasonable compromises where necessary and make difficult decisions when needed largely because I’m an independent, deeply engaged member of this community and not a career politician.
Herald: If elected, what other issues do you plan to address while in office?
Rhoads: I will continue to fight for reform in the county’s assessment system to mandate transparency, promote accuracy and fairness and ensure that those in charge uphold taxpayer protections. I will continue to look to make government more effective, more responsive and less costly for taxpayers. Projects I’ve already secured include the repaving of the asphalt portion of Merrick Road, road restoration projects and over $5 million in renovations to Wantagh Park. I have sponsored historic ethics reforms to fight corruption, created Nassau’s first Inspector General and have banned convicted felons from running for or holding county office, with more to be accomplished. I will also continue my work with organizations to combat opioid addiction and vaping.
Levine: I would like to focus on finding the most cost-effective way to conduct county business that does not entail raising taxes or burdening residents. I want to make sure that we are listening to our constituents and involving them in the decision-making process. I plan to have an open-door policy where each and every resident feels that they have access to their elected representative. Together, I believe we can find the best solutions to the issues that affect our quality of life. I’m running because I truly believe that we can, and our elected officials should, do so much better.