Adam Levine, an Ithaca native, thought of running for public office before several times, knowing he was a people person and a comfortable public speaker. It was not until recently that Levine decided to turn that thought into a reality by running against incumbent Svante Myrick for Ithaca mayor.
Levine’s grassroots campaign started too late for the primaries, with his petition to run submitted on May 28, but Levine said once he started to gather support for his mission, he did everything he could to collect enough signatures and resources to qualify for the ballot.
Even though he ended up short on signatures - only 250 of the needed 339 - the Board of Elections approved his candidacy, and Myrick did not challenge it. Levine promptly decided to run in what he dubbed the “We” Party.
Named after Muhammad Ali’s short poem, “Me, We,” Levine said the name symbolizes his party’s dedication to the people of Ithaca and making sure everyone feels heard. Above all, he wants Ithacans to feel like their opinions matter.
“We will be mayor,” Levine said. “I have ideas and vision, but I also learn every time that I talk to people and find out what they want for the community and also their view of the world.”
Levine spent the first 30 years of his life in New York City and moved to Tompkins County in 2002. In 2010, he started driving a night taxi in Ithaca, where he said he got to know a lot of interesting characters but also was able to see the changes that needed to be made in the city.
“I learned a lot more about the people of Ithaca driving a taxi than I would ever learn in any other profession in that way,” Levine said.
He is no expert, he said, but he is a citizen, and whatever he does not know, he plans to reach out to those in the community to make as many people as possible part of the legislative process. Though he respects Myrick as current mayor, he said people have still come to him with their stories of feeling excluded from the mayor’s office, which he wants to change if elected.
“There are some things that I am hearing when people come to me, and a lot of people feel really not heard, so I think I’ll be good at that,” Levine said. “There will be endless seats at the table to the very best of our ability. People will be heard and have a voice.”
Despite Ithaca being culturally diverse, Levine said it is still segregated, with many groups feeling isolated and alone, especially African Americans. He said Ithacans of color face economic and law enforcement challenges that the mayor’s office historically has not focused on.
“It’s red lined, whether it’s people meeting in a room doing it on purpose or whether it’s by economics,” Levine said.
Another big focus for Levine’s campaign is the strained housing market in the city, which he said is more focused on bringing in big developers and wealthy landlords to attract wealthy tenants than on making housing more affordable for the majority of Ithacans. He calls the practice a form of trickle-down economics, which has historically been a disaster for the country.
Levine’s proposed solution is multi-faceted, including creating incentives for developers to construct affordable housing, buying renewable energy as a city to take off the burden for homeowners, and implementing a rent control and rent protection system for larger, wealthier landlords in the city.
“If we do a serious enough rent control, that keeps money in the pockets of working-class people immediately,” Levine said.
Working-class Ithacans can then spend that money at local stores and help to improve the economy for the whole city, Levine said.
In addition to the housing market, Levine said he wants to work with the Ithaca Police Department both to negotiate a fair contract and to improve police practices in the city. He said focusing on increased education and community outreach efforts will help the officers be better prepared to treat all socioeconomic groups fairly.
Levine sees the potential for police to be part of the solution to another problem - addiction. He said he wants to help heal people with addictions using as many tools as possible, including safe injection sites. The sites, which allow drug users to inject their drugs in a medically protected environment without fear of arrest, can be crucial to helping bring people out of addiction, he said.
“I’d like it with cooperation with connections to health and healing,” Levine said. “It’s going to save lives.”
Levine said he also supports working people’s right to organize, saying unions are an important tool for workers to negotiate for fair treatment. It is ultimately part of his people-first approach, he said.
“People have to be able to be together, to have some leverage, … to be able to have their needs met and have a say-so in their life,” Levine said.
In the end, Levine said everyone is a human being, and he has always loved hearing people’s stories. After hearing so many people come to him throughout this process with their concerns, he wants to do what he can to help by supporting all different kinds of people. Inclusion, he said, is his main mission.
“I love everyone as a baseline,” Levine said. “My wanting people to do well … is connected to my personality.”
Levine said the support he has received for his efforts is empowering, and it is a sign to him that the time is ripe for running for office.
“It’s right here. It’s being brought right to me,” Levine said. “It’s a great opportunity to be involved in the city and help it be the best it can be.”Once more financial support comes in for the campaign and more people are involved, Levine expects to come up with more specific plans for his campaign.
He said support is growing, which has encouraged him to continue with his campaign to ensure everyone feels included.
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