Community organizer vies for state Senate


By Aliza Appelbaum

The race is on for the 31st district state Senate seat currently held by Eric Schneiderman, who is running for attorney general.

The most recent entrant is Mark Levine, a community organizer and former educator (not to be confused with the retired principal of PS 24 who shares the same name), who announced his candidacy on May 2 in his Washington Heights neighborhood. The district covers much of upper Manhattan, including Inwood and parts of the Upper West Side, as well as the bulk of Riverdale, though not Kingsbridge.

Mr. Levine, 41, is a Democratic district leader and the executive director of the Center for After-School Excellence, a nonprofit that supports after school programs around the city. His other experience in politics includes serving on his local community board and founding the Barack Obama Democratic Club of Upper Manhattan in 2009. He ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2001.

“I don’t think people are looking for experience, they’re looking for someone willing to solve problems and get involved with the issues that matter,” Mr. Levine said. “I have proven that I can do that.”

Mr. Levine, who is fluent in Spanish, previously worked as a bilingual science teacher at JHS 149 in the South Bronx, before becoming the executive director of Teach for America-New York. He also founded a credit union, Neighborhood Trust, to give immigrant families access to credit.

Now he’s joining a crowded race, with six candidates in the primary, including Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat, an Inwood resident whose upper-Manhattan district includes Marble Hill.

“It’s going to be a very competitive primary,” Mr. Levine acknowledged. “But I think if we do this right, we can win.”

Candidates for Mr. Schneiderman’s seat have big shoes to fill. He’s a popular politician with a reputation for being a reformer in Albany. Mr. Levine said he is confident he can be that person.

“We need someone who’s willing to take on the Republicans, but also realize that we’ve got some bad guys on our side, too,” Mr. Levine said, singling out embattled state Sen. Pedro Espada Jr. in much the same way Mr. Schneiderman has. “We’ve got to fight on both sides of the aisle.”

Some of the issues Mr. Levine said he plans to take on in Albany include ethics and campaign reforms, tenants’ rights, and, given his background, education.

“Most schools in this district are overcrowded,” he said, adding that in Riverdale, PS 24 “is a good school” but would probably benefit from additional gifted and talented programming.

Also important in the Riverdale community will be tackling issues like stalled construction projects and empty storefronts, both of which he said means being more supportive of small businesses.

Several elected officials with whom he has worked in Inwood, Washington Heights and Upper Manhattan were on hand on Sunday to endorse Mr. Levine.

“The time for change is now,” said Manhattan City Councilman Robert Jackson at the announcement. “Mark Levine has a proven record of creating change on the issues that matter to our community whether it be education, mass transportation or job creation.”

Mr. Levine lives in Washington Heights with his wife, Ivelisse, and two sons, ages 10 and 6. Both attend PS 187, where his wife is the vicepresident of the PTA, and play in the Riverdale Soccer League. He said he and his family come to Riverdale often, for shopping, the dentist and his veterinarian.

“Riverdale feels like home, too,” he said.