Former NJ mayor and CPA seeks to fix state finances as next governor
TRENTON – With a thin campaign budget and without an invitation to next week's gubernatorial debates as a result, Brian Levine is pointing primarily to his record in local government in Somerset County in his appeal to Republican voters.
Levine was elected twice as councilman and three times as mayor in Franklin Township, then elected twice as a Somerset County freeholder before losing a re-election bid last year. He got a late start on running for governor this year, not formally announcing his campaign until April 23, but is one of four Republicans seeking the nomination.
Levine said he is fiscally conservative but not dogmatically so and that his background as a certified public accountant would benefit a state government in perennial financial distress.
“I think I’m the only one in this race who has run a town like that – for a long time, 11 years – and when I left, we had one of the highest surpluses in the state,” Levine said.
“When things had to get done, like we had to grow services, I would do that,” he said. “But I would always keep my eye on the finances. Never tricks, never gimmicks. Nice solid.”
Franklin Township today has nearly three times as many registered Democrats as Republicans. Levine was its first directly elected mayor and said he thinks voters liked his open-government commitment, through things such as televising council meetings, and open-door policy.
New Jersey 101.5 is hosting the first gubernatorial primary debate between the Republican candidates. The program will air live on 101.5 and at Facebook.com/nj1015 starting at 7 p.m. on May 25. This week, New Jersey 101.5 is profiling all four candidates seeking the Republican nomination next month.
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“I think people appreciated that at least I would listen,” Levine said. “Look – and I look back over time, sometimes I was wrong, too. Not perfect. But I think that’s why people returned me.”
“And I was, again, always big on what was the right thing,” he said. “So, when all that was going on about COAH, affordable housing, I did really think that was important. And I met all of our obligations, some with upgraded housing, because that was just important.”
Levine went on to serve two terms as a Somerset County freeholder, where he said he helped maintain the county’s AAA bond rating. But he lost re-election last year, as part of the Democratic Party’s recent takeover of what was one a solidly Republican county.
Levine grew up in Edison and graduated from J.P. Stevens High School in 1976, then attended Rutgers University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and then an MBA in management. He worked for a number of accounting firms, then did some consulting before forming his accounting practice.
He is married to Lori Goldblatt, a psychologist. They live in Somerset and have two daughters, Ariella, a student at Rutgers, and Shira, who attends Franklin High School.
Levine hasn’t held a state-level office. He intended to run for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2009 but didn’t have enough valid signatures on his petition to qualify for the race.
Levine was on the Red Tape Review Commission during Gov. Chris Christie’s term – and doesn’t know why Gov. Phil Murphy recently vetoed an updated version of that.
“Probably because it’s the other guy’s idea,” he said. “It was really nonpartisan.”
Levine said he has saved his notes from his time on the commission and would resuscitate it if he were to become governor.
“It just saved millions of dollars, literally,” Levine said. “It’s good government. It’s not Democratic or Republican.”
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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