Florida gubernatorial candidate 55-year-old Philip Levine speaks to students gathered at the Lubavitch Chabad Jewish Center in Gainesville as part of his statewide bus tour aimed toward connecting with constituents.


Shelbie Eakins / Alligator Staff

When former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine asked a room of about 20 UF students whether they watched Gov. Rick Scott’s final State of the State address earlier that morning, not a single person raised their hand.

“Well you didn’t miss that much, OK? I can tell you that,” Levine said. “A lot of things that he didn’t say were the things I think were most important to all of us.”

Levine, who’s running for Florida governor as a Democrat, spoke to students Tuesday at 3 p.m. at the Lubavitch Chabad Jewish Center, located at 2021 NW Fifth Ave., as part of his statewide four-day bus tour, “Live! from Florida’s Living Rooms.”

Students sat on white leather sofas and armchairs that Chabad members and Levine’s campaign staff had arranged in a circle. Levine stood and spoke for about an hour on a range of issues, from sea-level rise in Miami Beach to making Florida a “start-up state” for businesses.

For students from low-income families, Levine said as governor he would make college debt-free, on the condition those students work in-state for a certain number of years after graduating.

“We want to make sure everyone has the right opportunity to go to college if your parents can’t afford it,” Levine said. “There’s a lot of Einstein's out here, and we don’t want them to leave the state of Florida.”

During the Q&A session, which lasted more than 30 minutes, students pressed the candidate on his exact plans for issues like homelessness among veterans and investing in poor, rural communities.

When Eric Higbie, a UF political science sophomore, asked Levine exactly how high he’d raise the minimum wage, Higbie said he thought of his debt after college and his job as a Jimmy Johns delivery driver. Higbie, 19, makes about $10 an hour, including tips, on a given shift.

Levine said while he wants the minimum wage raised higher than $8.25 an hour, he didn’t want to mandate a statewide figure and would rather let locals decide.

“Buying a burger in Miami Beach is a lot more money than buying a burger out in Pensacola,” Levine said. “Let local communities decide specifically how high they want to go.”

While Higbie said he was happy to hear Levine is for raising the minimum wage, he said he would have preferred a commitment to $15 an hour.

“I feel like a specific number would be better,” Higbie said. “I look at my schooling and debt afterward; $15 would really help me have extra money in my pocket.”

Contact David Hoffman at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @hoffdavid123.

Levine’s first-year goals

  • Raise minimum wage
  • Ensure every Floridian has health care
  • Levine’s positions:
  • Make Florida a leader in solar energy
  • Restore voting rights for ex-felons
  • Invest tax dollars on public education rather than charter and private schools
  • Improve public transportation between major cities

Staff Writer

David Hoffman covers crime and metro for The Alligator. A rising UF history and economics senior, the 21-year-old lives and breathes for classy Parks and Recreation references and watching live performances of the Red Hot Chili Peppers on YouTube.