New Mendota Heights Mayor Stephanie Levine has taken countless walks through the city in her 30 years as a resident. Many of those walks have been with her sisters, both of whom live in the city. But in the weeks before she filed to be a candidate for mayor, Levine asked Sandra Krebsbach to join her. Krebsbach had served three terms as mayor of Mendota Heights, and Levine was looking for guidance.
As the two of them wound along the trails and walkways that connect the various parts of the city, they discussed how each neighborhood interacts with the others. “I think it’s important for people to realize that the city doesn’t just happen,” Krebsbach said.
While she did not endorse any of the candidates in this fall’s race for mayor, Krebsbach grew convinced that Levine had the qualities to be a successful one.
The candidate was eager to listen and learn during their conversations, according to Krebsbach. That is an attitude Levine said she will maintain as she acquaints herself with her new role in City Hall. “There are three seasoned members on the City Council,” Levine said. “I’m going to be listening. I’m going to be learning.”
What stood out during Levine’s tenure on the District 197 School Board was her consistency in fastidiously preparing for tough decisions, according to District 197 superintendent Peter Olson-Skog. “That’s not something you usually see,” Olson-Skog said, “somebody who can bring their A-game to every meeting.”
Levine is not one to shrink from difficult decisions. That was evident in December when the District 197 School Board voted unanimously to remove Henry Sibley’s name from the school district’s high school. The high school was named for the first governor of Minnesota when it opened in 1954, but the name came under scrutiny this fall because of Sibley’s alleged treatment of Dakota Indians in the mid-1800s.
Levine was among the most outspoken of the seven School Board members, though she knew there would be fallout. “We knew (that dropping the name) would be unpopular with a big segment of our population,” she said. “But if you want to be in a public position, you have to make the right decision, not necessarily what’s going to be
Levine stepped down from the District 197 School Board as her term as mayor of Mendota Heights began on January 1. What stood out during her tenure on the board was her consistency in fastidiously preparing for tough decisions, according to District 197 superintendent Peter Olson-Skog.
“That’s not something you usually see,” Olson-Skog said, “somebody who can bring their A-game to every meeting. Stephanie’s a wonderful blend of professionalism and deep caring for our community.”
Levine does not shy away from difficult conversations, he said, but will hear everyone out completely.
That is a quality Levine will need as mayor, according to Krebsbach—an ability to maintain cohesion, not just in the council chambers, but in the city at large. “As mayor you have to lead the whole city,” Krebsbach said. “You have to be comfortable holding the center seat.”
Levine topped two other candidates in the race to succeed outgoing Mayor Neil Garlock. She received 44.6 percent of the vote to City Council member Liz Petschel’s 40.6 percent and Patrick Watson’s 14.4 percent. She will preside over her first City Council meeting on January 12.
The City Council has a new look this year with the resignation of Petschel in November. John Mazzitello was appointed by now fellow council members Ultan Duggan, Jay Miller and Joel Paper to serve the remaining two years in Petschel’s term. A civil engineer by profession, Mazzitello works as the deputy director of public works for Ramsey County. He served as Mendota Heights’s city engineer and director of public works from 2008-16 and as a member of the city’s Planning Commission from 2017-20.
Levine noted the “balancing act” that will be required in making decisions that best serve Mendota Heights when it comes to development and preserving the city’s character as an oasis close to the metropolitan area’s urban center.
In her first months in office, Levine said she will make Mendota Heights’ 2040 Comprehensive Plan one of her top priorities. The document, which is coming up for approval soon, will form the basis of future zoning and land use decisions in Mendota Heights.
Levine noted the “balancing act” that will be required in making decisions that best serve Mendota Heights when it comes to development and preserving the city’s character as an oasis close to the metropolitan area’s urban center. Mendota Heights’ natural resources are irreplaceable, Levine said. “I would never have gotten elected if I wanted to change that,” she said.
Levine considers herself a collaborator at heart. In the wake of the financial hardships brought on by COVID-19, she believes collaboration is paramount in rebuilding the economy. That, she said, will require cooperation from all of the city’s public and private entities.
Getting that cooperation is a task Levine said she has successfully navigated in years past. From 2013-18 she served concurrently on the District 197 School Board and the Mendota Heights Parks and Recreation Commission. After being approached to run for mayor, she agreed only after receiving the blessings of her fellow School Board members.
Levine was born in the Highland Park neighborhood of Saint Paul. An actuary by profession, she has dived headfirst into the technical aspects of being mayor. Last month a binder containing Mendota Heights’ entire city code was propped on a shelf in her home office. She intends to familiarize herself with the document as she strives to get to know her new constituents.
Levine invites citizens to contact her. “Leave me a message, and I’ll call you back,” she said. She may even be open to a walk.
— Casey Ek