Looking at the list of League of Women Voters issues and projects that Michele Levy has been involved with, it’s apparent we’re talking about the greatest hits of the 21st Century – fair districts, felons’ voting rights, open primaries, among them.
Michele was born in the Bronx – her mother served as a poll worker, “so I knew early on how important it was to vote,” she said. She moved to Central Florida in 1974 and worked for the state in social services (aiding children and adults with disabilities) for several years, retiring in 2005.
Having a state job meant she couldn’t join organizations like the League, but, on her retirement, friends Mark and Linda Lovett, League members, suggested she sign up.
She was immediately drawn to the Government Committee. “I knew I had to learn how local government worked -- and on the committee, I learned from the likes of [former Orange County Commissioner] Fran Pignone and [the late Orlando City Commissioner] Pat Schwartz. That’s when I started sitting in on meetings [county and city commissions and the like].”
She credits not only Pignone and Schwartz but also Caroline Emmons-Schramm, a former LWVOC president, as League mentors. And she also worked with folks who became BFFs – Ann Hellmuth, Andrea Kobrin, Carol & Charles Davis, Sandra Powers.
Michele has spent countless hours sitting in on government meetings -- not participating, just observing. She has been a poll attendant on countless election days (not this year’s primary in August, though -- she said it’s a concession to age that she delivered food to the poll workers instead). She has served on both the Orange County and state League boards.
As Michele became more and more involved, she also dug deeper and deeper – into redistricting and open primaries and voter services, all of them the League’s meat and potatoes. LWV members are known for their in-depth research into complicated issues, sometimes continuing for years. When the League finally takes a stand on an issue, it goes in full tilt, which includes monitoring how approved ballot proposals, such as restoring voting rights to released felons, are carried out – or even if they’re carried out.
Eventually, Michele became co-president of the League of Women Voters Orange County with the late Sandra Powers (they served three years). They were a power duo, who grew the LWVOC from some 300 members to some 732 today (even more at one point). They instituted orientation get-togethers for new members (complete with wine). Holiday parties. The Membership Committee. “We wanted to make the League social and diverse,” Michele said.
After her local presidency, Michele was on the state board as Voter Services Advocacy chair.
In future, Michele sees plenty of issues that will keep the League hopping – state-local control conflicts; gun laws; fair elections; abortion rights.
Her last piece of advice: Be vigilant.