When he was a seventh-grade student from Wantagh, Steve Rhoads volunteered to work on Assemblyman Frederick Parola’s campaign to get extra credit in his social studies class. As a result, Rhoads fell in love with politics.
Years later, Rhoads is now the Republican state senator for the 5th District, representing Wantagh, Seaford, Bellmore and Merrick as well as other surrounding neighborhoods.
Rhoads won the election in the newly drawn district in November, unseating incumbent Democrat Sen. John Brooks by winning 58 percent of the vote. Rhoads had previously served as a Nassau County legislator for the 19th District, and now represents many of those same constituents in Albany. A special election will be held to determine who will win Rhoads’s vacant seat in the Legislature, but the candidates are not currently known.
“There is a tremendous amount of overlap,” Rhoads said. “Obviously, there are many new areas that we’re in now because the Senate district is so much larger, but I’m very grateful that most parts of my legislative district are still with me. I am sorry to have lost a little bit of Freeport, though. Freeport is a great community.”
While the election was not particularly close, Rhoads is keenly aware that a chunk of his constituents voted for his opponent.
“I’m a state senator for Republicans, for independents, for Democrats,” Rhoads said. “My job is to represent the 325,000 people that are in my district regardless of what their political affiliation is. I hope that everyone would feel comfortable giving the office a call, and we’ll get to work on those issues. We may not agree on everything, but we’ll find common ground and come up with solutions.”
Rhoads ran on a platform of lowering taxes and being tough on crime. Two key issues include bail reform and congestion pricing. Prior to the November election, Rhoads told the Herald that his platform would be easier to push through if Republican Lee Zeldin had won the gubernatorial election over Democrat Gov. Kathy Hochul.
“Coalition building now becomes much more important,” Rhoads said. “We now have to look at compromises. We’ll get a bail reform bill on the floor, but Democrats will likely not pass it. So we will have to look at the worst elements of bail reform, which is taking away judges’ discretion, and see if we can get enough Democrats to work with us on that.”
Working across the aisle appears to be one of Rhoads’ strengths as a politician. The legislature is located in the county’s capitol building, with Republican offices on one side and the Democrat offices on the other. When Rhoads was elected to the legislature, there was no room on the Republican side, so he took an office on the other side. Rhoads told the Herald that this was a blessing because it allowed him to build relationships with politicians from the other party.
Rhoads said he has been making his rounds on the senate floor in Albany to get to know everybody.
Rhoads said he ran for office, in part, because of his love for Long Island, as a lifelong resident.
“Where else could you be half-an-hour away from what used to be one of the greatest cities and 10 minutes away from the beach?” Rhoads said. “But now a lot of young people can’t stay here, because of the lack of quality jobs and the high taxes. What we’re going to have to do is find a way to control property taxes, and a good part of that is school taxes. And try and create opportunities for economic growth and business development that are going to produce the kind of jobs that will enable young people to stay.”
Despite his call to slash school taxes, Rhoads said he still wants to see public schools receive funding and simply believes it’s a matter of properly allocating the money.
As a volunteer on Parola’s campaign, Rhoads said he learned how to be a very active politician at the grassroots level.
“Fred used to walk his entire assembly district,” Rhoads said. “Whether or not he was running, he was always in contact with his residents.”
Rhoads’ constituents said they see that same thing in the newly minted state senator.
“Steve comes to all of our events,” Jeff Newman of the Jewish War Veterans said. “Everybody loves Steve.”
Rhoads also enjoys good relationships with Congressman Anthony D’Esposito and Councilman Christopher Carini, giving him the right resources to help his constituents at both the local and federal levels.
“Steve Rhoads has always been there for his constituents,” Carini said.
“Steve is always on top of every issue. As a volunteer firefighter, Steve has taken care of first responders every step of the way. Our local firefighters, EMTs and law enforcement could always count on Steve. We will champion Steve fighting for safe, affordable neighborhoods in our state’s capitol.”
Rhoads said he remains committed to delivering results in Albany.
“I know that it’s a tremendous amount of trust that the voters have placed in me, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be able to serve,” Rhoads said.