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NYT: Planned Switch to G.O.P. Stirs New York Governor Race

March 18, 2010

ALBANY — A governor’s race that seemed all but settled is about to be upended again, by a popular Democrat from Long Island who is set to announce that he is switching parties. The move is certain to excite Republican leaders pessimistic about their party’s hopes this fall.

Those leaders believe that the official, Steve Levy, a blunt-spoken fiscal hawk and contrarian who collected 96 percent of the vote in his last re-election bid, can tap into the public’s anti-incumbent sentiment and frustration with Albany’s overspending.

Mr. Levy, 50, the Suffolk County executive, said he wanted voters to see him as “Scott Brown II,” referring to the Massachusetts senator who pulled off an upset against a heavily favored Democrat in January. “There really seems to be a void out there that I can fit perfectly,” Mr. Levy said, describing Albany’s political culture as a “cesspool.”

“We’ve got to clean house, tear that place down and build it back in a cleaner, more efficient manner,” he added.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Levy, Rene Babich, said late Wednesday that Mr. Levy would announce in a news conference in Albany on Friday that he was seeking the Republican nomination for governor.

His candidacy could touch off an intraparty battle with former Representative Rick A. Lazio, a Republican who has been running since September but has failed to attract much enthusiasm or financial support.

Mr. Levy’s move put the Lazio campaign on the defensive on Thursday. It hit back against Mr. Levy, attacking his record on fiscal policy — his signature issue — as too liberal for the Republican Party. The campaign also released a list of prominent Republicans supporting it, including former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and former Gov. George E. Pataki, who will serve as honorary co-chairmen of the Lazio campaign.

A spokesman for the campaign, Barney Keller, said he felt Mr. Levy’s entrance into the race as a Republican would not damage Mr. Lazio’s chances of becoming the party’s nominee.

“It’s just bizarre that anyone would support him,” Mr. Keller said, pointing out that Mr. Levy supported an income tax increase when he was a member of the State Assembly in 2003. “We remain extremely confident that we’re going to be the nominee of the Conservative Party and the Republican Party, and we remain baffled by the bizarre notion that any Republican would support a left-wing, liberal Democrat like Steve Levy.”

Even if Mr. Levy were to prevail against Mr. Lazio, he would be likely to face a formidable Democratic opponent in Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo.

There is no question that Mr. Levy would add unpredictability to the race. He is known not only for his Puritan work ethic and stubborn frugality but also for his occasionally incendiary comments, especially on immigration. His detractors say he has stoked the anger of the largely white middle-class residents of Suffolk County, which is grappling with an influx of immigrants who are straining the social service system.

In 2005, Mr. Levy helped orchestrate a highly publicized raid on a house in Brookhaven, where the authorities rounded up dozens of suspected illegal immigrants. He once described foreign women who give birth after moving to the United States as having “anchor babies,” a term often used derisively by anti-immigrant groups. Asked in a recent interview whether he might have chosen his words more carefully, he was unapologetic. “There’s no need to,” he said. “The public is in agreement with me.”

His tendency to say what he believes is what he thinks voters find appealing about him. “I mean, I came out of nowhere for a lot of people,” he said. “And when they started paying attention to what I was saying, it’s like: ‘Wow. This guy is saying what I’ve been thinking for years.’ ”

Still, Mr. Levy’s staff has prepared a 1,300-word point-by-point rebuttal to critiques of his record on illegal immigration. It also highlights his administration’s appointment of a Hispanic police commander and the county’s distribution of a play about immigration to local schools.

It is clear that Mr. Levy is drawn to running as a Republican for ideological and strategic reasons. He often says that the Democratic Party, with its ties to unions and expansive spending practices, has abandoned more-conservative Democrats like him. And defeating Mr. Lazio would probably be far easier than beating Mr. Cuomo in a primary. (Gov. David A. Paterson, a Democrat, upended the political dynamic last month when he announced that he would not seek election.)

Even so, Mr. Levy would face considerable hurdles in winning the Republican nomination. Technically, his change in party registration would not take effect until after the November election; so to gain a spot on the Republican primary ballot, he would have to receive more than 50 percent of the vote at the state party convention in June.

Many local Republican leaders have pledged their support for Mr. Lazio. But Mr. Levy and his backers, including the party chairman, Edward F. Cox, see an opening. And while Mr. Lazio had just under $640,000 in his campaign account as of January, Mr. Levy had $4.1 million.

Mr. Lazio’s campaign publicly plays down the threat of Mr. Levy’s entry into the race but appears unsettled by the possibility. “It’s laughable, of course, that Steve Levy would find support in the Republican Party,” said a Lazio spokesman, Barney Keller.

In Suffolk County, Mr. Levy has been a figure of fascination and scorn. Though he earns nearly $185,000 as county executive — some $13,000 less than the county allows him to make, he points out — he drives an old Ford Taurus to work most mornings. (His family car, he said, is a decade-old Mercedes.) When he travels on business, he often stays at the Red Roof Inn.

In the county, he has reduced spending throughout the $2.6 billion budget, through steps like doing away with county vehicles, authorizing fewer hires of county employees and leaving unfilled positions vacant. He has fiercely battled public employee unions, and says he will do the same if he goes to Albany.

He requires long hours of his staff. People who drive by the municipal building in Hauppauge say it is not uncommon for the lights in the 12th-floor executive offices to be on at 10 p.m. Even at a wake, Connie R. Corso, Mr. Levy’s deputy for finance, recalled with a chuckle, staff members are not safe from Mr. Levy’s calls. “You’re really 24-7 available to him,” she said.

In an era when retail politics is often replaced with outreach through social media and the Internet, Mr. Levy claims to have knocked on nearly every door in Suffolk County. He was first elected to the Suffolk County Legislature in 1985 at age 26, after running his campaign out of his mother’s house in Holbrook, using savings he had accumulated delivering newspapers as a boy.

And, despite his image as a bomb-thrower, he remains quite sensitive to how he is perceived.

Each morning his staff members hand him a packet of newspaper articles from Suffolk County and beyond. If he reads something he does not like, he calls up the reporters, editors or editorial writers responsible to debate the finer points of their articles.

He can be particular about having his picture taken, telling a visiting newspaper photographer at his office, “Am I being too much of an image-conscious guy if I say, ‘Can you get my front?’ ” He then sheepishly explained that a recent photo of him that appeared in print had made his nose look too big. He is a sturdy 5-foot-6 with a broad chest built up from years of weight lifting.

And, when he dug into his briefcase to find a copy of his “Plan to Save Our State” to give to a reporter, he pulled out two hairbrushes and a makeup compact.

His relentless attention to how he is depicted — or criticized — is a trait that many who have crossed paths with Mr. Levy mention. But they also say it would be a mistake to dismiss his potential in a governor’s race.

“The fact that people have underestimated him I think is what drives him,” said Jim Morgo, a former chief deputy to Mr. Levy and a friend of his. “And he has proven them wrong.”

  1. Sal Minella permalink
    March 19, 2010 7:11 am

    This is the latest in Bay Ridge-Duked style hypocrisy!

    ‘Offended’ Michael Long: Levy Candidacy ‘An Affront’ To My Party!

    “State Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long said he doubts his executive committee will abandon plans to back Rick Lazio for governor, regardless of Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy’s decision to switch parties and run as a Republican.”

    Read more:

    You are amazing Mike Long! What chutzpah you have! Didn’t the Brooklyn Conservative Party, under Kings County Conservative Party Chair Jerry Kassar, endorse Mr. Greenfield, a Democrat, for the 44th City Council District recently?

    Didn’t the Conservative Party consider endorsing Rep. Michael McMahon (13th C.D.)?

    You Conservative Party folks can’t have your cake and it it too!

    You are a bunch of hypocrites in the NYS Conservative Party! You have different standards and don’t apply endorsements and political support based on principles – only on your own self interests (on personal levels).

    Liam McCabe, do you care to comment on this latest Michael Long/C.P. fisaco? You always have something concrete to add.

  2. poor craig eaton permalink
    March 19, 2010 11:53 am

    What’s Eaton to do- first he was happy to announce he was the “first” to endorse Giuliano for Governor (we know how that worked out). Then he couldn’t even get Giuliani to not go against his endorsed canidate for Congress- Michael Allegretti. Giuliani endorsed Micahel Grimm. Then, Eaton proudly endorsed Rick Lazio and is one of Eaton’s honorees at the Brooklyn Republican Party dinner. Now, with Ed Cox, who eaton “endorsed” going with Levy does Eaton stick with Lazio- or endorse a third candidate for Governor in a period of a few months!! This embarassment for the Brooklyn Republican Party could have been avoided if Eaton had alittle political smarts rather than being crazy about reading about himself in the newspapers by being “the first” to endorse everybody!!

  3. Young Republican permalink
    March 19, 2010 4:09 pm

    Chairman Eaton endorsed Rick Lazio after Chris Collins dropped out and Lazio he was the only republican candidate running. If he pulls back his endorsement – and I think he should – it will not be a flip flop, it is simply that circumstance have changed and now there is a more qualified conservative candidate, who is better at problem solving and has a record of standing up to big unions and other special interest groups, and that is Steve Levy.

    I don’t think he should endorse Steve, but he should definitely give him the opportunity to make his case to republican voters, and give republican voters the option of voting for him in a primary.

  4. Maya permalink
    March 19, 2010 6:52 pm

    Young Republican, I agree with parts of your point of view.

    I think county political parties, such as the Brooklyn GOP, should not be in a rush to endorse any candidates too early, too soon. Candidates should always have ample time before a primary to make their case to primary voters. Endorsement ought to be after the primary has concluded.

    Circumstances in politics do change rapidly.

    Now that Chairman Eaton endorsed Mr. Lazio so early, it would be difficult to take back that endorsement. If he did that it would make him look indecisive and “wishy-washy.” Its too late for him to do that.

    Generally, its a disservice to primary voters when county or borough parties endorse. Wait for the primary to conclude. The people, the voters, ought to decide – not the party leaders.

    Craig Eaton tends to be too quick to endorse. He went ahead to endorse Rudy for president and then governor too soon – and each time Rudy disappointed.

    County chairs should build up the party on the county and local levels – not try to get too involved in larger issues. Locally the Brooklyn GOP is in a dismal state – because Craig Eaton is too occupied with stuff outside of Brooklyn. Plus his busy law firm practice takes up a great deal of him time and energy and focus.

    Wasn’t Craig Eaton doing a fundraiser or something like that last year for candidate
    Chris Christie of NJ, prior to Christie being elected NJ Governor last November? I recall something like that. What does NJ have to do with the Brooklyn GOP?

  5. HG-WT, Wire Paladin permalink
    March 19, 2010 7:12 pm

    Levy, we don’t need no stinkin’ Steve Levy— Lazio, we don’t need no stinkin’ Rick Lazio…we have Carl Paladino as a worthy Republican dark horse.

    Already, some of us have discussed how Carl Paladino’s statewide petitioning approach will fit in nicely with petitioning efforts of the nascent independent Republican candidacies for assembly and state senate in several Brooklyn districts.

    From:,NY/Carl Paladino to Run For New York Governor

    “BUFFALO, N.Y. – Western New York developer Carl Paladino will officially announce his candidacy for New York State Governor on April 5th.
    A source tells Two On Your Side, the announcement will take place in Buffalo.
    Paladino had been asked to run for Governor by members of the Western New York Tea Party.
    Paladino has also hired Michael Caputo as a campaign consultant. Caputo previously served as a campaign aide to President George H.W. Bush.”


  6. HG-WT, Wire Paladin permalink
    March 19, 2010 11:46 pm

    From: Paladinoforthepeople

    Friday, March 19, 2010

    President’s health care reform will make New York’s costly system even worse

    (BUFFALO, NY) – Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino today called for New York’s elected leaders to join in a legal challenge to the constitutionality of President Obama’s health-care reform bill if Congress approves the measure as expected this weekend.

    “I agree with Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s position that Obamacare likely violates the Ninth and Tenth Amendments of the United States Constitution,” Paladino said. “New York already has the most expensive health care system in the United States, and Obamacare will make it far worse.”

    “I also believe House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s twisted parliamentary trick to ‘deem and pass’ the President’s plan is vulnerable to constitutional challenge,” said Paladino, who is set to announce his candidacy for Governor in the days ahead.

    “Sadly, the political elite in Albany don’t have the courage to stand up to Washington on this vital Constitutional issue,” Paladino said. “One of my first acts as Governor will be to work closely with the New York Attorney General to examine the issues and file or join appropriate litigation to stop Obamacare in its tracks.”

    Today, New York’s private individual insurance market is among the nation’s most expensive and highly regulated. According to a 2007 eHealth Insurance survey, New York’s average premiums in the individual market are more than double the national average. Partly because of this, nearly one in four New Yorkers is enrolled in Medicaid. New York’s Medicaid program is the nation’s most expensive, and New Yorkers pay exorbitant local and state taxes to support it.

    “New Yorkers are already taxed enough already, and we should not be subjected to yet another federal mandate or surrender yet another part of our lives to government control,” Paladino said.

  7. THIS IS F-ING HILARIOUS!!!!! permalink
    March 20, 2010 2:02 pm

  8. A fiscal GOP conservative living in Brooklyn permalink
    March 22, 2010 12:24 pm

    Steve Levy has a website up and running!

  9. Aion Kinah permalink
    June 1, 2010 6:25 pm

    Such a useful blog wow !!!!

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