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Long Island Politicians are Battling for Albany

The road to the capital starts here


Levy (no relation to Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy) explains how Long Islanders fit into New York’s political geography. “Suburbs are more important than they used to be in Democratic primaries, but they’re not decisive,” he says. “They’re very important to the Republican Party, because they are where a huge share of the Republican vote is.

“The people running from Long Island aren’t going to be on the same ticket,” he says. “You’re not going to have both Rick Lazio and Steve Levy. Only one will be the Republican nominee. Tom DiNapoli would run on the same Democratic ticket with Kathleen Rice but they really appeal to different people as well as sharing Long Island as a base. Kathleen Rice appeals to women who fit the most volatile subgroup of Irish Catholic women. She also has a law-and-order message that tends to trump some of the softer issues that candidates encounter. DiNapoli’s an Italian Catholic. He has a base in the establishment with unions and the Legislature, particularly members of the Assembly. She’s going to run as an outsider. He’s going to run as the insider with the eyes and ears of integrity to keep his fellow insiders honest.”

Also running for the republican nomination in the governor’s race is former congressman rick lazio, who worked on Wall Street until last fall.


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Levy also recognizes that Cuomo’s Queens roots may be used against him—to the extent his opponents can do so.

“Obviously, Rick Lazio or Steve Levy will try to make the case that Andrew Cuomo is a city guy, and try to gain traction in the suburbs and upstate,” says Lawrence Levy. “And they may have some success. In most parts of the country, Queens would be considered a suburb to a central city. But Andrew Cuomo will transcend where he’s from. His name comes with all kinds of pedigrees that really go beyond Queens. And to the extent he can remind voters that he’s from Queens and not New York City is a plus for him because Queens doesn’t vote the way Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx do. There are plenty of neighborhoods that like the idea of a Queens guy and don’t like the idea of a New York City guy.”

Suffolk County Democratic Chairman Rich Schaffer, still smarting from County Executive Steve Levy’s recent party switch to become a Republican (“it was a punch in the gut to me,” says Schaffer), does like the proliferation of Long Islanders in this year’s election. “Any time we have someone from Long Island running, it’s good for Long Island,” he says, “because it brings attention to the issues that we face out here. We’ve gotten shortchanged over the years. We send more money to Albany than we get back. And as a former elected official I recognize that Albany thinks we’re all some rich Gold Coast out here, and that we’re a piggy bank for them. So there can never be too many Long Islanders on the ticket.”

HITTING THE ROAD

Given the volatility of the electorate today, no incumbent can rest easy (witness Tom Suozzi, whose tenure as Nassau County executive ended in an upset loss to Nassau Legis. Ed Mangano). Look at Paterson’s lightning fast re-election campaign, which was over in six days. He announced at Hofstra on a Saturday and by the following Friday he was done. Now the clock is running on whether he’ll resign. Accordingly, pundits say that Sen. Gillibrand, his legacy pick, remains vulnerable despite her ability to dodge a major primary opponent like former Tennessee Rep. Harold Ford. Bruce Blakeman, her leading Republican challenger, senses an opportunity. “I ran for comptroller in 1998, so in the Senate race I’m the only candidate so far who has run for statewide office before,” says Blakeman, 54, an attorney and a Port Authority commissioner. “Paterson has not shown good judgment with the choices that he’s made and one of those choices was picking Kirsten Gillibrand for the U.S. Senate. She pretended to be moderate and then she moved far to the left.”

Being the first leader of Nassau’s Legislature, he recalls, “gave me the experience to run a deliberative body with people who have different ideas and try to come to a consensus and effectuate a policy that’s good for the public. It also gave me a lot of experience in how government operates, how it works, and how it doesn’t work. And I think that is very important because right now I don’t think government is working for people.”

With his graying locks, Blakeman bears a resemblance to the actor Richard Gere. Until he entered this race, Blakeman had been in the news because his ex-wife Nancy Shevell, with whom he has a teenage son, has been dating Sir Paul McCartney. Given Blakeman’s Valley Stream roots (he now lives in Manhattan), his base among Long Island Republicans seems secure—unlike the two Suffolk men battling for the gubernatorial nod—so Blakeman has had to hit the road upstate. “I’ve put 7,000 miles on my car in just 60 days,” he says. “I’ve been to Binghamton six times, Rochester six times, Albany five times, and I’ve been to Buffalo twice. Many of the problems facing Long Island are facing other regions in the state.”

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