One problem he doesn’t want to face is choosing between Rick Lazio, 52, the former Congressman from Brightwaters who ran for U.S. Senate against Hillary Clinton and lost abysmally, and Steve Levy, 50, who went from the Suffolk Legislature to the State Assembly to the Suffolk County executive office as a Democrat and now hopes to get to the governor’s mansion in Albany as a Republican. Levy wears a Dr. Phil-ish mustache with a drill sergeant’s demeanor; Lazio looks more like Soupy Sales crossed with Al Pacino. Both men are married with teenage children.
“I have enough on my plate just trying to get the Republican, Conservative and Independence nominations for U.S. Senate,” Blakeman says, “so my focus has been completely on the task ahead of me. I’m sure the Republican and the Conservative parties will nominate someone who will be an effective candidate and have a very good chance of winning the gubernatorial contest.”
ACROSS THE GREAT DIVIDE
Getting the state Republican and Conservative parties to agree on one guy would tax the diplomatic skills of Abraham Lincoln. State Republican Chairman Ed Cox, President Richard Nixon’s son-in-law, is backing Steve Levy. (Cox’s son Christopher is planning to run against the Democratic incumbent Rep. Tim Bishop.) Levy officially became a Republican on March19, so late in the game that legally he can’t even vote for himself in a Republican primary. To get into a primary, Levy first has to be nominated at the June 1 Republican convention at the New York Sheraton. According to party rules, Levy will need 50 percent of the delegates’ votes plus one to get the nod. Rick Lazio will only need 25 percent of the delegates’ votes to get on the ballot. Since 1974 no New York Republican has won the governor’s race without the backing of the Conservative Party. Mike Long, the state Conservative Party chairman, is behind Lazio, not Levy.
“All one has to do is look at Mr. Levy’s record as a legislator,” says Long. He cites the Conservative Party’s ratings of the three years Levy served in the Assembly: 25, 18, and 10, with 100 being the best. “Steve’s a nice guy,” says Long. “He just doesn’t have the philosophical stamina to offer a different set of values than what we’re going to be faced with with the Democratic Party, namely Cuomo and that whole crew. [Assembly Speaker] Shelly Silver and his crowd have put us in the financial conditions that we are in here, and quite honestly Steve Levy was part of that for three years and he didn’t vary very much from them. Some of my committee members feel that in the long haul Rick Lazio is a better candidate than Steve Levy. But more important than just being a viable and strong candidate is that they truly believe that Rick Lazio more closely represents their personal philosophies than Steve Levy did.”
Naturally, not everyone agrees.
“Steve Levy has his record of governing Suffolk County,” says State GOP Chairman Ed Cox, “and he’s done it as a real fiscal conservative. For really the last 10 years Rick’s executive experience has been that of an executive at a Wall Street bank where he’s been in charge of governmental relations.” Lazio had been a vice president at JPMorgan Chase, which gave him a $1.3 million bonus. He left last September.
Cox had harsh words for Lazio’s campaign, which reportedly leaked a transcript of a wiretap from 2004 when Levy’s close advisors Wayne Prospect and Stephen Baranello were under investigation for bid-rigging and bribery. Levy’s F-bombs would have put Joe Biden to shame. The headline in The Daily News read: “Lazio Campaign: Levy’s a Crass Talker.” Says Cox, “That kind of dirt does not belong in a race of a Republican facing a Republican. It violates [Ronald Reagan’s] 11th Commandment: Don’t speak ill of another Republican. Let me tell you, when you do that kind of stuff it shows you cannot win on the issues.”
As for the Conservative Party’s executive endorsement, Cox says that Chairman Long “rammed it through in a way that, frankly, was very offensive to some people there.”
Ed Walsh, chairman of the Suffolk County Conservative Party and vice chairman of the New York State Conservative Party, feels Levy has been misrepresented by the ratings system. “Anybody who knows Suffolk County government knows that Steve Levy is the most conservative person in office,” says Walsh. “No ands, ifs, or buts. This year alone he took a $100 million hit in tax revenues and balanced the budget without raising taxes. That’s what we need on a bigger scale.”
Walsh admitted he wasn’t thrilled with either Levy’s or Lazio’s stand on issues near and dear to Conservatives like him. “They’re both pro-choice, which isn’t what I support, but that’s just what they are, and they’re both for civil unions.”
But when it comes to his support for Levy, he’s unwavering, and he predicts that if Levy gets enough support at the Republican convention in June, the Conservatives will follow. “You think the Conservatives are going to come out with a split ticket?” Walsh says. “No way! That would really be trying to lie down and lose a race.”
But the Lazio camp sees it quite differently.