“It is inconceivable that a liberal Democrat like Steve Levy, who can’t even vote for himself in the Republican primary, would be the Republican nominee,” says Lazio’s campaign spokesman Barney Keller. “I don’t think Rick Lazio is violating the 11th commandment because Steve Levy is not a Republican.”
Others, though, are just looking at the bottom line for the party. “We have an obligation to win,” says John Jay LaValle, the Suffolk County Republican chairman, who supports Levy. “I’ve had so many leaders call me and just express concern that they don’t think Rick Lazio can win the race. Four years ago William Weld was trying to run for governor, and Mike Long jumped in and he endorsed John Faso. He forced the Republican Party to go with John Faso and we ended up having the second worst election in the history of the New York State Republican Party. I don’t think people want to go down that road again because if Mike Long is driving the bus we’re probably going off a cliff.”
The next big shoe to drop is the endorsement of the Independence Party, which has the third row on the ballot—above the Conservative Party.
“Everyone wants our line, there’s no question about that, but we’re not decided yet,” said Frank MacKay, chairman of the Independence Party of Suffolk County, New York State and the national Independence Party of America. “We see ourselves as the party of reform. The Independence Party takes no stance on social issues, whereas the Conservative Party is heavily based on social ideology.”
He wouldn’t say if he’s a Levy or Lazio supporter. But MacKay did say this about Levy’s long-term prospects, assuming he doesn’t achieve his gubernatorial goal: “He can run again next year for county executive. Then he’s stuck. Name one Suffolk County executive who went anywhere. After Teddy Roosevelt, the best political career for a Long Islander was Alfonse D’Amato.”
One issue for Levy that won’t go away is his controversial stand on illegal immigration. In 2005 he helped organize a raid on a Brookhaven residence that netted a score of illegal immigrants. And he’s also been quoted in The New York Times and elsewhere as criticizing foreign women who move to the United States to give birth to “anchor babies”—children born in the United States to illegal immigrants—here. A Democratic political consultant, Hank Sheinkopf told the Times that Levy “will create the largest Hispanic turnout, probably, in the history of New York State politics.”
State GOP chairman Cox is sanguine. “His support among registered Hispanic voters is very high,” says Cox. “His position on illegal immigration is one that I think all candidates would agree on.”
That may be due to the changing nature of Levy’s views. Says Levy’s friend and former Democratic colleague Jim Morgo, “[Levy’s] comments on illegal immigration have been moderated. They haven’t been as extreme as they were in 2004 and 2005.”
And many among Levy’s newly adopted party understand. “It’s not that we’re anti-immigrant,” says LaValle, the Suffolk GOP chairman. “We’re anti-illegal and there’s a difference.”
LaValle isn’t worried about Levy’s adversaries turning his policy into a wedge issue. “Good, I hope it is. And you know what? The silent majority of New Yorkers will agree with Steve Levy.”
One thing the former Democrat-turned Republican from Suffolk does have in his corner is money. And lots of it. Levy has a reported warchest of $4 million, leading the Long Island pack of political insurgents on the green front. According to a March 27 article, his opponent Lazio had roughly $600,000 at his disposal. Nassau District Attorney Rice has $2.4 million currently on hand, says her campaign. Comptroller DiNapoli has $1.3 million; Blakeman’s campaign finances weren’t immediately available as of press time. Cuomo, from Queens, trumps all, reportedly armed with a $16 million warchest.
But in the end, if Levy can’t make more headway with the Conservative Party, he won’t get far enough into the race to matter.
“I figured when Steve announced he had all this lined up,” says Schaffer, the Suffolk Democratic chairman. “I was a little surprised, because he’s usually a very prepared person. He’s one of the best political minds I know. I think it’s going to be a big detriment to his candidacy. And he’s also got Lazio more animated and probably raising more money.” Schaffer is already talking to Democrats interested in running for Levy’s current job.
“I don’t know how real a candidate for governor Steve Levy is,” says Mickey Carroll, the Quinnipiac pollster. “Murray Kempton once wrote a column when Mayor John Lindsay became a Democrat so he could run for president. He said, ‘It’s OK, you join a new church, that can happen. But then to join a new church and instantly decide you want to lead the choir?’ Well, that’s what Levy has done. We’ll see if it works. It might.”
And while Levy may be singing for the choir, he’s not the only Long Island politician with a hope and a prayer that somewhere up ahead, somewhere like Albany, lies the promised land.