What a difference a few dozen words can make—especially when they come from two powerful Long Island elected officials on the same day.
For Suffolk voters, what Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota and Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy said (and didn’t say) is echoing through our political landscape today because, with the general election on Nov. 8 just weeks away, a kind of bloodless coup has deprived the people of the final say in who governs them.
The first to speak back on March 24 was Levy, who recalled telling his friends that if he wasn’t successful in his bid to run for governor, “I might not seek a third term as county executive.” As everyone in New York knows, he didn’t make it after the lifelong Democrat switched parties to become a Republican. So, he said, after much discussion with his family, and “due to my desire to tackle other challenges, I am announcing that I will not be seeking another term.”
For a popular figure like Levy, who had won his second county executive election without opposition, the announcement was remarkable. But the most stunning news was still to come.
“Questions have been raised concerning fundraising through my political campaign. Since this occurred under my watch, I accept responsibility. In order to resolve these questions, I will be turning over my campaign funds to the Suffolk County district attorney.”
And just like that, Levy relinquished $4.3 million in his campaign war chest and became lamer than the Big Duck in Flanders.
Before the dust could settle, Spota, a former Republican who’d switched parties himself before he first won election in 2001 as a Democrat, unleashed his own statement explaining that Levy had acted “to resolve a sixteen-month investigation conducted by the Government Corruption Bureau, which began in the summer of 2009.”
Praising the “full cooperation of the county executive,” the district attorney said, “There is no question that while the investigation revealed serious issues with regard to fundraising and the manner in which it was conducted, including the use of public resources, I am confident that Mr. Levy did not personally profit. The forfeiture of his $4 million dollar campaign fund demonstrates his acceptance of responsibility for these failings.”
Spota said his decision to let Levy complete his term was “carefully considered and involved weighing his conduct, [and] the need for stability in government in these difficult economic times while affording a smooth transition after the 2011 election.” Adding that the investigation “will continue with respect to the conduct of others,” Spota said, “I am satisfied that the actions taken by Mr. Levy resolve the investigation in the best interests of the citizens of Suffolk County.”
But is that really the case? What gives the district attorney the right to essentially remove the county’s highest election official without a full disclosure of the facts? The jury, so to speak, is still out.