Levy's legacy to Suffolk County politics

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy speaks at a

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy speaks at a meeting of the Long Island Business Development Council in Ronkonkoma. (June 14, 2011) (Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas)

Dan Janison

Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison, Dan Janison

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday for 10

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The next Suffolk County executive faces the trickiest of political landscapes as the high-drama tenure of Steve Levy draws to its close.

From the campaign's outset, neither Steve Bellone nor rival Angie Carpenter stood a chance to reach the dizzying mandate won by Levy in 2007 -- 96 percent of the votes. He did so, of course, through the backing of both major parties and three minor ones.

Consider that in light of Tuesday's election. How hollow did all the partisan messages on spending and services ring -- when both party syndicates had only four years ago signed off on the same incumbent?

Levy's re-election made standard party differences seem beside the point. Then, last year, Levy switched from Democrat to Republican. And then, this year, he abruptly became a lame duck. For better or worse, Levy scrambled the usual partisan arrangements and timing.

Bellone -- who will become the ninth executive in county history -- will want to convince the public that Levy's adherence to guarding taxpayer dollars goes on -- without the alienation that could impede crucial talks with unions, lawmakers and other players.

Appearing congenial in public will be the easy part. The hard part comes in the cold facts of the fiscal world, the sharpened tension between revenues and expenses. William Lindsay, presiding officer of the Suffolk legislature, supporter of Bellone, warned Monday: "Whoever wins . . . is going to walk into a hornet's nest."

A panel of lawmakers of both parties proposed a police-tax increase in the name of averting hundreds of layoffs. Levy assailed them for setting up the "doom and gloom" rationale for a tax hike and insisted the budget he's put out is balanced.

The situation leaves multiple challenges in Bellone's lap. Some one-shot revenues are said to be risky. The full fate of the county nursing home remains in flux. Degrees of state aid, levels of labor cooperation and changes in sales-tax projections all look like moving parts.

As polls closed Tuesday night, a Police Benevolent Association website, counting down the seconds to Levy's departure, reached 53 days and three hours. But that makes for little more than fun theater for a Bellone backer.

Honeymoons between newly elected executives and legislators and work forces can vary in duration. Given the current crisis, former top Levy aide Kevin Law, now president of the Long Island Association, suggested Tuesday that Levy's successor and legislators set right to work once election results were known.

"I'd encourage both sides to spend the entire transition on the budget," Law said. "They should sink their teeth into the budget crisis and try to come up with alternatives to avoid as much pain as they can . . . and not wait until January to get there."