Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy Sunday became the first New York Democrat to formally say he may challenge Democratic Gov. David A. Paterson's re-election this year by formally announcing creation of an exploratory committee to weigh a gubernatorial run.
By forming the exploratory committee, Levy publicly jumps out in front of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who officially is running for re-election but is widely considered to be also mulling a run against Paterson, creating the possibility of a three-way Democratic primary.
The two-term county executive, known as a tightfisted fiscal conservative, has come under fire in some quarters for his hard-line stand on illegal immigration. He has amassed $4 million in his campaign coffers since he ran with virtually no opposition two years ago and was cross-endorsed by Republicans, Conservatives and the Working Families Party in his re-election.
In his news release, Levy does not mention Paterson by name but described New York as "a government on fiscal life support," and in a "state of fiscal paralysis," which "needs a proven leader who is not afraid to take on the powers that be and change the status quo.
"I would be the one guy who would turn the state upside down and inside out," said Levy in the statement.
Reached Sunday night, Levy stayed away from attacking Paterson. "My decision to run will not be based on who else is running," said Levy, "but how receptive the public will be to my reform agenda." He said he will travel to Albany for the State of the State message, do interviews and several radio talk shows.
Although little-known outside of Long Island, Levy, 50, of Bayport, said that a multicandidate primary might be his best chance for the nomination. "Most people think you need 51 percent to run," said Levy, "But in a primary you might need only 31 or 32 percent to top out."
Paterson's press office and Levy's hometown party leader Richard Schaffer did not return calls for comment.
Jay Jacobs, state and Nassau Democratic chairman, said Levy had talked to him about forming the committee, and it is only the start of what will be a "very tumultuous year" in state politics. "I don't like to characterize anyone's decision to consider an office disloyalty. It's his right to look into it. This is not a decision to do it; it's exploratory and I don't think we need to elevate it beyond that." Jacobs also called Levy a "very talented" official who "merits everyone's attention," but emphasized he still expects Paterson to run and win re-election.
While campaign adviser Michael Dawidziak indicated that Levy would also have to consider potential offers from Republicans, Levy in the past has said he does not believe such an offer would be forthcoming. Former Rep. Rick Lazio (R-Brightwaters) a former fellow county lawmaker with Levy, is already running for the GOP nod for governor and has the backing of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.