Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
While leaders of his own Republican Party have remained mum, the ever-combative Levy lashed out last week against his former ally, Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer -- and Schaffer's plan to return to his old job as Babylon Town supervisor while remaining as county chairman.
"A conflict between a political leader's duty to the party and to the taxpayer is just common sense," said Levy, who switched from Democrat to Republican last year. "You can have decisions being made on behalf of the taxpayer, which could become clouded because a party leader has a fiduciary responsibility to enhance the power of the party, often at the detriment of the taxpayer."
"I don't know why Babylon would contemplate allowing a party leader to be appointed," Levy said.
Schaffer said he'd "accept a lecture on ethics from Steve Levy when he tells me what he did that caused him not to run for re-election and forfeit $4 million in campaign funds."
In March, Levy announced he would not run again and that he was turning over his campaign fund to District Attorney Thomas Spota after prosecutors raised questions about his campaign fundraising practices.
Schaffer added that Levy never raised the issue when he was seeking Schaffer's support for county executive in 2001 -- a time when Schaffer was serving as county chairman and Babylon supervisor. "He didn't seem to have a problem with it then," Schaffer said.
Levy noted a 1988 county law barring town and county political leaders from also serving as countywide elected officials or legislators, and a similar statute in Brookhaven prohibiting dual roles. Babylon has no such law.
Schaffer, in fact, was among the sponsors of the county ban -- though he later voted to sustain a veto by then-County Executive Patrick Halpin that was overridden.
Told of Schaffer's role as a county lawmaker, Levy said: "Richie should practice what he preaches; when he criticizes others he should live by the same code."
But Schaffer said he does not see a contradiction between his sponsorship of the county ban and his plan to serve as county leader and a town official. "I don't think the two intersect because they are different levels of government," he said.
However, Schaffer raised $2 million for the party and helped County Executive-elect Steve Bellone raise $3.5 million more from contractors who do business both with the town and county.
Schaffer said that as supervisor he plans to ban "anyone who works for, does business with or has an application before the Town of Babylon [from donating] to the Suffolk Democratic Committee." To make sure, Schaffer said each fundraising letter would include a form for donors to sign attesting that there are no ties.
Tony Pancella, Babylon GOP chairman and vice chairman of Suffolk Off-Track Betting, said he has not raised the issue because "as far as I know, it's legally permissible." He noted that former state Sen. Caesar Trunzo (R-Brentwood) also served as Islip GOP chairman and that "I never saw him go over any ethical, legal or moral lines." Of Schaffer, he said, "I expect him to handle it properly."
Levy conceded his concerns might not sway the Democrat-controlled Babylon town board, which is expected to appoint Schaffer as supervisor in January. But he said he hoped his stand would "raise eyebrows" and move Babylon and other towns to bar the dual roles.
"At least it should be a topic of discussion and not passed off as a nonevent," Levy said.
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