Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
Trying to clear the re-election path for newly minted Republican Steve Levy, Republican and Conservative Party leaders took their four other countywide elected officials to the woodshed last week, trying to unite them behind the county executive with whom they have all clashed.
Without revealing details of the meeting, Suffolk GOP chairman John Jay LaValle said, "My message was simple -- we either sink or swim together."
Conservative chairman Edward Walsh said, "We don't want our other electeds fighting with the top of the ticket."
The countywide elected officials who were there -- Comptroller Joseph Sawicki, County Clerk Judith Pascale and Carpenter, all Republicans, and Sheriff Vincent DeMarco, a Conservative -- also wouldn't talk about the three-hour sit-down. But all of them, plus Democratic District Attorney Thomas Spota, clashed with Levy earlier this year when they sought the power to fill budgeted positions in their offices without going through Levy.
"There was a lot of yelling and name calling on both sides," said one participant who declined to be identified.
LaValle also disclosed he was moving up the Republican county convention by two months to April 6 -- a move seen by some as an effort to pre-empt any potential Levy primary challengers. But LaValle said the move is aimed only at giving other GOP candidates a head start on trying to retake the county legislature, with the help of Levy's formidable coattails.
But Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, says LaValle's actions show Republicans are worried. "Nervous would be a mild word to describe their state of mind," he said. "Paranoia might be more appropriate."
Levy, an eight-year incumbent, is a combative fiscal conservative, with a nonstop press operation and $4 million in campaign funds. Babylon's Democratic Supervisor Steve Bellone, who like Levy has not formally announced his candidacy for county executive, has run the town for a decade but is little known outside. However, backers note Bellone has raised an impressive $1.4 million. Last week, he conducted a countywide listening tour to make himself better known.
At a stop in North Bellport, Bellone criticized the county for relying on a private donation to supply an acoustic system to track gunshots there. Hours later, Levy announced an emergency resolution to expand the program, known as ShotSpotter, to more communities.
Levy aides say there was no connection between the two events.
LaValle, however, called Bellone's tour a "sham" because he already has decided to run and has hired a campaign manager. Bellone was "doing more talking than listening," LaValle said.
Democrats concede Levy is ahead but say he is beatable. They argue that he has not only angered other public officials, but has rankled constituents with his push for the proposed 1,200-unit Legacy Village in Yaphank.
"There's a lot of spots . . . where people are not happy with Levy," said legislative Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook). "His old party is angry with him and many in his new party don't seem to be embracing him."