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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Levy not talking like he will run for governor

Steve Levy walks with his wife, Colleen West,

Steve Levy walks with his wife, Colleen West, before announcing his candidacy for governor as a Republican outside the Capitol in Albany. (March 19, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy - set to announce next week if he will try to run for governor on a breakaway ballot line - did not sound Thursday like a man who's about to snub the stated wishes of leaders in his new party, the Grand Old Party.

Levy, in a phone interview, thanked state chairman Ed Cox and county chairman John Jay Lavalle and said Republican leaders "were wonderful in their acceptance of my switch [from Democrat] and my candidacy, and it's greatly appreciated."

Seven weeks ago, Levy fell shy of winning enough delegate votes at the party convention to qualify for a primary slot against Rick Lazio, the GOP designee for governor.

"Clearly the Republican Party would not want County Executive Levy to pursue an independent run for the governorship," Suffolk's LaValle said Thursday. Another GOP insider added: "Cox doesn't think it benefits the party to engage in an effort that is designed to pull votes from the top of the ticket. Republicans have to protect the integrity of the Lazio campaign."

Lazio spokesman Barney Keller says: "The events before, during and after the convention proved that Republicans are united behind Rick Lazio, and we look forward to defeating Andrew Cuomo in November."

But Lazio's massive obstacles have failed to vanish along with Levy's nomination bid.

The former congressman's campaign last week reported $688,821.53 on hand - after burning $1.6 million - against Andrew Cuomo's $23.6 million war chest. And Lazio now faces a GOP primary from billionaire businessman Carl Paladino, who spent personal funds to petition his way onto the primary ballot.

While he's surprised others before, it's hard to find anyone who's betting Levy will attempt a potentially expensive ad hoc petition bid.

Lazio has tried to gain traction in the race partially by opposing the mosque planned for near Ground Zero. On that one issue, Levy this week came out sounding a bit more like Cuomo than like Lazio, saying it would be "un-American" to "stop a mosque from locating in that area simply because it's a mosque" - a position he says he did not form "based on what others thought."

To date, Levy has held off on endorsing a candidate for governor by citing the prospect of an independent run.

It was widely noticed that his new Levy for New York fund got $40,295 - $10,000 of it from Andrea Catsimatidis, fiancee of Cox's son Christopher, the congressional candidate.

But, significantly, in the same period, Levy also collected $225,829 in contributions to his previously established Friends of Steve Levy committee - for a closing balance of more than $3 million, available for next year's re-election race.

Levy is expressing his GOP solidarity in other ways. "I am serious when I say I want the state to go down a more conservative road," he said. "Getting a Republican Senate is going to be very helpful in that regard. Long Island lost a lot of clout when control shifted to New York City." That's a reference to the city majority in the Democratic conference, which won the upper house in 2008.

And Levy, whose Republican switch takes effect after the November election, endorsed long shot U.S. Senate candidate Gary Berntsen (an opponent of that proposed mosque) against second-term Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer.

Call it the special zeal of the convert. Call it something else. To those watching the state scene, Steve Levy seems ensconced in his new partisan environs.

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