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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Watch where you point that finger

Suffolk Executive Steve Levy, left, and District Attorney

Suffolk Executive Steve Levy, left, and District Attorney Thomas Spota in 2010. Photo Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

Political allegations sometimes have a way of becoming messy affairs that turn accusers into accused.

Elected executives may have the tools available to vex their rivals and critics with accusations of impropriety. But putting them to work can backfire, as a couple of recent instances on Long Island show.

Former County Executive Steve Levy and aides used Suffolk's ethics apparatus in a bid to pressure legislators, according to a grand jury report released earlier this month. As described when the report was issued, Legis. Edward P. Romaine (R-Center Moriches) and ex-Legis. Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor) were on the receiving end of threats to expose purported conflicts, it said.

But that grand jury, convened by District Attorney Thomas Spota, ended up turning the spotlight on the former Levy administration in its 55-page report, saying broadly: "In less than 10 years a small but powerful group of Suffolk County officials intentionally corrupted and undermined the Ethics Commission to a point so low it had to be disbanded."

In another case, last month, an internal memo from the office of current Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone surfaced, which employed the language of criminal accusation. The missive said Levy had made "intentional and willful misstatements" to bond agencies during last fall's budget process, and "created a pattern of deception and ethical questions."

But experts soon noted that budget assumptions are always a matter of political wrangling. Levy got the chance to call the claim "vindictive nonsense."

The episode ended up an embarrassment for the new county executive -- who called it a "rookie mistake" for his office to have given a panel of lawmakers the internal document.

Older cases abound. In 2007, then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, tried to jam up his nemesis, the GOP Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno -- but ended up embroiling himself in an investigation of his own actions.

Nobody yet knows if a new blast from the executive suite will yield its desired result.

Last week a top aide to GOP Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano asked Democratic District Attorney Kathleen Rice to probe whether Democratic lawmakers broke the law by demanding independent redistricting in exchange for their votes for tax-refund borrowing. County Attorney John Ciampoli decried "the proposition of an illegal quid pro quo." Democrats called this a bid to "criminalize the legislative process."

That clash goes on. Stay tuned for who may get hurt.


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