First-time Republican candidate Anthony Piccirillo, who ran an unexpectedly close and still unsettled race for Suffolk County Legislature against Democratic incumbent William Lindsay III, had a secret weapon in his arsenal: Former County Executive Steve Levy.
In August, Levy walked around introducing Piccirillo to many of the 300 people at a Rotary Club lobster bake at West Sayville County Park, and huddled with Piccirillo to talk strategy. In the last week of the campaign Levy, a Republican, wrote to 5,000 of his former constituents, endorsing Piccirillo.
“Too bad he couldn’t afford a bigger mailing,” said Levy. “With a few more dollars it might have put him over the top.”
Piccirillo is behind Lindsay by 243 votes in unofficial returns. But there still are 1,119 absentee and affidavit ballots to be counted, giving him an uphill shot to reverse the outcome. Piccirillo expressed confidence, noting that 556 are from Republicans, 303 from Democrats and 173 from voters not aligned to any party.
“What makes his performance more impressive is that he had to run against a Democratic tide,” said Michael Dawidziak, a consultant mainly for Republicans. Piccirillo faced the large turnout against the constitutional convention and anti-Donald Trump sentiment “that both helped Democrats,” Dawidziak said. Lindsay also outspent Piccirillo $105,212 to $12,327. Lindsay’s funds included a $23,000 loan he made to his campaign.
Lindsay attributed the tight race to the 35 percent turnout in the district, up from 19 percent two years ago.
“The turnout was so high . . . [but] the universe we were campaigning to was more limited,” Lindsay said. “There were a lot of people who voted that I was not speaking with.”
While the vote may have been driven by the once-every-20-years referendum on whether to hold a state constitutional convention, Lindsay said, “from now on, that’s our new universe.”
But noting his 9,954-vote total, Lindsay said, “on the positive side, I’ve never gotten more votes before.”
William Garbarino, Islip GOP leader, said if Lindsay survives it will be only because of the referendum. “Without the convention, Anthony would have won by far,” Garbarino said.
Levy gives the credit to Piccirillo.
“Anthony worked his tail off and was willing to talk to voters head on,” on issues such as property taxes, high personnel costs and costly police contracts,” Levy said. “Messaging matters and Anthony resonated with a lot of people with issues that hit their pocketbooks.”
Piccirillo, 34, a restaurant manager who lives in Bohemia, has known Levy for years as a customer.
“He’s a down-to-earth regular guy,” Levy said of Piccirillo. “He reminded me a lot of myself. He’s a young guy with little money, a Sachem [High School] graduate with no name recognition and like me wore out six pairs of shoes.”
Levy spent 19 years as a Democratic state and Suffolk County legislator. He won two terms as county executive, but lost a bid for governor in 2010 after turning Republican.
In a deal with Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota a year later, he announced he would not seek re-election and gave up his $4 million campaign fund to avoid criminal charges. Levy was allowed to serve out the final months of his term, and now works as a lawyer and consultant.
Despite that exit, when Piccirillo started knocking on doors in May, he found Levy still had clout in the legislature’s 8th District.
“People would tell me you’re the first person since Steve Levy to knock on my door,” said Piccirillo, who noted that by Election Day he had knocked on 9,500 doors.
Piccirillo recalled that after Levy’s letter hit, he got a call from an elderly woman who asked him to meet her and several neighbors.
“They told me, ‘If Steve Levy vouches for you, you’ve got our vote,’ ” Piccirillo said.