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Nassau's Mondello backs Lazio for governor

Rick Lazio receives the endorsement of Joseph Mondello

Rick Lazio receives the endorsement of Joseph Mondello as Lazio plans to run for New York State Governor. (Jan. 20, 2010) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Rick Lazio's gubernatorial campaign got a major boost Wednesday from the endorsement of Nassau Republican chairman Joseph Mondello, giving the former congressman a commanding 40 percent of the party vote four months before the state nominating convention, his supporters said.

"Rick Lazio is exactly what this state needs to put it back on the right track," said Mondello in a Mineola news conference with Lazio. "He is the kind of person who I know is going to click with the people."

Mondello's Nassau GOP committee controls more than 12 percent of the weighted convention vote, the largest bloc of New York's 62 counties. The next largest is Suffolk, where party officials endorsed Lazio last year. Lazio has the backing of 13 county GOP chairs. He needs a majority of the weighted vote to get the party's nod.

Lazio said he expects to ride the wave of public anger that has arisen in New Jersey, Nassau and Massachusetts. "Government needs to be reined in and brought back to the basics," he said.

Meanwhile, Suffolk's Democratic County Executive Steve Levy, who is also mulling a gubernatorial bid, was to meet with state Conservative Party chairman Michael Long Wednesday night in Brooklyn.

"What is at stake is the future of my state, and I'm willing to sit and listen to people who feel they have something to offer," Long said.

Earlier, Levy also had a fence-mending meeting with Suffolk Conservative Party leader Edward Walsh, with whom he lately has had strained relations.

Mondello's move comes after his successor as state GOP chairman, Edward Cox, met Friday with Levy. Sources said Cox is trying to get Levy to switch parties and run on the GOP line. Levy, who ran with GOP cross-endorsement in 2007, said he is open to the GOP endorsement, but has not said he would switch parties. Levy also met Monday with about 10 upstate GOP leaders.

Mondello said he has "great respect" for Levy, but added, "He can't be a player if he's been wearing the uniform of the Democrats for his whole career." He also called party leaders' flirtation with Levy "insanity and crazy." Cox did not return calls seeking comment.

Mondello gave his support even though Lazio's campaign finance report last week showed only $637,000 on hand and a Siena Research Institute poll Monday showed that Lazio would lose to Levy, who has raised $4.1 million.

Lazio discounted such talk: "It's not about who's popular for the moment or who's got the biggest war chest today, but where we're going to be in October and November."

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