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Long IslandPoliticsSpin Cycle

Cuomo v. Levy could mean Stingers at a knife fight

Funny how it all can change so quickly.
Less than a month ago, Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic attorney general, faced a primary against an incumbent governor, while former Suffolk Rep. Rick Lazio seemed to be gliding toward the Republican and Conservative nominations.
Suddenly, with Gov. David A. Paterson out of the running, Cuomo becomes the consensus candidate of his party. And Lazio faces a GOP challenge from Suffolk Executive Steve Levy — a wild-card party-switcher with heartily hyped angry-taxpayer appeal.
For Cuomo, any division among those to his political right could help. But how about the prospect, premature as it may be, of his actually facing Levy in November?
Both men are reputed in political circles to be ready to bring a Stinger missile to a switchblade fight.
Beyond that, the matchup gets trickier.
Opponents define each other, more or less. Against Lazio, the attorney general can play the standard-bearer of the majority party. Against lifelong-Democrat Levy, Cuomo might need to define his rival aggressively as less than a problem solver — maybe even borrow some of Lazio’s latest rhetoric about Levy-as-opportunist. Or Cuomo could position himself as the man better equipped to build a new, functional consensus.
Privately, Cuomo backers talk up advantages to facing Levy. Despite Levy’s protestations that his stances on illegal immigration have been politically distorted, Latino politicians claim his presence on the ballot will galvanize their community’s backlash against the Republicans.
Also, alienated Lazio backers could refuse to work for Levy as the nominee. Labor unions might also see extra incentive to defeat Levy based on the kinds of cuts he’s promising taxpayers.
But Levy knows his prime selling point is his record as a frugal public executive.
Even some non-fans believe his pitch can catch fire. “Levy knows how to stay on message no matter what,” said a Democratic Albany veteran.
Beyond his fundraising edge over Lazio, Levy also would be immune to the kind of populist shots that would be aimed at Lazio’s role as a Wall Street investment banker for much of the decade.
Cuomo appeared yesterday<NO1>Thursday<NO> at the C.W. Post Campus in Brookville. He was not about to say whom he’d prefer to run against.
“I wish them all well,” he said, with a cool, playful edge. “And .<EN>.<EN>. it is America, it is a democracy — you can run for whatever you want, as whatever you want.
“I will not be running in the Republican primary,” Cuomo deadpanned.
For a while more, Cuomo will keep his long-held “just-doing-my-job” message. He was in Nassau to discuss how his office is looking to root out methods by which public pension payouts can be artificially inflated.
Alongside Cuomo stood Nassau’s Edward Mangano — Long Island’s other county executive. Mangano may have less experience than Levy as a county executive, but much more as a Republican. In November he pulled off a surprise win against two-term Democrat Thomas Suozzi.
Cuomo cordially thanked Mangano. And Mangano said he was present because of “the important work the attorney general is doing.”
Later, when asked whom a Democratic candidate for governor might prefer to face, the AG said, in Cuomo-esque fashion: “I couldn’t tell you. I’ll bet you could tell me.”

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