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Levy as wild-card: Populism, party schism

If you were running for any office anywhere as a Republican the thing to do yesterday was to stand in public and blurt out the name Scott Brown.

Shares in the Grand Old Party's battered brand were rallying on the big news from the Bay State. Visiting Albany, Bruce Blakeman looked to rhetorically tie his bid to the once-underdog Mass. Republican. In Mineola, they heard something similar from candidate for governor Rick Lazio. Candidates vying for the Republican congressional nomination in Suffolk issued statements of solidarity.

On Long Island, an interesting question arose: How the fledgling campaign for governor of Democratic Suffolk Executive Steve Levy, a political wild card who has conferred with Republican officials might fare in the light of this partisan moment.

Without skipping a beat, Michael Dawidziak, Levy adviser, played it as good news for the maybe-candidate when asked about recent GOP wins.

"It can only be good for Steve Levy," he said. "His policies and his politics are fiscally conservative. What the people here said in November, what they said in Massachusetts . . . plays right into Steve's strength and history.

"I have always believed that he transcends as an individual what might be after his name."

Others chose to see it differently. Among these, naturally, were Long Island backers of former Rep. Lazio, whose camp tried last week to persuade allies that his fundraising prowess wasn't as weak as early numbers suggest.

One Lazio supporter said, "Steve obviously is a fairly conservative guy for a Democrat but he could have become Republican at any time in the last 25 years and decided against it. He supported Sheldon Silver for [Assembly] speaker. This is confusing to me and other Republicans."

A more jaded view came from a longtime consultant to Democratic candidates who refused to be quoted by name: "My understanding is we're past the point in New York where someone seen as overtly hostile to the Hispanic vote can run as a Democrat. And because of his history in the Assembly, he can't run as a conservative Republican. He may have mistaken whatever deals he has in place with Long Island party leaders and elected officials with any sort of real chops. He's a peg with no hole."

Despite the party's Massachusetts afterglow, the Levy-as-Republican notion has had the effect of heightening tensions within the New York GOP.

Ed Cox, new state chairman, met with Levy, fueling the buzz. Suffolk GOP Chairman John Jay LaValle and other county leaders already endorsed Lazio. On Wednesday, so did Nassau GOP Chairman Joe Mondello - who hadn't said last year if he'd seek another term as state chairman before Cox began running for the job. Mondello later backed a Cox rival for chairman.

Sources say Democrat Levy and Republican Lazio - both slated to address the Conservative Party state committee next week - may at some point find themselves in closed-door discussions about stepping into an election race other than for governor, maybe state attorney general.

But that possibility, for the moment, remains at least as hazy as Senator-elect Brown's chances once were.

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