Ed Walsh, chairman of the Suffolk Conservatives, who argued the case for Steve Levy in front of his state party's executive committee on Saturday, said when he emerged from the reportedly high-volume meeting:
"The Suffolk County Conservative party does not believe in Rick Lazio's candidacy right now," said Walsh. "No ifs, ands or buts...It's too early in the process (to endorse Lazio). No way the Suffolk Conservative Party is jumping in. This is a bad move."
Long portrayed the support for Levy before his executive committee, which voted 14-5 to recommend Lazio for endorsement by the state convention later in the spring, as "geographic." He gave a similar depiction to Erie County Chairman Ralph Lorigo's appeal on behalf of Carl Paladino, a Buffalo Republican-Conservative hopeful and real estate man who pledges to bring to the campaign $10 million of his own funds,
Late last night, Walsh issued this more expansive statement:
"First of all, I would like to state that despite the Lazio campaign's duplicitous attempt to portray today's process as an endorsement, it was not. It was only a recommendation of the executive committee.
"Secondly, I must state my extreme disappointment at the fairness of that process. The Conservative Party had three qualified candidates to consider: Steve Levy and Rick Lazio of Suffolk County and Carl Paladino of Erie County. Both Mr. Levy and Mr. Paladino asked to be screened for consideration and were denied that chance. We had the support of the chairmen of Suffolk County, Nassau County and Erie County (three of the largest counties in the state) along with other county chairs who voted to withhold any recommendation in lieu of screening all the candidates.
"After heated and divided debate, somehow, a plurality vote recommended the candidacy of the most liberal of the three candidates, Mr. Lazio, who magically appeared moments later. The appearance of a pre-determined outcome unfortunately can not be avoided. This schism in the Conservative Party is not good for the ultimate candidate and not good for the party.
"I believe this was just a bad day for us. I believe Steve Levy is the most qualified candidate in this race with a record of fiscal conservatism that cannot be matched, and in the hope of fairness I challenge Mr. Lazio to debate Mr. Levy and Mr. Paladino thereby bringing some much needed openness to the process. After this I could in good conscience support our party's choice, knowing our decision was based on a fair vetting process where each of these men had the opportunity to lay out their plan on how they would govern giving our party the ability to chose the very best candidate."