Attorney General Andrew Cuomo speaks to the Suffolk County Democrats...

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo speaks to the Suffolk County Democrats in Holbrook, Tuesday. (April 13, 2010) Credit: John Paraskevas

To the cheers Tuesday night of hundreds of party faithful, Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer lambasted County Executive Steve Levy's defection as "a punch in the gut" and vowed to "kick his butt" both this year and next.

Even though the party's likely gubernatorial candidate, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, was the headliner for the $300-a-head event at Villa Lombardi's in Holbrook, it was Schaffer who got two successive standing ovations from the energized crowd of nearly 450.

When rumors first spread about Levy's move to the Republican Party last month, Schaffer said he asked Levy "to do one thing for me if you make a switch - make sure I hear it from you. I think I've earned it."

But, said Schaffer Tuesday night, "unfortunately that didn't happen." Instead, he said he learned of Levy's exit as a Democrat after a midnight call from a Newsday reporter.

When Levy called several days later on Palm Sunday to update him, Schaffer told the crowd his first response was: "I'm not your leader any more." Then Schaffer added, "We can still be friends but I'm going to kick your butt this year and I'm going to make sure we're going to kick your butt next year."

If Levy fails in the governor's race, he will face re-election as county executive next year.

Levy campaign spokesman Josh Hill declined to comment Tuesday night.

Despite Levy, Schaffer said later ticket sales for last night's event were ahead of last year's and he felt more enthusiasm from grassroots party members.

Cuomo also got the crowd revved up, promising a campaign that will "not play to fear, not play to division. We're going to be talking about bringing people together." Cuomo also touted his record of fighting greedy banks that drove up student loan costs and hurt foreclosure victims.

Jay Jacobs, state Democratic chairman, said the "Republicans may be full of glee" but warned "they have peaked far too early." Alluding to the time when he learned to drive, Jacobs said he learned "When you want to move forward you put it in D and when you want to go backward you put it in R."

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