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Democrats' Schaffer would back Levy bid for governor

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy speaks about his

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy speaks about his plan to counter heroin abuse during a news conference. (Dec. 17, 2009) Photo Credit: Kathy Kmonicek

Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer said yesterday he will back County Executive Steve Levy's bid for governor if he decides to run, but that only gets him nearly one-third of the 25 percent convention vote he needs to get on a primary ballot.

Sources say the party leader played no role in Levy's decision and was only informed shortly before the county executive's Sunday press announcement about forming an exploratory committee.

Still, Schaffer said he backs Levy's decision to "explore the option" and would support his run.

"He's our county executive, . . . our favorite son," said Schaffer, who sources say had been leaning toward backing Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who is widely mentioned as a potential gubernatorial candidate. But the Suffolk Democratic committee would only give Levy 7.8 percent of the convention vote, when 25 percent is needed to qualify for the primary to avoid collecting 15,000 petition signatures.

Levy said that in coming weeks he will make a series of reform proposals - including a 4 percent spending cap similar to Suffolk County's - to keep the state "from toppling over into bankruptcy," this year.

"It's the kind of medicine the state needs and the kind that the public longs for," Levy said.

Levy's potential foes remained mum as campaign aides to both Gov. David A. Paterson and Cuomo declined to comment. However, Barney Keller, a spokesman for GOP gubernatorial hopeful Rick Lazio, said, "It doesn't matter to him who his opponent is. He hopes Steve Levy will join him in working for a sweeping overhaul of state government."

Despite his announcement, Levy said his "exploratory" committee of a dozen people has yet to meet, but will include a press person, a finance chair and a scheduler.

He gave no deadline on when he will decide to run, saying "technically it could go right up to the convention."

Unlike presidential politics, where exploratory committees are permitted so potential candidates can raise money while considering whether to run, there is no provision for such committees in state law.

The county executive's "Friends of Levy" campaign committee, which now has about $4 million over the past six years, can be used to pay expenses for now.

Experts say the two biggest issues for Levy's candidacy is how little he is known outside of Long Island and whether he can raise the $20 million needed for the campaign.

"The first question that people are going to ask is, 'Who?' " said pollster Lee M. Miringoff of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. "He has to be able to raise money and to spend it early."

But one political consultant, who did not wish to be identified, said Levy is unlikely to deplete his campaign fund. "Other than a few plane tickets, he won't spend dollar one until he knows there are two other candidates in the race," he said.

When former Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi ran a losing primary for governor against then former Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, he raised $9.4 million, according to the state elections records. From 2006 to now, Suozzi also raised nearly $8.7 million for his local races; in the same time period, Levy raised $5 million.

Experts also say that Levy's hard-line stand against illegal immigration is not much of an issue, at least for now.

"My guess is that his immigration position is best known by the political class, not the average voter," said Steven Greenberg of the Siena Research Institute.

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