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GOP leaders question strength of Lazio campaign

ALBANY - Westchester Republican chairman Douglas Colety reaffirmed his support for former Rep. Rick Lazio's gubernatorial bid Wednesday, adding that several downstate counties, including Nassau, are "solidly" behind Lazio.

But as speculation mounted that Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy is poised to join the party and enter the race - he said Wednesday that "it's 50-50 right now" - the state GOP's No. 2 official declared that Lazio's campaign is "falling apart" and bluntly detailed why he may withdraw his endorsement.

"I think he should fire his entire campaign staff," first vice chairman Vincent Reda of Rockland County said of Lazio, adding he plans to summon his executive committee in the next day or two to reassess its support.

"Our concern has been, 'Hey, what's going on with your campaign? Why can't you raise money? Why has it been radio silence and TV silence with all that is going on with the Democratic Party?' " Reda said, on a day when both Lazio and Levy marched in New York City's St. Patrick's Day Parade.

"They had an event here in Rockland County and only 18 people showed up," he said. "It was just disorganized and not run properly."

Lazio spokesman Barney Keller responded: "Even liberal Democrats like Steve Levy want to be Republicans these days. It's laughable, of course, that Steve Levy would find support in the Republican Party . . . We are confident Rick Lazio will be New York's next governor."

Reda said he considered it a "personal affront" when Lazio refused state Republican leaders' call to Albany last week, on the eve of their interview with Levy. The regional vice chairmen were seeking to "get him on the right track," Reda said. But Lazio's aides said he couldn't fit the meeting at the Fort Orange Club into his schedule - even though he was at a Conservative Party reception just around the corner.

Last Friday, Reda said, Lazio skipped Nassau GOP chairman Joseph Mondello's $500-a-head dinner for 1,500.

"We took a two-hour trip in a rainstorm to go out there," Reda said. "Rick Lazio was a half hour from there and he didn't show? You don't just snub a chairman like Mondello."

But Mondello spokesman Anthony Santino said Lazio's staff had warned them that he couldn't attend the dinner because of "a family [birthday] celebration, and chairman Mondello was fine with that."

Westchester's chairman, Colety, said Lazio had been to five of his past six events and drew 100 to 150 people to a meet-and-greet there Tuesday. "If there are minor problems with the Lazio campaign this is the time to take corrective action - very early," Colety said.

Erie County's chairman, James Domagalski, said he is uncommitted but will not support Levy even if he switches parties. "We like Republicans," Domagalski said.

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