ALBANY - Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy's visit with top Republican leaders Tuesday resulted in a split decision, with some excited at the prospect of the Democrat at the top of their 2010 ticket and others wondering what state GOP chairman Edward Cox was thinking in even inviting him.
"They wanted to see whether I was the real deal," Levy said after the two-hour session at the Fort Orange Club, adding that leaders seemed "psyched up" by his presentation.
Depending which leader you ask, Levy's pitch was met either "very warmly" or "very politely."
"I'm convinced he [Levy] has the kind of background and credentials that it will take to change the tenor of government in New York State," said Albany County Republican chairman John Graziano, who has not endorsed the only declared Republican candidate, former Brightwaters Rep. Rick Lazio. "There are tougher times ahead."
Ontario County GOP chairman Jay Dutcher says he is "receptive" to Levy and Lazio but would like to see both of them campaign awhile. "If I didn't know he was a registered Democrat, I'd think he was a conservative Republican," Dutcher said of Levy.
Lazio's camp claims backing from two-thirds of the state party. Tioga County chairman Don Leonard said he is "firm" for Lazio, though he agreed to set up a meeting between Levy and other county chairs, because "this is America."
But Leonard said it would be a "horrifying insult" to party regulars if Levy received the GOP line without renouncing the Democratic Party, an issue on which Graziano said leaders do not agree.
"A lot of people are disturbed by this," said Monroe County GOP chair William Reillich, a Lazio backer who did not attend the session. "I don't know why we're even talking to him."
Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos of Rockville Centre Tuesday said he backs Lazio, but added, "Sometimes competition within the party is good." He praised Levy's "great record."
But Levy's failure to declare his entry into the race has worn out the patience of State Conservative chairman Mike Long, who said he is now "of the strong belief" that Levy won't run for governor, but must be simply milking press attention or trying to hobble Lazio's candidacy.
The Conservatives meet to endorse a candidate March 20.
"For the life of me, I don't know what the Republican Party is doing," Long said.
- With James T. Madore