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Levy's switch to GOP shakes up political scene

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy speaks about his

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy speaks about his possible run for governor in the State Capital Building. (March 8, 2010) Credit: Steve Jacobs

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy's announcement that he's switching parties and running for governor shook up the state's political scene Thursday with elected Republicans publicly sticking by Rick Lazio and Democrats wishing Levy good riddance.

Top New York Republicans, most of whom have already endorsed former Rep. Lazio, of Brightwaters, said they are staying with him despite his paltry fundraising thus far.

"I still support Rick Lazio," said State Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos of Rockville Centre. "I gave my word to him and I always keep my word."

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said he's backing Lazio but welcomed Levy, a longtime Democrat who plans to seek the Republican line, to the GOP. "He'll be a good Republican," King said. "You always welcome the converts."

But echoing the comments of other Republicans, Assemb. Philip Boyle (R-Bay Shore) said Levy's party switch smacks of political opportunism. "Why now?" he asked. "Steve Levy has had just about 30 years to become a Republican."

Edward Walsh, the Suffolk Conservative Party chairman, said Levy should not be penalized for his Democratic roots.

"Ronald Reagan was a Democrat until he was 51 years old and he was the greatest president in history," Walsh said. "Levy's turning Republican and he's only 50."

Among elected Democrats, Levy's announcement drew sadness, scorn and some mockery. State and Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs called the party switch "unfortunate."

"Being a member of a party used to mean something," Jacobs said.

Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer, who helped launch Levy's first long-shot bid for county executive in 2003, said he's relieved that the long-simmering question about Levy's party status has been resolved.

"I'm off the hook," he said. "Now [Suffolk GOP chairman] John LaValle will be getting the calls [from Levy] at 10:30 at night."

Levy's campaign will seek to attract Democrats like Suffolk Legis. Steve Stern (D-Huntington), who said he'd consider backing Levy even on the GOP line.

"I would be open to supporting Levy," Stern said. "I would be open to supporting anybody on any line if I felt it would be right for our community."

At the same time, Levy will need to keep Republicans like Suffolk Legis. Tom Cilmi of Islip in the fold. "I will support the Republican nominee for governor," Cilmi said. "But any candidate I support will have to be a Republican."

But Levy will probably never win over pols like Manhattan Democratic chairman Assemb. Keith L.T. Wright, who said Levy "knows his divisive views are not welcome in the Democratic Party."

Assemb. Philip Ramos (D-Brentwood), with whom Levy clashed on immigration and a host of other issues, said Levy had no choice but to leave the Democratic Party.

"He has burned so many bridges with the Democrats, he's boxed himself in and limited his options," Ramos said. "I give the Republicans six months before they realize he'll betray their agenda."

Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) said he hopes Levy's campaign doesn't divert attention from local issues. "I just hope he can maintain his commitment to Huntington Station, Brentwood and Central Islip, where crime is increasing," he said.

Suffolk legislators, with whom Levy has sparred over a host of issues, largely panned word of his intent to seek higher office. Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said he could not live in a state governed by Levy.

"When Levy becomes governor," he said, "I'll become the newest New Jersey resident."

With James T. Madore

and Pervaiz Shallwani

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