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Levy dismisses party switch 'rumors,' seeks GOP support

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy waves after he

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy waves after he delivered his seventh State of the County address on the campus of Stony Brook University on Feb. 3, 2010. Photo Credit: Newsday / Ken Sawchuk

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy Tuesday dismissed as "all rumor" widely circulated reports that he plans to announce Friday that he will switch from Democrat to Republican and run for governor.

But Levy acknowledged that he has been working at a "breathtaking pace" to marshal enough Republican support to enter the race before a Conservative Party executive committee meeting Saturday that some see as decisive for his candidacy.

"Nothing has been set," Levy said in a phone interview on his way back from meetings with lawmakers and political officials in Albany Tuesday. "It gets more and more encouraging every day, but it's not a definite at this point. We're still getting to that point."

Former Rep. Rick Lazio claimed another endorsement Tuesday, this time by Republican state Sen. Martin Golden of Brooklyn. But Lazio's public claim to support from leadership speaking for two-thirds of his party seems to be out of date, as some spoke privately of a "consensus" that his campaign has been weak.

"No comment right now," said Onandaga Republican Chairman John Despirito, when asked if he stood by his Feb. 1 endorsement of Lazio.

Livingston County chairman Lowell Conrad endorsed Lazio last month. But Tuesday he said, "I'd like to see someone be our candidate who has a proven record in government management, so to speak. So make of that what you will."

Genesee County Republican Chairman Richard Siebert is organizing a dinner in Batavia Thursday to introduce Levy to other upstate chairmen, while Ontario's chairman, Jay Dutcher, is already endorsing Levy.

Even Lazio's own hometown state Sen. Owen Johnson (R-West Babylon) was keeping an open mind Tuesday. "Some say we should stick with a registered Republican, and some say Levy's a dynamic guy - which he is," Johnson said. "We'll see what happens."

Lazio spokesman Barney Keller Tuesday reiterated, "We are confident that Rick Lazio is going to be the nominee of the Republican Party and the Conservative Party. We have no idea why any Republican would want a Shelly Silver Democrat to be the nominee of the Republican Party."

The political risks of Levy's choices run in all directions. For Levy, joining the Republican Party to run for governor means no going back - the Democratic line for county executive is already said to be drawing interest from Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko and Babylon Supervisor Steve Bellone.

On the other hand, some Senate Republicans are said to be nervous that Levy may power his GOP campaign on deep-seated popular anger against the misrule in Albany - and do such a good job that they find themselves voted out of office.

Among Conservatives, Suffolk's chairman, Ed Walsh, said he planned to spend this week "pounding and pushing to get Levy in enough people's heads" to at least persuade party leaders not to endorse Lazio Saturday. If Levy takes the leap Friday, State chairman Mike Long said he would "have to give [him] serious consideration," but noted, "Rick Lazio has a long history with the Conservative Party."

And while Suffolk chairman John Jay LaValle couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday, Nassau Republican chairman Joseph Mondello reiterated his support for Lazio.

"I believe that between Republicans and Democrats there are philosophical differences," Mondello said. ". . . Rick Lazio is going to be the nominee of this party."

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