Suffolk County Executive, Steve Levy, at the Dennison building in...

Suffolk County Executive, Steve Levy, at the Dennison building in Hauppauge. (Nov. 15, 2010) Credit: James Carbone

Suddenly, the clock ticks down for Steve Levy's tenure as Suffolk executive and the political pros puzzle aloud if the 51-year-old Democrat-turned-Republican could ever stage a comeback.

"Hey, who was Andrew Cuomo after he lost to Carl McCall in the [Democratic] primary in 2002?" asked Edward Lurie, former state GOP executive director. "There's a lot more to be played. Levy's got to resolve the controversies -- though you wonder what would have happened if he'd run for governor as the Republican nominee."

Frank MacKay, state and Suffolk chairman of the Independence Party, said, "It would take some time before all the facts come out. But you've still got to believe he's got pockets of popularity that are very strong."

One Long Island Republican, who's been an admirer of Levy as a manager and asked not to be identified, said, "Some people think he can come back. Let's say he wanted to run in his old Assembly or legislative district. Back home, yeah, he could win, but it's too early to tell."

But if the battleship Steve Levy isn't sunk, it lists now and drifts unmoored. Given severe damage, it would have to be fully rebuilt.

His agreement to surrender a $4-million-plus war chest to "resolve" what Levy vaguely calls "questions" that "have been raised concerning fundraising through my political campaign" smashes one of his biggest practical assets.

Replenishing that kind of funding after losing a powerful perch would be no mean feat.

Further, one consultant called Levy "a man without a party -- like a man without a country." Both state GOP chairman Ed Cox and Suffolk GOP chairman John Jay LaValle invested heavily in Levy. When he signed up as a Republican after a lifetime as a Democrat -- but then lost his bid to run a primary for governor -- Levy was hailed by these party leaders as a newfound asset.

Within hours of Levy's announcement Thursday that he would refrain from seeking a third term, detractors of Cox and LaValle crowed that they, too, are damaged.

"This is a huge embarrassment. They have egg all over their faces," said one peeved Republican operative. "They're not going to see a dime of the dollars that attracted them to Levy in the first place."

Levy is widely regarded as having burned bridges with Democrats.

One regional spin consultant was asked what might happen in Levy's first debate as a comeback candidate, when asked about the circumstances of his decision to forgo this run for re-election.

"That's a good question," said the consultant. "The spin would be, 'There was no corruption on my part and we went above and beyond by turning all the campaign money over to charity.' "

None of this, of course, accounts for new facts -- positive or negative -- still to be revealed.