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Reaction mixed to grand jury's Levy report

Suffolk County executive, Steve Levy, looks on as

Suffolk County executive, Steve Levy, looks on as Patchogue Mayor Paul V. Pontieri talks about the revitalization of downtown Patchogue. (May 4, 2011) Credit: James Carbone

Republicans and their allies differed widely this week over whether the findings in a grand jury report about former GOP County Executive Steve Levy will affect him politically.

That 56-page report, issued Thursday by District Attorney Thomas Spota's office, does not mention Levy by name. But it says the actions of "official E," identified by sources as Levy, and others "completely destroyed the ethics infrastructure" in the county.

Legis. Thomas Barraga (R-West Islip) said the report wasted "thousands and thousands of dollars in taxpayer money . . . just to save face" because prosecutors' two-year probe found no crimes.

"The overall intent was to destroy the good name of someone who has never been charged with any crime . . . and they accomplished that," Barraga said.

It will be an "uphill battle" for Levy if he wants to run again for office, but in time people may see the report as "a bunch of baloney," Barraga said.

Spota countered: "It's no surprise that Legis. Barraga, who failed to recuse himself on a vote to give his daughter a $90,000-a-year county job, does not see the need for ethics in Suffolk County. The system is broken and needs to be repaired."

Barraga said he never recuses himself "because the people who elected me expect me to vote yes or no." He said daughter Elaine Barraga, an assistant county attorney, is "fully qualified" and was an MTA lawyer.

Comptroller Joseph Sawicki Jr., a Republican who often clashed with Levy, said the report validates claims that Levy abused his power: "It's not only a disgrace, but . . . embarrassing for Suffolk County. It's a shame he can't be prosecuted by the law."

The report is the latest test for Levy, who a year ago decided not to seek re-election and to turn over his $4 million campaign account to end a fundraising probe by Spota, a Democrat.

As with all potential office seekers, any future electoral prospects for Levy could hinge on how well he is accepted by his party. Levy, a former Democrat, became a Republican in March 2010.

Many Republicans said Friday that the grand jury report significantly damaged Levy.

"This gives us detail which we did not have with the $4 million," said Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches), a Levy foe against whom Levy's top aide filed an ethics complaint in 2008 and whose case was detailed in the grand jury report. "And none of those activities described . . . do anything to enhance his reputation."

"What's in the report is very damaging," said Frank Tantone, chairman of Levy's hometown Islip GOP Committee. "As far as I can see this is going to be very difficult to overcome. I don't know what Steve Levy's future is."

But Conservative Ken Auerbach, the minor party's Brookhaven chair, said the report did an injustice to Levy because he did nothing wrong and is "ultimately a victim of special interests," particularly police unions with whom Levy often battled.

Auerbach said Levy could come back: "Steve Levy is a hero to the taxed masses. If there was an election tomorrow, I believe Steve Levy would be elected overwhelmingly."

Levy, who has started a consulting business, did not return calls for comment.

Legis. Thomas Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) said he has not read the report, but called it "very disappointing."

"To see someone who had people's trust all these years and then see something like this happen, it becomes a blemish on all of us."

Michael Dawidziak, a longtime Levy adviser, said he does not see Levy running for a legislative seat, but added that no one can count the former executive out.

"From Lincoln to Churchill, many people had their political obituaries written," he said. "But in this business, you're only done when you decide you're done."

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