Desmond Ryan is executive director of the Association for a Better Long Island, a Hauppauge-based developers group.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy may have lost the chance to be on the Republican ballot for governor this autumn, but there are 4 million good reasons why he remains a formidable politician. That's the $4 million in campaign funds he has in the bank that will allow him to thrust and parry with whoever makes a run against him in Suffolk next year.
Couple those resources with the inherent power of the incumbency, and his opponent will have to carefully consider whether Levy's flip from Democrat to Republican has damaged him enough to be truly vulnerable.
Traditionally, those who abandon their original political base suffer lethal damage, angering their original core constituency while failing to win the hearts and minds of their new party. Former Rep. Michael Forbes of Quogue is a classic example of a politician who flipped and then folded as voters on both sides of the aisle rejected his re-election candidacy.
During the past seven years, Levy has consciously refused to be typecast according to political labels. He has studiously cultivated the image of a political iconoclast, the average Joe who is angry about the high cost of government, and someone tight with a buck.
He read the political tea leaves even before the recession took out Long Island jobs and store fronts, instructing lower paid sheriffs to patrol the Long Island Expressway, putting the county nursing home up for sale and crafting other high profile fiscal restraints. One can debate his position on illegal immigrants, but it continues to resonate with his political base. And, after the GOP convention, statewide voters won't be given the chance to use it as a Levy litmus test anyway.
Nevertheless, both Republican and Democratic politicians are going to make a run at Levy next year in hopes that past is prologue when it comes to voters rousting politicians who have changed parties.
Savvy Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer has no choice but to open fire on Levy, although he may have a primary on his hands given the fact that he has not one but at least two enormously strong potential candidates in Islip Town Supervisor Phil Nolan and Babylon Town Supervisor Steve Bellone. Both run well-managed townships, and have strong poll numbers and solid name recognition. Republicans will also weigh in on running against the Levy "flip," and Sen. John Flanagan of East Northport has been mentioned as a possible challenger.
The issue of individual partisan credentials runs deep. It explains why the state GOP convention didn't go according to chairman Ed Cox's script. While Cox believed Levy was far more electable in November than former Rep. Rick Lazio, there were far more dyed-in-the-wool Republicans - such as Nassau GOP chairman Joseph Mondello - who couldn't support a candidate who was a Democrat on New Year's Eve.
He, and others, understood the potential energy of a Levy campaign, but they also saw an abdication of their Republican principles and dug in their heels. One wonders what will happen now to Cox's tenure, given the repudiation of his candidate by the most faithful of the state's GOP rank and file.
Where does Steve Levy go now? Back to Hauppauge, having thrown political dice with his "go for broke" style and coming up snake eyes. Levy needs to refocus his attention on how he will manage a recession-induced shortfall in sales tax revenue, a drop in property assessments and a plague of home foreclosures that threaten too many suburban neighborhoods.
He also needs to define his political ideology because, even though most voters say they vote for the person and not the party, it is the party that carries the petitions, organizes nominating conventions and defines what their standard bearers represent. Levy may just find the GOP knocking on his door after this November's Election Day.
With Suffolk Democrats stung by his defection and Republicans repudiating his quest for a primary position on the ballot, Levy is a party of one with 4 million "supporters" in the bank. His opponents may have a unique opportunity to upend him at the polls, but no one is foolish enough to believe that his loss at the Republican convention has left County Executive Levy on the ropes.