Yowza! Suffolk County truly is the Wild, Wild East. Today’s astonishing announcement from County Executive Steve Levy that he will not run for a third term has sent shockwaves through Long Island.
When reached by Spencer Rumsey at the Long Island Press today, Suffolk County Democratic Chairman Richard Schaffer simply said he was “shocked.”
Rich Schaffer knows a thing or two about Steve Levy. Their relationship during Schaffer’s tenure as democratic leader (Levy – never one to be led) was tempestuous at best. When Levy announced last year that he was switching party affiliations and moving to the GOP it gave instant credibility to the newly minted Suffolk Republican leader John Jay Lavalle, former Brookhaven Town Supervisor, and allowed Schaffer to shuffle the deck among his own ranks.
The stage was set for quite the race this season between the two Steves. In one corner, Steve Levy the battle-tested fighter in his prime with $4million in the bank. In the other corner, Steve Bellone the pride of Babylon with Kennedy-style good looks, a loyal constituency and Schaffer’s winning record at his back. Despite numerous recent setbacks from his failed gubernatorial bid and accusations of fundraising impropriety from former friends and colleagues to unpopular moves like the planned sale and privatization of the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility, Levy was by all accounts a formidable incumbent. Bellone, who has not yet officially announced his bid for County Executive (though clearly a fait accompli) is also a strong candidate with high “likeability” and the capacity to raise serious money. With Levy out of the way, LaValle and the Republicans will be scrambling to fill the void and Bellone will surely be considered the front-runner.
This is largely due to how Levy’s sudden announcement played out with the District Attorney’s office. The real shocker here is that Levy didn’t just announce his intention to leave office after his term, but he’s parting with his sizable political campaign fund. In his statement he succinctly states:
“Questions have been raised concerning fundraising through my political campaign. Since this occurred under my watch I accept responsibility. In order to resolve these questions I will be turning over my campaign funds to the Suffolk County District Attorney.”
This isn’t a couple hundred thousand dollars, mind you. This is in excess of $4 million dollars. Steve Levy was nothing if not a prolific fundraiser. Somewhere along the way, however, limits and boundaries were pushed. Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota followed up with his own statement, which was far more blunt and enlightening:
“The decision to allow Mr. Levy to complete his term was carefully considered and involved weighing his conduct, the need for stability in government in these difficult economic times while affording a smooth transition after the 2011 elections. You can be assured that if I believed that his actions compromised his ability to govern I would have sought his resignation.”
This thing had clearly spun so far out of Steve Levy’s control it was irretrievable. The details of the investigation will clearly have to wait, because while Levy’s punishment is exile, it looks as though others may fry. D.A. Spota teases this proposition in the conclusion of his statement:
“Restraint is often more difficult than aggressive action but in this case I know it is more appropriate. This outcome ends the inquiry into Mr. Levy’s conduct. The investigation will continue with respect to the conduct of others.”
Steve Levy earned the respect of nearly everyone he dealt with on one issue – fiscal management. Criticism of his ability to be fiscally austere, particularly in difficult financial times such as these, is rare. One needs to look no further than Nassau County to appreciate the tight-fistedness of his administration. But along the way, Steve Levy racked up an impressive and powerful cadre of enemies. For every person who grudgingly paid Levy respect for his budgetary prowess there seemed to be ten more people in line with an ax to grind; every one was met with defiance.
When the dust settles, it will be interesting to see what Levy’s ultimate undoing really was; to find out where he pushed too far and went past the point of no return. In the meantime, he has formally entered lame duck territory and silly season in the Wild, Wild East has officially begun.