No Third Term For Steve Levy

The LI Press Cover Image of Levy's Nightmares... Guess they came true.

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.

Suiting Up For A Run

runningmansuitI know it’s all part of the political process, but there’s something so amusing to me when politicians have to don costumes to profess an interest in community happenings. Nothing makes me giggle more than the likes of Tom Suozzi wearing hip waders in a sea of garbage, or Steve Levy touching the top of a solar array as if being able to feel the energy emanating from it. My all-time favorite is seeing any of our public servants in a hard hat, as if their union card is at the ready and they are prepared to singlehandedly hoist a steel beam several stories into the air. I think when you’re elected you actually get a pair of giant scissors in the event a ribbon-cutting ceremony breaks out. 

Several years ago I ran an ill-fated campaign for mayor of Glen Cove. Truthfully, it was a blast and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Just meeting everyone in the city and learning how roads are paved, where garbage goes and who answers the call when the alarms go off at the firehouse is enough to light my candle. Putting my family through the misery of a campaign, on the other hand, was an unfortunate way to gain the education. What got me thinking about the shenanigans of the campaign trail and the silly things politicians have to do to stay elected was a piece of campaign literature from my mayoral run that I came across recently when cleaning out my garage. There I was, standing on the beach at sunset wearing a suit. Why not? What else would any self-respecting office-seeking candidate wear on a warm summer day at the beach?

Yet beyond the hard hats, giant scissors, Michael Dukakis helmets and Cub Scout photo ops is the timeless Tip O’Neill saying that “all politics is local.” It’s shoe leather that wins the day in a campaign. Proof positive of this is yet another colossal upset in Suffolk County under the stewardship of Democratic Party boss Richie Schaffer. Schaffer once again upended the expectations in Brookhaven and got an unknown candidate elected to Brookhaven Town Supervisor. They did it the old-fashioned way: by knocking on doors and connecting with people. Having my own brush with the process I can honestly say there is no greater truth in politics. In fact, it may be the only truth in politics. 

Knocking on doors, however, is its own box of chocolates: You never know what you’re going to get. For example, my fellow candidates and I were surprised to learn how many men answer the door shirtless. When walking on a Sunday (in the narrow window between church services and baseball), we learned that knocking on the front door in the Italian district was pointless. Now, check the side door entrance to the basement and you’re likely to find dozens of people of all ages streaming out of the house like a clown car. This is how I learned that Italian Americans don’t actually cook in the kitchen; that’s what the basement kitchen is for. Politicians who walk in wealthy districts do so at their own risk. Alternately, the poorer the neighborhood, the more likely you are to be invited in for a meal. This is a perilous tactic that assaults a politician’s time and waistline, necessitating yet more walking. There are hundreds of observations to be made about our culture and our neighborhoods when walking door to door in a political campaign, each one more valuable than the next. 

At the end of the day it’s the only way to learn about the community you strive to represent. It’s also the only way to earn people’s trust first and their votes later. And if you work diligently enough, you too will be awarded with a giant pair a scissors, a hard hat and an undying respect for the people you represent.