Democrat Enters N.Y. Governor Race as Republican
ALBANY — Fresh off an announcement that jolted the New York political world, Steve Levy, the Long Island Democrat who abandoned his party to run for governor as a Republican, is working to secure endorsements as he tries to gain an edge in the contest for the nomination.
His candidacy barely a day old, Mr. Levy, the Suffolk County executive, has already siphoned away the support of several influential county leaders from former Representative Rick A. Lazio, who until this week appeared to be the Republican front-runner.
Mr. Levy is preparing to crisscross the state next week to make personal appeals to other local Republican leaders. He is also courting prominent national Republican donors and plans to hold fund-raisers in the Hamptons and in Palm Beach, Fla., in the weeks ahead, raising the stakes in what promises to be an extended intraparty battle.
“I think on both sides you’re going to see both candidates fighting hard, presenting their cases,” said Edward F. Cox, the state Republican Party chairman, who is backing Mr. Levy. “I believe in fair and open competition, and that’s what we have here.”
Over the coming weeks, the state’s regional Republican organizations will begin formally screening each candidate.
But of more immediate concern to Mr. Lazio and Mr. Levy is a meeting on Saturday of the governing body of the state Conservative Party, where party leaders will debate whether to recommend a candidate. Though the party chairman, Michael R. Long, supports Mr. Lazio and wants the party leadership to formally back him on Saturday, other party officials said they would urge members to hold off on an endorsement until each candidate was fully vetted.
“My push is going to be, ‘Whoa — everybody take a time out,’ ” said Edward M. Walsh, the Conservative Party’s Suffolk chairman, who has endorsed Mr. Levy. “ ‘What’s the hurry? ’”
But other Conservative Party officials said they believed Mr. Lazio would receive the executive committee’s blessing, which would come as a welcome boost for his troubled campaign.
“I think it’s overwhelmingly, many times over, going to be a vote for Lazio,” said Jerry Kassar, chairman of the Brooklyn Conservative Party. “There’s just no interest in Levy from the people I talk to in the party.”
Mr. Lazio continued to absorb blows on Friday as the number of Republican leaders defecting from his campaign grew. Party chairmen from some of the state’s largest counties — including Bronx, Onondaga, Queens and Suffolk — have now announced that they will switch their endorsements.
Earlier this week, Mr. Lazio’s campaign said it could claim support from county leaders who represented nearly 70 percent of the total delegate vote at the state Republican convention, to be held in June.
But with the recent defections, that figure has fallen to about 55 percent. Mr. Levy needs more than 50 percent of the vote at the convention to secure a spot on the primary ballot.
The formal kickoff of Mr. Levy’s campaign was on Friday, as he gave speeches in Albany and Lower Manhattan.
With the Statehouse a few hundred yards behind him, Mr. Levy offered harsh words for Albany’s leaders, saying they had badly mismanaged state finances and had made New York a punch line for late-night comedians.
Mr. Levy, who has developed a reputation as an outspoken fiscal conservative during his two terms as the Suffolk executive, declared himself the only candidate with enough independence to take on interest groups and labor unions, which he blamed for the state’s soaring deficits.
“We face a critical juncture in the history of the great state of New York,” Mr. Levy said, as more than two dozen Republican leaders from across the state stood with him on a small stage. “Here in Albany, an alarming lack of leadership and resolve have brought us to the brink of fiscal insolvency. The people of this state are crying out for someone with a proven record as an executive manager who can balance budgets, make the tough decisions to protect taxpayers and save New York from financial ruin.”
“I am the leader that can solve these problems,” he added.
Then after declaring his candidacy, Mr. Levy was handed a pen by Mr. Cox, the state Republican chairman, and signed the form to switch his party registration on the spot.
Mr. Levy said he believed he now had the support of about 40 percent of the state’s Republican county chairmen — a group that is crucial because of the significant influence it has over the rank-and-file delegates who decide which candidates appear on the party primary ballot.
“Every day that goes by,” he said, “we’re picking up more and more Republican chairs to our cause.”
Colin Moynihan contributed reporting from New York.
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