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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Levy’s GOP Dalliance

Former Suffolk County Congressman Rick Lazio, a Republican candidate for governor, has reason to be concerned. No, not because Lazio lags far behind attorney general Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, in every poll where voters are asked for their preference in a hypothetical Lazio-Cuomo gubernatorial match-up. Those numbers will change dramatically, in Lazio’s favor, in time.

But Lazio has to wonder why state GOP chairman Edward Cox, after calling Lazio the ‘presumptive’ Republican nominee for governor, had Suffolk County executive Steve Levy, a Democrat, meet this month with a number of Republican county leaders in Albany to discuss the prospect of Levy running for governor on the Republican line. The press has had a field day with this, with many wrongly believing the Levy sit-down showed weakness on the part of the Republicans. The GOP’s top leaders, many of them representing upstate counties, are not happy with Lazio, the conventional wisdom goes, and are reduced to groveling for a Suffolk Democrat to cross the aisle and carry the GOP banner in November.

I have a theory on what the state GOP’s Levy flirtation is all about, and it won’t end happily for the Suffolk County executive: Chairman Cox will ask the county chairs he’s recruited for this exercise to drop Levy like a bad habit the moment Suffolk’s Republican party leaders have sworn a blood oath that Christopher Cox, Chairman Cox’s son, will be the GOP nominee this year against Congressman Timothy Bishop (D-Southampton) in New York’s 1st Congressional District, which covers the Island’s East End. This is an informed opinion, based on circumstantial evidence.

Chris Cox, a Westhampton Beach resident and the 31-year-old son of Edward and Tricia Nixon Cox, is part of a conga line of Republicans looking to challenge Rep. Bishop but only one candidate will get the Suffolk County GOP’s official nomination, giving that individual a significant advantage over any GOP primary challengers (automatic ballot access, a built-in base of volunteers, access to direct-mail and financial contributor lists).

The idea of President Nixon’s grandson following in his grandfather’s footsteps—Nixon’s first successful campaign was for a U.S. House seat in California—has already drawn national news networks to Long Island to interview Chris Cox. It is a compelling story.

I can also understand why Levy wants to be involved in this charade, although I’m not sure the Suffolk county executive knows that’s what these proceedings constituted. The prospect of Levy being a gubernatorial candidate, from either party, has raised his public profile. Yet the Suffolk GOP could also benefit from this turn of events. Levy has now been lured into falling in love with his press clippings. If both major parties are assessing my possible gubernatorial candidacy in 2010, a Suffolk county re-election race in 2011 would be a walk in the park, Levy must imagine. The Suffolk Republican Party, under a different chairman than the one there today, endorsed Levy, a Democrat, for re-election in 2007, a dubious move that in hindsight has only made Levy even more complacent about his place in Suffolk’s political firmament.

The bottom line: the state GOP says thanks but no thanks to Levy, and Cox for Congress gets the blessing of the Suffolk GOP.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: