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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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GOP’s Battle Royale

I’m going to go out on a limb and say this year’s Republican gubernatorial nominee will be a Long Islander, although Buffalo-area developer Carl Paladino may soon join former Congressman Rick Lazio and Suffolk county executive Steve Levy in a bid to head the GOP’s statewide ticket in November.

The past month has been an incredible one in New York politics. Governor Paterson, a Democrat, announced in late February he was seeking a full, four-year term, and less than a week later said he’ll leave office at the end of 2010. And then last Friday, county executive Levy, a lifelong Democrat, said he’d not only be switching to the Republican Party but would seek the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination, too. The timing of Levy’s announcement was aimed at keeping the state’s Conservative Party leadership from giving its unofficial vote of support to Lazio at a previously-scheduled meeting on Saturday. Nonetheless, the Conservative Party’s hierarchy said last weekend it is for now backing Lazio.

I say ‘for now’ because the formal nominating conventions for the Republican and Conservative Party’s statewide candidates will be held in June 2010, and alliances among the party leaders representing New York’s 62 counties will definitely shift over the next three months. Plus, the fight for the Republican party nomination may not end at the convention, with candidates unable to gain automatic ballot access given the opportunity to secure a spot in the September 2010 GOP primary by gathering a sufficient number of signatures among the state’s registered Republicans. That process is costly and labor-intensive but can be done.

The sight of state GOP chairman Edward Cox and Suffolk GOP chairman John LaValle standing alongside county executive Levy at his campaign kick-off announcement was quite jarring. Both Cox and LaValle appear to believe that, no matter how Levy fares in 2010, they will be winners. Cox has now positioned his son, Chris, to be the official GOP nominee this fall for the Congressional seat held currently by U.S. Representative Timothy Bishop (D-Southampton), a decision over which LaValle has outsized influence. Meanwhile, Chairman LaValle in his mind believes he has in Levy a formidable Republican candidate for Suffolk county executive next year, if Levy’s gubernatorial campaign were to crash and burn. Also, when is someone going to do a story about what Levy’s party switch means for the personnel make-up of Suffolk County government, populated by longtime Democrats? Doesn’t LaValle want some Republicans in the Levy administration now that Levy is a Republican?

There is an upside to these developments for Lazio. The former Congressman’s campaign has been sleepwalking in recent months, and Levy’s sudden arrival on the GOP scene has prompted Lazio to show signs of life.

If either Lazio or Levy is the Republican nominee for governor, it’ll be a significant event. You have to go back to 1978, when then-state Assembly minority leader Perry Duryea (1921-2004) of Montauk was the GOP gubernatorial candidate, to find a year when a Long Islander had a real shot at making it to the governor’s mansion.

Duryea lost the gubernatorial election 32 years ago to Governor Hugh Carey, although Duryea’s not completely forgotten. The state Office Building in Hauppauge bears Duryea’s name.

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