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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Newsday’s Targets

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy has held that office for six-plus years and his current term expires in December 2011, so why did Newsday publish last week a detailed analysis of Levy’s campaign contributors?

Well, because county executive Levy is running for governor in 2010, you might say. That’s partially true. The main reason is because county executive Levy, a lifelong Democrat, is now seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Newsday, even in its diminished state, wants Long Islanders to believe that Democrats secure campaign contributions from civic-minded voters whose only goal in life is to bring good government to the people. In the alternative, Republicans rely on fundraising ‘machines’ which lean on companies holding no-bid government contracts, and ask them to kick back big bucks to finance their negative campaigns. The people subsequently suffer as the cost of government soars, this theory goes.

It is hard to imagine anyone of legal voting age buying that storyline but Newsday clings tightly to its role as the Democrats’ opposition research team, which is unleashed regularly against Republicans and as needed for individuals deemed to be wayward Democrats.

For instance, former county Legislator Roger Corbin, long before his legal problems emerged, incurred Newsday‘s wrath for briefly joining forces with Nassau’s Republicans in early 2006. Corbin, a Democrat, and county Legislator Lisanne Altmann, a Democrat who did not seek re-election in 2007, attempted a coup four years ago in the county Legislature, siding with nine Republican county lawmakers in an ill-fated bid to oust the Legislature’s presiding officer, a Democrat who survived when Corbin and Altmann reversed course and restored the Democrats’ 10-9 edge in that chamber.

Even though order had returned to Mineola, and the Democrats would go on to enjoy almost four more years in complete control of Nassau’s county government, Legislator Corbin paid a price for his disobedience. Newsday published soon thereafter a highly critical look at Corbin’s life and times, providing the source material for a prospective Democratic primary campaign against Corbin in 2007. The takeaways for the reader: The Corbin family allegedly owed money to many people, and was in no rush to pay them back. And Legislator Corbin’s résumé was filled with exaggerations and misstatements, too, the article implied.

To be fair, Newsday‘s editorial board, especially those members who were there in 2003, has consistently disliked Levy, even when Suffolk’s Democrats were high on him. Almost seven years ago, Newsday endorsed William Cunningham, a former chief deputy to Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi, over Levy in the September 2003 Democratic county executive primary. Yet Levy, a state assemblyman at the time, had the official support of Suffolk’s Democratic Party and won the primary with 68 percent of the vote, despite being heavily outspent.

“Mr. Cunningham’s campaign raised more than twice as much as Mr. Levy’s, and spent more than two and a half times as much,” stated a 2004 Suffolk County campaign finance board report on the 2003 election cycle.

A little digging would surely have revealed that Nassau County governmental vendors contributed significant sums to Cunningham’s campaign but that’s not news. I’m sure they only wanted to bring good government to Suffolk.

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