It’s time to ask what to do about Steve Levy.
I know that the county executive has been very popular—so popular that the Republicans couldn’t find anyone to run against him. But Mr. Levy seems to be out of step with a major slice of his constituency, much of which lies on the East End.
I believe in the two-party system. I think that having one party keep its eye on the future while the other keeps its eye on what’s best about the past is a good way of doing things. But when the representative of one side begins to take on too much coloration from the other side, problems arise.
For many, Mr. Levy has come to represent some of the uglier characteristics of the right wing. His willingness to co-opt their nativist attitudes makes his more progressive constituents feel about as frustrated as a Mike Huckabee backer must feel when forced to choose between John McCain and Mitt Romney. (In a way, his attack against Jim Henry on the Letters page this week only proves the point. It’s what I would call the Orval Faubus Defense: Don’t blame me for all those lynchings. I didn’t ask them to do it.)
But I’m not just talking about the killing of Marcelo Lucero, the Ecuadorian immigrant, although that certainly poses a problem for our county executive. Powerful voices like The New York Times have joined Jim Henry in accusing him of fostering a climate of hate and fear that results in such tragedies.
Nor am I just talking about the sudden love affair he and his fellow western Suffolk legislators seem to be having with the idea of a casino out here. When are politicians going to learn that gambling is a terrible way of raising revenue? Do they have no memory of the promises made for OTB or Atlantic City? And what might they promote next—prostitution?
But consider some of the other, less sensationalistic things for which Mr. Levy can be held accountable.
He is known to dislike our two East End legislators, Jay Schneiderman and Ed Romaine, with a passion. Observers say that all Mr. Schneiderman and Mr. Romaine have to do is favor something for Mr. Levy to oppose it.
One official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, likened Mr. Levy to a playground bully. Unfortunately, those of us who live in Mr. Schneiderman’s and Mr. Romaine’s districts are often the innocent victims of this acrimony.
Suffolk County Transit is a disgrace. According to a study at the University of North Carolina, it’s the worst public transit system in the country. Although he did not create the system, its continued malfunction falls squarely on Mr. Levy’s shoulders, and he has done almost nothing to improve it.
The service is particularly shameful here on the East End, where few buses run on time, there are no bus shelters, the scheduling is dysfunctional, and the abuse of passengers (many of them poor and Hispanic) is common. When new equipment is occasionally purchased, almost all of it goes to western Suffolk, where Mr. Levy and his cronies live. We on the East End—who provide one-third of Suffolk’s tax revenues—get zilch.
He seems woefully ignorant of East End life. In his zeal to demonize Hispanics, he said that illegal immigrants have produced so many “anchor babies” that Southampton Hospital has been forced to close its maternity ward. That is patently false (the maternity ward has modernized and expanded), and one wonders where he gets his information.
While we’re all grateful that those Gestapo-like 35-mph warning signs on County Road 39 are finally coming down, one wonders why they were put up in the first place. I’m told that the speed limit was the town’s idea (by the way, it should be 45, not 35), but those signs have only reinforced Suffolk County’s image as an intolerant enclave where traffic enforcement trumps humanity.
The problem, of course, is that the Republicans are in no position—and probably no mood—to solve the problem. If they were to run against Mr. Levy, it would probably be from the right, pushing him to become even nastier than he is. But for the rest of us, a third-party candidate, including a compassionate Republican, begins to look good. So does Peconic County.
It is often said that Mr. Levy has done some good things, like cutting taxes and reining in spending. He has overseen an ambitious land-preservation program, has begun reseeding Peconic and Great South bays with scallops and clams, and has hired a respected housing advocate to tackle the tough problem of affordable housing.
But there is an ugly side to this administration that can no longer be ignored, and unless Mr. Levy starts to lighten up (and pay more attention to East End needs along the way), there will be little reason for liberals out here to support him.