The GOP's Newest Immigrant: Governor Hopeful Steve Levy

The two-term executive of Suffolk County faces sniping on the home front

The incident—the worst in a series of attacks on day laborers—rocked the county. But after the stabbing, Levy told a reporter that if it had happened elsewhere, it would have been "a one-day story." At his Battery Park announcement on Friday, Levy said he's gotten a bum rap on this quote. "I said if the Lucero case had happened elsewhere, it might have been treated as a one-day story," the candidate said. "I in no way insinuated it should have been a one-day story."

But many in Suffolk say Levy has fueled local anti-immigrant fires. At Battery Park, he denied it. "I share the point of view of 90 percent of the population," he said. "I am for legal immigration, and against illegal immigration."

Levy grew up in Holbrook, a hamlet adjacent to Farmingville, which, in recent years, has been ground zero for violence and protests against immigrants—both legal and illegal—who provide much of the grunt labor these days in the suburbs. He had what he calls a Leave It to Beaver childhood, playing hockey in winter, biking in the summer, and watching heroes like the great wrestler Bruno Sammartino on TV. His goal, he says, is for everyone to be able to enjoy those same innocent pleasures.

In 2004, a few months after his election as county executive, Levy attended a meeting in Farmingville convened by a rabid anti-immigrant group. He told them what they wanted to hear: He would deputize county police officers as immigration agents. He also authorized raids on houses where day laborers resided, evicting some 200 workers and their families. Those who condemned his tactics, he said, were "a lunatic fringe" and "anarchists."

Collectively, these tasty bones tossed to the anti-immigrant right earned Levy the title of "The Enabler" when the Southern Poverty Law Center, which researches hate groups, issued a report last year on the county called "Climate of Fear."

"He has made headlines over and over again by really catering to the most primal fears of Suffolk residents," says Patrick Young, a local immigration lawyer. Young, who teaches at Hofstra, first met Levy in the mid-'90s when the men were on a TV show to talk about immigration. "I assumed he was a Republican. He said, 'Pat, I'm a Democrat.' I could've fallen off my stool. I had never heard a Democrat talk that way about immigrants before."

trobbins@villagevoice.com

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