Levy has had hard luck in the past with political handlers. A few months after his election as county executive in 2003, his closest adviser was arrested in a bribery sting. Steve Baranello and another Levy ally, Wayne Prospect, were charged with trying to sell access to his administration. Baranello pled guilty and testified against Prospect. On the stand, Baranello gave Levy a glowing character reference: Had he known about the schemes, "Steve would have literally taken me into custody himself," Baranello testified. "He probably would have punched me in the face."

The trickier part, however, was that District Attorney Thomas Spota's office collected thousands of hours of wiretap recordings during the probe. Most have never been released. Levy admits he was alerted, as the law requires, that he was recorded. "Oh yeah, 3,000 people were on those tapes." Had he ever heard them? "It's not allowed. They're all sealed." Was he worried about them surfacing? "Well, we already saw some of it," he said. Last month, his GOP rival, Rick Lazio, released a transcript of a conversation where Levy calls someone (a woman), "a fucking prick."

That's as bad as it gets, Levy believes. "Salty language. One of my vices is using, you know, the 'F' word a little bit too much," he laughed. "Every year I make a New Year's resolution to stop. Usually I'm violating it by January 3rd. Like Joe Biden."

Stephen Kroninger

Still, Levy insisted the tapes shouldn't be released, as some media outlets are currently seeking under freedom of information requests. He has studied up on the issue. "Look, the law is quite clear that innocent third parties are protected from that kind of stuff," he said. "The case law is very, very clear on it."

The first move is up to the D.A., who is expected to deny access to the material. After that, it could go to the courts. If so, Levy isn't the only one to watch. There's also his chief sponsor, Ed Cox. It'll be interesting to see if the state GOP leader echoes his late father-in-law's most famously failed argument: that the public interest is best served by keeping potentially damaging tapes secret.

trobbins@villagevoice.com

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