New York State Republican Chairman Ed Cox on Friday endorsed conservative Democrat Steve Levy in his Republican run for governor, fracturing a party battling to stay competitive in a heavily Democratic state.
"I welcome you into the Republican Party," said Cox, son-in-law of former President Richard Nixon. "I endorse your run for governor."
At his formal announcement Friday outside the state Capitol, Levy was also endorsed by former GOP gubernatorial candidate John Faso. Levy also signed a card to enroll in the GOP, although it won't be effective this year.
"I wanted this day to be a game-changer," Levy said. "We're going to change this state and we're going to change it for good."
He said New Yorkers have watched the state get mired in partisanship.
"The one ship they have not seen from Albany is leadership," he said.
He said as governor he would declare a fiscal emergency to force difficult decisions to cut spending and taxes, and blamed the Legislature, where he was once an assemblyman, for creating unsustainable spending that benefits special interests.
"If you don't like it, that's OK. Don't vote for me," Levy said. "But if you want someone to shake the foundations ... I'm not scared to deliver it."
Republican candidate Rick Lazio's campaign sent a blistering statement moments before Levy's announcement, listing 10 reasons Levy is "a liberal Democrat with a liberal record." Among them were Levy's Assembly votes for state budgets with large increases in spending and his past support of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and other Democrats, including presidential nominee John Kerry, Gov. Eliot Spitzer and state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who is expected to be the Democratic nominee.
Levy dismissed the liberal label, noting he was a "contrarian" in the Assembly who had voted against the Democratic majority at times. Levy said he was proud of his Assembly record, but focused on his record as a Long Island county executive where he erased a deficit, cut spending and faced off against labor unions.
Running unopposed, Levy won re-election as the Suffolk County executive in 2007 and had support from the Democratic, Republican, Conservative, Independence and left-leaning Working Families parties.
State Senate Democratic leader John Sampson struck at Levy's controversial opposition to illegal immigration in Suffolk County, calling Levy's comments over the years "hate-mongering rhetoric" and "the politics of bigotry."
Levy says he opposed illegal immigration, but supports those who legally enter the country.
There were no prominent members of the Assembly or Senate — Republicans or Democrats — at Levy's announcement. Both chambers are controlled by Democrats, as are all six statewide elected office.