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Phony Republicans, a New York Tradition, Live on in Steve Levy

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In New York, elections are frequently contests between the Democrats and the phony Republicans.

The GOP is in a pathetic state. There haven't been any statewide Republican stars since George Pataki. And if George Pataki is your idea of a star ...

As I said, it's pathetic.

Michael Bloomberg was/is a phony Republican. Rudy Giuliani was one for the first and better half of his political career. Mort Zuckerman, the Daily News publisher, was one for the three minutes that he contemplated running for the Senate.

Now, there's Steve Levy, the Democrat who runs the eastern end of Long Island as Suffolk County executive. Levy is running for the Republican nomination for governor.

For the Republicans, the alternative is Rick Lazio, the former congressman whose last race was ten years ago, when his ineptitude in running for the Senate helped to turn Hillary Clinton into a Senator and national superstar.

Ed Cox, the Republican party chairman, likes Levy's chances. Other Republicans aren't as thrilled. The Conservative Party, which is made up of Republicans pretending to be something else so they can have their own special line on the ballot, is among the unconverted.

Back to Levy. He is a hard-working, hard-campaigning politician, with the perky, moustached face of a former student politician who never got over being senior class president. If by any chance he wins the nomination, he'll present himself as the man who can make tough budget-cutting decisions that Democrat Andrew Cuomo has never showed any talent for.

Which may be true - at least the Andrew Cuomo part. But Levy is different from most New York faux Republicans. Generally, they're social liberals with an aura of fiscal conservatism.

The big thing that you will hear about Levy in the coming months is that he's anti-immigrant. As county executive, he proposed deputizing local cops as immigration law enforcement officers. He clamped down on efforts to organize meeting places for illegal workers so that they'd stop hanging around on street corners and in parking lots, waiting for day labor contractors to drive by. He's referred to illegal women who have children as the mothers of "anchor babies." He waved off the murder of an immigrant from Ecuador by white teenagers as a "one-day-story."

The New York Times editorial board, which has lashed into Levy regularly, suggested that he was at least somewhat complicit in the attack. When a politician tolerates "the poisonous notion that "illegal" is a stain that can never be erased, with no path to atonement, then you turn the undocumented into a permanent class of presumed criminals who have no rights," the Times said.

The state is hungry for a new kind of leadership - any kind of leadership. Levy could, at minimum, prod someone like Cuomo to really take a stand on the hard questions that face New York.

But are we ready for a leader who handles the most difficult, inflammatory issue in his community simply by giving voice the frustration of the majority? So far, there hasn't been much evidence that Levy has done anything to make the problems of illegal immigration better, and it's easy to make the case that he's made things worse.

If that's all a phony Republican has to offer, we might just as well settle for the real thing.