Editorial: Whom the gods destroy, they first make proud

A cross-endorsed Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy won re-election to a second four-year term in November 2007. Unchallenged, he received 97 percent of the vote.

That may just have been his undoing.

Such a mandate only emboldened the already proud and cocky politician, who over the next four years continued to pick fight after fight with the county Legislature, while trying to siphon more and more power for the executive branch. His actions threatened the county government’s system of checks and balances in the long run.

How the mighty have fallen.

Mr. Levy announced last week he would not seek a third term amid a 16-month government corruption investigation that Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said “revealed serious issues with regard to fundraising and the manner in which it was conducted, including the use of public resources.”

Mr. Spota did not provide details, but did say he is “confident that Mr. Levy did not personally profit.”

Still, Mr. Levy did agree to turn over his $4 million war chest to the district attorney. Those apparently ill-gotten monies will be returned to donors or given to charity.

An obsessive and self-righteous personality can make those in power highly susceptible to corruption, even if, as Mr. Spota says, it doesn’t involve personal profit. The county executive often displayed both traits.

Nary a negative comment about Mr. Levy — be it printed in a newspaper or spoken on the floor of the Legislature ­— went by without the county executive or his team of handlers defending his actions through calls or letters or 1,500-word press releases designed to make the other parties look like they knew nothing of what they spoke. A New York Times cover story about Mr. Levy last year even mentioned how he would call the Stony Brook University college newspaper to argue his positions with students.

Surely, Mr. Levy could have found better ways to spend his time and that of his taxpayer-funded staff.

As if his public battles with the media — even individual reporters — and lawmakers weren’t a distraction enough, Mr. Levy, a longtime fiscally conservative Democrat, switched parties in a failed bid to run for governor, the state’s highest elected position.

All along, he should have been focused on the day-to-day business of the county. It was his ability to manage that made him popular with such a wide spectrum of voters. (Some might argue his inflammatory and insensitive remarks on race and ethnicity, and his policies on illegal immigration, made him especially popular with a portion of the electorate. Those issues certainly helped get his name known outside Suffolk County.)

If Mr. Levy had fought in an election race four years ago, perhaps he would have been more focused on county business. Beyond his desire to serve well there’s also the concern for looking good in the next electoral go-around. His dreams of higher office helped destroy his ability to maintain his current post. Let that be a lesson to all in politics.