Editorial: Steve Levy should forgo the victory laps

07/07/2011 6:20 AM |

Every public official whose continued employment depends upon the good will of the electorate is guilty, to varying degrees, of self-promotion. It’s sometimes subtle, sometimes sensational. It’s not the most productive use of an elected official’s time, but for better or worse it’s part of getting and staying in office.

Even a hardened cynic recognizes that an official can’t work for the public good without the public’s Election Day support.

But when an elected official becomes a lame duck by either losing an election or deciding not to run again, all that public relations work is a waste of time and money.

Case in point: County Executive Steve Levy’s Wednesday press conference touting the success of Suffolk’s land preservation efforts over the past 50 years. Mr. Levy released a report saying that during the last half-century the county has spent $800 million to protect more than 58,000 acres, including farmland. That’s an area roughly the size of the Town of Huntington. It’s a monumental achievement and we’re forever indebted to visionaries such as former County Executive John V.N. Klein, who launched the nation’s first farm protection effort back in the 1970s.

But why bring it up now? What’s the point of the press conference? The first thing an editor might ask a reporter returning from the event is, “What’s the lead?” In other words, what’s the news hook? That the county has been protecting open space for decades is hardly news. And since Mr. Levy is leaving office at the end of the year, what need does he have for positive press?

This appears to be more in the nature of a “victory lap,” an effort by the executive to cement his legacy as a protector of the environment. It wasn’t always thus, and during his years as a county legislator he was highly critical of the investment of public resources in land preservation. During his unsuccessful run for county executive against Mr. Levy some years back, North Fork Legislator Ed Romaine charged that as a Democratic county legislator Mr. Levy voted against every open space buy put before him. That may be, but even if he was a preservation foe at first, he found religion as Suffolk’s executive and continued the efforts launched those many years ago.

Given Mr. Levy’s rapid fall from grace with his loss in the GOP gubernatorial primary and his decision to forgo re-election this year and forfeit $4 million in campaign contributions following a district attorney’s investigation into improper fundraising, it’s easy to understand his effort to rebuild his image. But he should do it on his own time and at his own expense.