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ALBANY - (Updates with interview with leading contender.)
Long Island’s leadership of the state Senate is in doubt after corruption charges were brought against Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre).
One leading upstate contender for the powerful leadership post said Skelos needs to be heard before any action is taken.
“It’s too early to say anything,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) hours after the criminal complaint against Skelos was issued. “I’m sure we’ll do the right thing. What that will be I can’t tell you until I hear from other senators.”
He wouldn’t say if he’s pushing for the job himself.
“I can’t say anything until I see what the situation with Dean is _ whether he wants to stay on, or what the majority of the Senate wants, the Republicans,” DeFrancisco said in an interview. “That’s when I will go to step No. 2.”
“I am carefully reviewing the complaint filed against Sen. Skelos and will be discussing the future of Senate leadership with my colleagues in short order,” said Sen. James Seward (R-Oneonta) on Monday. “My top priority is to make certain the Senate continues to operate efficiently and the important concerns of the people of New York State remain in the forefront in Albany.”
Republican Assemb. Claudia Tenney (R-New Hartford) called on Skelos to step down, saying his continue leadership would be “too much of a distraction” for the end of the Legislature’s session.
In a brief written statement Monday, Skelos made no mention of any plans to relinquish his leadership post.
“I am innocent of the charges leveled against me,” Skelos stated. “I am not saying I am just not guilty, I am saying that I am innocent. I fully expect to be exonerated by a public jury trial.”
There are several likely candidates in addition to DeFrancisco who could lead the Senate should Skelos step aside or be forced to resign his leadership post. DeFrancisco has effectively been second in command to Skelos for weeks. Another potential successor is Sen. Catharine Young (R-Olean), who ran last year’s successful Senate campaigns, a common stepping stone to higher leadership. Veteran Senate Education Committee Chairman John Flanagan (R-East Northport) is also a well respected and strongly supported veteran within the conference. Some senators had suggested they serve as a temporary triumvirate for the session’s last two months.
Skelos was accused Monday by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of using his political power in Albany to gain lucrative pay days for his son, Adam Skelos, from companies doing business with the state.
Skelos became the Senate’s Republican leader in 2008 when then-Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Brunswick) declined to run for re-election as he faced federal corruption charges. Bruno was eventually acquitted after a second trial.
The Senate’s Republican majority is scheduled to meet in closed-door session sometime after the legislative session begins around 3 p.m., according to the schedule.
The Republicans will have to make a decision whether to keep Skelos as leader of the conference in which he can control legislation to the floor.
Earlier this year, Skelos decided to keep his No. 2, Deputy Majority Leader Thomas Libous (R-Binghamton) as the floor leader despite the federal indictment against Libous. He is accused of lying to federal agents in a scheme that landed a lucrative law firm job for Libous’ son. The son, Matthew Libous, has since been convicted of tax fraud in January as part of that case.