ALBANY - With a crowd of 200 cheering supporters on hand from his Nassau district, Dean Skelos Wednesday assumed the most powerful post in the State Senate, returning the chamber to Republican hands and assuring Long Island a powerful voice in state affairs.
Skelos, 61, was sworn in at 12:35 p.m. by his brother, Peter Skelos, a Nassau judge, after the 32 Republicans elected him by voice vote on the Senate floor. With that slender 32-30 majority, Skelos wasted no time laying out a traditional conservative Republican agenda.
"This year we will not be raising taxes," Skelos said in a short speech on the Senate floor. "We will cut state spending."
Skelos, of Rockville Centre, is the first person to lead the Senate in three nonconsecutive terms. First elected to the post after former Sen. Joseph Bruno resigned in June 2008, Skelos lost it when Senate Democrats took over in 2009. He regained the title briefly in the political coup that installed former Sen. Pedro Espada as president pro tem, only to be ousted when Sen. Hiram Monserrate defected back to the Democrats.
A 13-term senator, Skelos was elected Wednesday as both majority leader and president pro tem and promises a different leadership style than predecessors Bruno - a charismatic but sometimes dictatorial leader - and John Sampson, the Brooklyn Democrat who had trouble keeping his conference together.
"Dean is a consensus builder in his conference," said Desmond Ryan, a veteran Albany lobbyist.
Skelos became the first Senate leader to give an address at a State of the State speech, speaking just before Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Later, he celebrated with his wife, Gail, son, Adam, and other supporters at his favorite Albany restaurant, Amo La Bella.
"It was an exciting day for me," Skelos said.
Wednesday also marked a return of the Long Island Nine - an all-GOP State Senate delegation from Long Island.
For decades the group maintained generous school aid ratios for Long Island and halted legislation seen as anti-suburb. There was an adage about them: "They can stop anything."
Regional leaders blame Democrats, who took over the Senate in 2009, for legislation seen as anti-Long Island, such as a payroll tax for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
"Albany became very New York City-centric over the last four years," said Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association, a business group. "It's almost like Long Island was an afterthought."
Skelos said times were tight and spending cuts were coming. But, he said, "If it's unfair, we can stop it."
Lawrence Levy, director of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, said Skelos' new power might stop Long Island programs from being gutted but won't result in significant new help for the region during tight fiscal times.
"Whatever crumbs there are to be gotten, you can be certain that the Long Island delegation gets as many as it can. But we're in a world of crumbs right now," Levy said.