Senate Majority Leader John J. Flanagan’s visit to a well-known New York City civic forum Thursday looked and sounded like a diplomatic trek.
The 54-year-old Suffolk Republican, speaking for the first time to the Association for a Better New York, seemed bent on smoothing regional and partisan edges.
“The well-being of New York State is tied to the well-being of New York City,” Flanagan said at the breakfast meeting in midtown Manhattan. “I love the city of New York.”
He repeated it.
“I love the city of New York and I’m amazed at how many things are going on here all the time.” He described Bill de Blasio as “the mayor of the great city of New York” and spoke of cordiality despite many philosophical differences.
Bantering from the rostrum with some guests he already knew, including former Mayor David Dinkins, Flanagan displayed a rapid-fire delivery and a way of sidestepping controversy.
Most ABNY regulars from academia, politics and business needed no reminder that Flanagan, after nearly three decades as a lawmaker, rose to leadership last year with the downfall of now-convicted ex-Sen. Dean Skelos.
Nor did he need to explain the challenge he faces in trying now to preserve the Senate as the state’s last GOP power base. Flanagan, of East Northport, defended the institution he now leads.
“There’s always this clamoring that there are backdoor negotiations and all that kind of stuff,” Flanagan said. “We have a very long, open and transparent budget process. It should be a transparent process, with a lot of disclosure, and we are very happy to be doing that.”
When former Brooklyn Sen. Seymour Lachman stood to question him on ethics reforms, Flanagan acknowledged the Democrat’s history of writing on the topic and said: “I don’t mean to be even remotely disrespectful. I’m not sure all the people in this room understand the depth and scope of changes that have already been made.”
Flanagan speaks in a more lively manner than Skelos and appears more at ease hobnobbing — even if most of his conference’s policy positions remain unchanged.
He briefly explained his stances against public campaign financing and against barring outside income for lawmakers. He rejected raising gasoline taxes, saying a better business environment would bring the revenue needed for infrastructure. He defended charter schools and called for hiking school aid. All are standard state GOP positions.
Pressed by David McNally of the AARP about mandating paid family leave, Flanagan hinted a deal could be worked out if it didn’t hurt small businesses.
Flanagan made sure to laud GOP colleagues — Kenneth LaValle (R- Port Jefferson) on higher education, Jack Martins (R-Mineola) on infrastructure, and his city conference members Martin Golden, Andrew Lanza and Simcha Felder.
Afterward, he predicted to reporters his party would recoup the Skelos seat in Nassau in an upcoming special election — as you’d expect to hear from someone on Flanagan’s mission.