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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Worrying and waiting for Bharara's next move

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara addresses members of the

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara addresses members of the media during a news conference in New York on Jan. 22, 2015. Credit: AP

For the State Senate's Republican majority, the worry of the moment is compounded by the mystery of just what there might be to worry about.

To observers, the fact that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara already has Assemb. Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) under indictment adds force and plausibility to reports that Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) now sits in the crosshairs.

No charges have been filed against Skelos. Nobody in authority can or will say for sure if or when that would happen. Word spreads of an active grand jury investigation. Everyone in political New York waits for the other shoe to drop.

The conference mood, by most accounts, has been subdued. "Everybody just seems to want to finish work and get out of here," said one Albany lobbyist with Senate contacts, citing the traditional June 30 close of the legislative session.

Trouble for Skelos, should it develop, would have a more sweeping effect on the political landscape than the current trouble for Silver, who was swiftly replaced in the top post by Assemb. Carl Heastie (D-Bronx). The Democrats' majority in that chamber remains overwhelming.

Skelos and colleagues hold a more precarious grip on power. Last year his caucus recouped a minimal 32-seat majority, which meant it could steer the house without help from the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference. A bit of wind in Republican sails came from past corruption prosecutions of top Democrats, including convicted ex-majority leader Malcolm Smith of Queens.

Presidential years, which heighten Democratic turnout, have proved worrisome for New York Republicans, regardless of prosecutors' targets. It was in 2008 that Skelos, only months after becoming majority leader, temporarily became a minority leader, so any accusations against Skelos could add an extra layer of worry to that in next year's campaigns.

As a group, Long Island's nine state senators -- all Republican -- could worry about losing out under new leadership. This could occur if Skelos decides to retire even without any duress. Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) has been buzzed about as a possible successor.

But a vacancy could revive the traditional upstate-Long Island GOP rivalry, with Sens. Catharine Young (R-Olean) and John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) also mentioned as potential successors.

As individuals, several Long Island senators reportedly received their own federal subpoenas, as Bharara probes government actions within Skelos' home county of Nassau.

Besides a hefty measure of worry, some local Republicans privately express indignation and puzzlement. "Leaks from a grand jury are potentially illegal and certainly immoral," said one GOP attorney. Other insiders said they never saw Skelos as someone who would violate proper conduct and view Bharara as a grandstander.

Unsettled inquiries by ambitious prosecutors can be unseen enemies for elected officials, especially those waiting for that other shoe to drop.

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