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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Skelos leadership deal keeps LI in the game

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos during a press

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos during a press conference where Councilman Eric Ulrich, right, got the endorsement of Plumbers Local No.1 and Steamfitters Local 638. (July 26, 2012) Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Sen. Dean Skelos made a masterful deal to keep himself and Long Island's Republican Senate delegation in the game in Albany.

Instead of standing by while Democrats readied themselves to take over, Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) marbled together a mixture of Republicans and just enough renegade Democrats to seize control.

Wednesday, Skelos, in an interview with a Newsday reporter, called the power-sharing deal a model for the nation.

That's wishful thinking, although, closer to home, a coalition of Republican and Democratic lawmakers did manage to work effectively together for a time in Suffolk County.

But Suffolk is not Albany -- in the local coalition, one lawmaker, a Democrat, was in charge.

Skelos, however, has agreed to share the duties of majority leader with Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx). Together, they will lead 30 Republicans and six Democrats in a Majority Senate Coalition, jointly deciding which bills go to the floor, who gets put on what committee and who gets appointed to what boards.

Sounds like things could get complicated, although Skelos' continued leadership role also helps Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo -- with whom he has a solid working relationship -- score points for bipartisanship.

What's key is that the coalition should work well for Nassau and Suffolk counties, as Skelos pointed out in the interview Wednesday. "This will be positive for Long Island, no doubt about it," he said.

How can he be so sure?

Because of what happened when two Long Island Democrats won election to the Senate -- and then sided with New York City-centric leadership to impose the much-hated MTA payroll tax.

In Albany, there's always been tension between New York City and the suburbs, which vie for state resources as the most populous part of the New York.

The Assembly is led by New York City-centric Democrats; but the Senate, for years, was led by Skelos and eight other Long Island -- read suburban-centric -- Republicans.

From Albany, the Long Island Nine fought for what they deemed significant for the region, including school aid.

The Nine, however, became Eight in 2007, when Democrat Craig Johnson of Port Washington was elected to the Senate. They were Seven one year later, when the election of Brian Foley of Blue Point gave Senate Democrats a two-seat majority.

Skelos lost his leadership post to Sen. Malcolm Smith of Queens.

But Foley and Johnson ended up short-timers -- tossed from office by voters angry at their siding with city-centric leadership for the payroll tax, which, when adopted in 2009, imposed a 34-cent tax on businesses for every $100 of payroll to support MTA operations. Last summer, the tax was declared unconstitutional by a State Supreme Court judge.

This time around -- when who would control the Senate rested with the results of a single, unresolved race upstate -- Skelos took a different approach.

In keeping the Long Island Nine in play, Skelos is betting that for the region, a marbled loaf of leadership will be better than none.

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