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GOP lawmakers say Dean Skelos has 'strong consensus' and keep him as leader

New York Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and

New York Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son Adam leave Southern District Federal Court in Manhattan after his initial hearing on corruption charges on Monday, May 4, 2015. Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

ALBANY - Senate Republicans Monday night stuck by Majority Leader Dean Skelos after he and his son were charged with corruption in a scathing federal complaint.

Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) will continue to lead the Republican majority through the legislative session scheduled to end June 17, said Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset).

Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), speaking for the conference, said he doubted Skelos, 67, would lose his leadership position even if it is indicted. He was charged in a criminal complaint Monday by federal prosecutors.

"Presumption of innocence," LaValle said. "This conference strongly believes in that. He has the support of the conference."

No vote was taken, but LaValle said Skelos had a "strong consensus," although not unanimous support, after a nearly three-hour, closed-door session.

The Republican senators insisted the decision was no temporary measure. Earlier this year, the Assembly's Democratic majority initially stuck by Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), who faces federal corruption charges, only to replace him after several more days of private meetings.

Before Monday night's meeting, upstate Republicans were critical of keeping Skelos as the leader and face of the Republican majority that enjoys a narrow majority over Democrats.

"I think it will be very difficult at this point," said Sen. Rich Funke (R-Fairport) from the Rochester area. He said he was surprised by the details in the criminal complaint against Skelos despite weeks of news reports and speculation about the federal investigation.

Skelos has strongly denied the corruption charges facing him and his son, Adam Skelos, who has been employed by a real estate title company.

Using information from wiretaps and informants, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara drew a picture of Skelos as a powerful politician who used "coded language" and "burner" cellphones to carry out a scheme on Long Island, in Albany and even at a slain police officer's wake. The prosecutor said Skelos didn't work "for what was good for New York, but rather what was good for his son's bank account." Skelos was accused of threatening to punish those who didn't adequately participate in the scheme involving campaign contributions, no-show jobs and taxpayers' money.

Before Monday night's meeting of Republicans, Skelos' close and longtime supporters in the Senate didn't immediately rally to his support before Skelos could address them in private.

Susan Lerner of the good-government group Common Cause said Skelos should resign his leadership post so that a powerful leader isn't operating "under a cloud."

The legislative session, already hobbled by the removal of the Assembly speaker, faces some thorny and critical issues. Among them are extending or enhancing rent control regulations critical in efforts to keep New York City affordable for the middle class and whether to continue mayoral control of New York City schools. These measures expire this year if no action is taken.

Several statewide measures also are on the agenda. Among them are Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's proposal to change police procedure and grand jury proceedings in response to nationwide protests following the death of African-American men in police custody.

Other Republicans outside the Senate, however, were quick to call for action against Skelos.

Republican Assemb. Claudia Tenney (R-New Hartford) called on Skelos to step down, saying his continued leadership would be "too much of a distraction" for the end of the Legislature's session.

Skelos became the Senate's Republican leader in 2008 when a longtime upstate majority leader, then Sen. Joseph Bruno (R-Brunswick), declined to run for re-election as he faced federal corruption charges. Bruno was eventually acquitted after a second trial.

Silver, the Democratic speaker of the Assembly, was charged in January by the same federal prosecutor for corruption. After an internal fight between Silver loyalists and others led by new members, Silver was replaced by Assemb. Carl Heastie (D-Bronx). Silver has pleaded not guilty.

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