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Corruption conviction ends Dean Skelos’ ‘dream job’

Former New York State Senate Leader Dean

Former New York State Senate Leader Dean Skelos arrives at federal court in Manhattan on Friday, Dec. 11, 2015. Credit: John Roca

In the end, Dean Skelos’ “dream job” lasted just over four years and ended in disgrace.

Skelos is the Rockville Centre Republican who toiled in the New York State Senate for 26 years before fully taking over as leader in 2011, a job he had “wanted for years,” friends had said. But it proved to be a shorter run than he likely envisioned.

Skelos was forced out of the post earlier this year when he was indicted on federal corruption charges last spring and lost his Senate seat altogether when convicted Friday.

Through many budget battles and campaigns, the 67-year-old contended he was the political leader looking out for taxpayers’ pocketbooks — only to be found guilty of lining his own family’s pockets. He was considered tough on crime but was bounced out of office for schemes involving fixing a public contract and steering legislation for political donors whom he pressured to hire his son, Adam, who was also convicted.

He is expected to appeal.

But for now, it’s the last note in a lifetime of politics for Skelos. His family was politically active in Nassau County and he campaigned, as a teenager, for Barry Goldwater in 1964. He won a seat in the Democrat-dominated state Assembly in 1980 at age 32. He ran unsuccessfully for Senate in 1982 but won the term in 1984, and had been there since, representing southwestern Nassau. During his rank-and-file days, he was known as a fierce partisan who helped engineer the redrawing of legislative and congressional districts in 1982 and 1992.

In late 1994, Joseph L. Bruno of Rensselaer County took over as Senate leader and made Skelos his deputy, marshaling legislative votes and pushing tough-on-crime bills such as the sex-offender registry.

Skelos then had two very brief stints as Senate majority leader. The first came in late 2008 when Bruno stepped down amid a federal investigation, but this had little practical impact because the Legislature was out of session. In 2009, Skelos became leader for a brief period when renegades broke from the Democratic majority to form a governing alliance with the GOP that quickly fell apart. It was only in January 2011, after the GOP won back the Senate, that Skelos enjoyed the full power of Senate leader.

More than 200 friends and family members were on hand the day he was sworn in; Skelos called it “an exciting day for me.”

“It’s something he’s wanted for years and now his time has come,” Sen. John Bonacic (R-Mt. Hope), a friend and colleague, said of Skelos in 2011.

But no sooner was Skelos in full control of the Senate than he began working to secure lucrative jobs for his son, Adam, according to federal prosecutors.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the Skeloses conspired “to influence and extort those with business before the state.’’ An FBI agent testified that Adam made $1.3 million in income during the five years his father was Senate leader.

As leader, Skelos achieved a long-term goal of implementing a state property-tax cap and delivering a $550 million pot of economic development money for Long Island. He also blocked reforms, such as nonpartisan drawing of election districts and eliminating campaign-finance loopholes that factored into his trial.

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