ALBANY -- State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos agreed Monday to resign his leadership post while facing federal corruption charges, and Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) was chosen by Republican colleagues to succeed him.
The Republican-led Senate affirmed the change in a vote on the Senate floor, capping a tumultuous eight days at the State Capitol that toppled one of its most powerful politicians and elevated Flanagan, who was able to outflank a Syracuse rival in a compressed campaign.
In an extraordinary three months, the leaders of both houses of the State Legislature have been felled by corruption charges. Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), in a closed-door Republican meeting Monday, stepped aside from a leadership post he has held since 2011. He retained his Senate seat. Last week, federal prosecutors filed a criminal complaint against him and his son, charging them with extortion, bribery and conspiracy.
When charged, Skelos, 67, had vowed to stay on, proclaiming his innocence. But support from Republican senators evaporated over a matter of days, with many of them saying the charges could potentially drag down the party.
By Monday, 10 of the 33-member Republican conference publicly had called for Skelos to step aside. Privately, others said it was "near unanimous" their leader must go.
Flanagan, 54, has been a senator since 2003 and, before that, served 16 years in the Assembly. He has been the Republican point man on all the key education issues of the past five years: Common Core, teacher evaluations, distribution of school aid.
Flanagan will make $120,000 a year as majority leader, including his leadership stipend.
"I think it is extraordinarily important that people be able to have faith in their government, and I want to work to the largest extent possible to help effectuate that -- transparency, disclosure, making sure people know what's going on in their government," he said.
Flanagan, who also has worked as a lawyer, disclosed Monday that he's resigned from his firm, Forchelli, Curto, Deegan, Schwartz, Mineo & Terrana, in Uniondale. Flanagan made $100,000 to $150,000 a year from the law firm, according to his ethics filings.
After stepping aside, Skelos agreed he had become a "distraction." He also cited the heavy scrutiny of his family following the charges. "They're really two reasons," Skelos told reporters. "No. 1: There was a photographer that went into the backyard of my grandkid's house, and my grandkid fell and split his lip and I said, 'You know, it's not worth it.' "
He said he was disappointed about how his tenure ended: "Of course, it's disappointing. But I have other challenges in my life now, and life goes on."
Just three months earlier, then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) was forced to resign his leadership post by his colleagues after federal officials charged him with corruption. He retained his seat.
Flanagan and Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) both walked into the Republican conference meeting saying they each believed they had a majority of the 33 members behind them. Without divulging the tally, they later said a "consensus" preferred Flanagan.
"We had a very good contest," Flanagan said, emerging from the conference with DeFrancisco by his side. "We come out of this unified."
DeFrancisco agreed, though later he said Flanagan began the sprint to succeed Skelos with a leg up -- including Skelos' support. "I knew from Day 1 and John knew from Day 1 that he'd have the support of the Island and New York City," DeFrancisco said. "That's the nature of the beast."
Skelos said he favored Flanagan but didn't campaign to persuade others to vote for his Island colleague.
In explaining why he left his law firm, Flanagan said the job of Senate leader would require all his attention. His decision comes when investigators have been looking at state lawmakers who earn outside incomes as lawyers. Asked if he assured his colleagues he wasn't under investigation, Flanagan said: "I don't believe there is anything to worry about."