Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport)

Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) Credit: Howard Schnapp

ALBANY — State Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan announced Friday that he is in an alcohol-treatment program again and will miss the opening of the 2019 legislative session.

Flanagan (R-East Northport) had sought alcohol treatment during summer 2017, though that wasn’t through an inpatient setting. This time, the senator entered a 30-day residential program before Christmas, said his staff, which issued the statement on his behalf. That timetable means Flanagan entered treatment just weeks after winning a bruising internal Senate Republican fight to remain the GOP conference leader.

In a statement issued to the media, Flanagan didn’t say when he might return to the State Capitol. However, afterward Senate staff said he is expected back after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 21.

“Recently, I recognized the need to seek some additional help to overcome my battle with alcohol dependency. This was a difficult choice, but it is the right one for myself and for my family. I must now make my health and well-being my number one priority,” said Flanagan, 57.

“I thank my friends and colleagues for their patience, for their love and for their understanding, and am very much looking forward to the upcoming legislative session,” he continued. “This brief period of time away is necessary for my overall well-being, but will in no way impact my ability to serve my conference or my constituents.”

Deputy Minority Leader Joseph Griffo (R-Rome) will take over Flanagan’s duties in the interim. The legislative session formally begins Wednesday.

Flanagan has been a fixture in the State Legislature since 1986, when, at 25 years old, he was elected to an Assembly seat long held by his father. He served 16 years in the lower house before being elected to the State Senate in 2002.

He has been the Senate Republican leader since May 2015, taking over after then-Sen. Dean Skelos was indicted (and later convicted) on public corruption charges. Under Flanagan, the GOP held on to its narrow 32-31 majority in the 2016 elections and he remained Senate majority leader and the most powerful Republican in New York.

But in 2018, Democrats rode anger about Republican President Donald Trump and a high turnout to flip eight seats and take a commanding majority in the State Senate. Democrats also won all the statewide offices.

Immediately after what they called an Election Day "drubbing," some Republicans called for Flanagan’s ouster and said it was time for an upstate leader. But, following a lengthy closed-door meeting at the Capitol, Flanagan prevailed in a 14-9 vote over Sen. Cathy Young (R-Olean), although with a new title that reflected the GOP’s lost status: Minority leader.

Young issued a statement Friday in support of Flanagan’s decision.

“It takes great courage and strength to recognize when an addiction has a dangerous grip on one’s life and to seek outside help in combating the problem. I commend Senator Flanagan for bravely choosing that path,” Young said. “Addiction is a lifelong struggle and one that must be won each and every day. My heartfelt best wishes and support are extended to him and his family at this difficult time.”

. Other senators also issued statements of support.

 Griffo said: "Leader Flanagan has always been a selfless leader, putting his professional responsibilities, obligations and duties above his own needs and I applaud his courage in confronting this disease ... I am honored to accept the responsibility of leading the state Senate’s Republican conference on an interim basis."

New Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a statement: “Senator John Flanagan is a friend and colleague, and I wish him well during this difficult time. I respect John’s candor and his recognition that he must take care of his health.”

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