Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport)

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

ALBANY — State Senate Republicans re-elected Long Island's John Flanagan as their leader Friday, despite a wave of Election Day losses and a push by some to replace him with an upstate senator.

Flanagan (R-East Northport) won a closed-door vote, 14-9, over Sen. Cathy Young (R-Olean).

Rank-and-file senators who supported Flanagan said they didn't blame him for Republicans losing eight seats last week along with their 32-31 advantage, instead pointing to statewide election trends that boosted Democrats in a year when Republican President Donald Trump was the main issue for many voters.

Democrats now number 39 in the Senate and Republicans 23, with one senator unaffiliated with either conference at the moment.

Speaking to reporters after the nearly three-hour meeting, Flanagan downplayed the internal divide and said ultimately the GOP conference has to work as a unified force.

“That’s what we have to do,” said Flanagan, 57, who has held the leadership post since May 2015. “We’re playing a different role, obviously. We’re in the minority.”

Their new status has real-world consequences: Flanagan and Republicans no longer will have a seat at the table when the state budget is being crafted or much say in the flow of legislation. Republicans had controlled the Senate for the last five decades, with the exception of a few years.

With Democrat Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo re-elected and Democrats now controlling the Senate and Assembly, Flanagan said he was “scared to death of what might be coming” legislatively. He cited some Democrats’ push for “single payer” (or universal) health care and driver’s licenses for immigrants living here illegally. He also said Democrats might not want to extend a property tax cap that’s been in place since 2011.

Some supported Young in part because of the suddenly thin ranks of downstate Republicans. The GOP lost four Long Island seats it had long held, as well as one in Brooklyn. That left the conference with just four downstate members and 19 upstate. The leadership post should be shifted all with the “balance of power,” Young’s backers said.

“My own personal view is: Nineteen elected senators were voted by upstate New York,” said Sen. James Tedisco (R-Schenectady). “I think the constituents expected us to respect their decision and tell them: ‘Yes, we can find somebody in upstate New York that is competent enough to be the leader ... and I’m a little bit saddened that we couldn’t.”

But others, such as Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), said Flanagan was the candidate who could bridge upstate and downstate interests and was a “sensitive person to everyone’s needs” politically.

Asked about their hashing out of election losses, LaValle said: “There was discussion, not so much blame.”

In a brief stop with reporters, Young said: "We need to unify  because we have got, certainly, some very challenging times ahead."

In the end, 10 of the 19 upstate lawmakers sided with Flanagan, as well as all the downstate ones.

Flanagan lamented the Senate GOP’s loss of two allies who had traditionally helped keep them in the majority: charter schools and real estate interests. As Newsday reported, both spent very little on legislative contests this year compared with past years.

“We did everything we could do. I wish we had some more support from outside groups,” Flanagan said when asked about the GOP’s campaigns. “There were a lot of factors we just couldn’t control.”

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