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Skelos trying to retain GOP grip on Senate

Dean Skelos, Republican incumbent candidate for New York

Dean Skelos, Republican incumbent candidate for New York State Senate 9th District and current Senate Majority Leader. (Aug. 9, 2012) Credit: James Escher

ALBANY -- As the election recounts continue, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos is working to maintain control of the State Senate -- even if it turns out Democrats have won more seats.

The outcome will not only determine control of the chamber but also could influence the direction of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's agenda and the clout the Long Island delegation commands.

Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) already has persuaded Simcha Felder, elected as a Democrat in Brooklyn, to join the Republican conference in the 63-member body. For now, that makes the Senate count 31 in the Republican conference and 31 in the Democrats', with one obviously crucial recount pending.

Meanwhile, Skelos met recently with the leader of the four-member Independent Democratic Caucus, which could be angling for a little more clout. Its leader, Sen. Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx), made clear in an op-ed Thursday that he's looking for the caucus to be recognized as a "permanent" conference in the Senate, giving it official recognition. There's also the possibility that one member -- Sen. David Valesky (D-Oneida) has been mentioned -- could land a top leadership post if a coalition majority is formed.

Skelos, who declined to comment for this story, has vowed that Republicans "will have an operating majority on Jan. 1," when the new legislative session legally begins. Analysts said he is making an all-out push to keep Republicans in control. "That is clear," said Steve Greenberg, a Siena College pollster. "They're doing all they can because it is the one bastion of state government . . . that Republicans have control over, at least at the moment."

Democrats solidly control the Assembly, 107-43 come January, and hold all six statewide-elected offices.

Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), who quarterbacked the Democrats' Election Day success, has carped about Senate Republicans trying to create chaos by "appealing to misguided Democrats." Former Gov. David A. Paterson, on his radio show, predicted: "The inside game player is going to win this contest."

If Democrats control the chamber, Long Island's nine senators, all Republicans, will likely have little sway in legislation.

Right now, all the maneuverings are on hold, pending the outcome of a Catskills-Capital Region Senate race.

The morning after Election Day, Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk woke up with a 139-vote lead over Republican George Amedore. The GOP had felt confident about the race -- Republicans, during the redistricting process earlier this year, created the district specifically for Amedore.

With absentee ballots counted in three of five counties, Amedore surged to a 515-vote lead Friday, Senate officials said. But the final county to be tallied will be Ulster -- a Tkaczyk stronghold -- so the outcome is still uncertain.


Cuomo stays out of it

Democrat Cuomo has said publicly he's staying out of the fight. That's prompted some criticism in national circles, with some blaming Cuomo for endorsing a Republican this fall and not jumping in for the party in the Senate fight. Cuomo has disparaged the Democrats' tenure (2009-10) the last time they controlled the chamber and has often praised Skelos for working in a bipartisan fashion during the Long Islander's two years as majority leader.

Klein pitched his idea of "coalition government" on Paterson's radio show. And in his op-ed that ran in Gannett Westchester newspapers Thanksgiving Day, Klein said he believes "that hyper-partisanship serves no one" and that he was offering a "new model of governing in the 21st Century." A Klein spokesman declined to comment further Friday.

Klein also promised to fight for a "progressive Democrat agenda" that includes raising the minimum wage -- a proposal Skelos blocked this year.

If Amedore wins the final race, Skelos won't need Klein to get a 32-vote majority to be declared Senate leader. But he still might need Klein's coalition to pass key votes during the year -- as he did occasionally over the past two years, Greenberg noted.

"The question isn't just who gets 32 votes on the first vote," Greenberg said, referring to Senate leadership. "But will the leader be able to generate 32 votes on all other subsequent votes, like the state budget. No matter what, the chamber is going to be so narrowly divided, it could create problems for whomever is in charge."

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