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Pressure mounts on Skelos to quit Senate leadership post

Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Mount Sinai), left, debates a

Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Mount Sinai), left, debates a rule with Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) in the Senate Chamber at the Capitol in Albany on Wednesday, May 6, 2015. Democratic lawmakers later walked out of the Senate in protest Wednesday after Republicans refused to allow a vote to remove Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) as Senate majority leader. Credit: AP / Mike Groll

ALBANY -- Political pressure statewide mounted Wednesday for State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos to step aside because of the federal corruption charges he faces.

As one Republican said there was "waning confidence" in the ability of Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) to hold on to his leadership post, a fifth upstate GOP senator called on him to step down.

That call was echoed by Conservative Party chairman Michael Long, who is influential with Republicans. Long said he told Skelos that "he has a responsibility to step aside so business can go on . . . He certainly didn't agree with my comments, but I said toughing it out won't do any good for anybody."

Meanwhile, Republican county chairmen started a petition to the same effect. Suffolk County GOP chairman John Jay LaValle joined the growing chorus, saying "Dean Skelos' legal issues should not be allowed to damage the hard work of other Republican leaders."

Still, Skelos had support on the Senate floor Wednesday, as Republicans fended off Senate Democrats in a wild parliamentary skirmish over an attempt to force a vote on his leadership.

Wednesday night, Skelos issued a statement listing 16 Republican senators, including all eight from Long Island, whom he said still supported him.

"We strongly believe that Senator Dean Skelos should remain on as majority leader of the New York State Senate," the statement said in part.

Federal officials have accused Skelos and his son, Adam, of extortion, soliciting bribes and conspiracy, saying the senator compelled a major real estate developer and an environmental company to hire Adam Skelos and send him title insurance and consulting work, amounting to more than $200,000 in the past four years. Dean Skelos has said he and his son are innocent.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, whose partnership with Skelos allowed him to score high-profile policy victories, Wednesday weighed in on the situation for the first time.

"If the charges are correct, it's deeply disturbing and the narrative that the papers present is deeply disturbing," Cuomo said. He wouldn't say if Skelos, Senate leader since 2011, should be replaced.

Capping a rocky week at the State Capitol, Senate Democrats tried a parliamentary move to force a vote on Skelos then argued and shouted as the clerk plowed forward, reading resolutions honoring high school championship teams. Ultimately, Democrats walked out in protest.

Nothing came to a vote because Skelos' fellow Republicans refused to officially "recognize" the motion that was sitting on the desk.

Democrats said Republicans were afraid a vote would have felled Skelos. Republicans called that idea "delusional."

The Senate adjourned until Monday. Still, the Republicans' tone sounded different from two days before, when they said they were solidly behind Skelos.

"If there is another conference and another decision [on leadership], then I will abide by that," said Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse). He said there have been discussions about removing Skelos from leadership, but any decision would be made in a closed-door GOP conference.

DeFrancisco, Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Sen. Catharine Young (R-Olean) are considered possible successors.

Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) said he didn't see an erosion in support for Skelos. "I have every confidence in Senator Skelos' ability to lead the conference," he said.

"At the moment -- where there is no indictment -- at this point, we need continuity in leadership and he is the elected leader unless he resigns or is removed," said Sen. Tom Croci (R-Sayville).

An indictment would be likely to generate more opposition to Skelos, several senators said.

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