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One Day After Federal Charges, Senate Leader Defiantly Maintains He Is Innocent

Former NYS Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, left, is expelled from the legislature after being convicted of federal charges on Friday.

Major newspapers have posted editorials calling for the New York Senate Leader, Dean Skelos, to resign after the Senator and his son have been accused of running a corruption scam. But so far, Skelos is hanging on, and Republicans are trying hard to carry on business as usual.

One day after US Attorney PreetBharara bought a six count complaint against Skelos, accusing him and his son, Adam, of bribery and extortion, the Senate Leader attended the annual police memorial. In brief remarks, he reiterated his belief that the charges against him are false.

“If you're innocent , there's nothing that you have to run away from, or hide from,” Skelos said. “Our conference believes that I’m innocent, I know that I'm innocent, and we're ready to govern.”

Meanwhile, the other Republican Senators struggled to carry on with their daily duties.

Several attended a normally quiet judiciary committee meeting, and were besieged by reporters.

Most had avoided speaking publicly after a closed door three hour meeting Monday night, where the Republicans said they decided by a “strong consensus” to keep Skelos as leader of the Senate.

Senator John Bonacic, one of only two Senators to speak publicly against Skelos remaining as leader, says the leader told his GOP members that he wanted to stay for the final weeks of the session.

“He’s asked the conference to at least let him proceed to do the work of the people in the next several weeks,” said Bonacic, who said he wonders whether the “cloud of a pending indictment,” will hamper the conference’s ability to get things done.

“That’s a fluid question that will have to be reviewed on a daily basis,” Bonacic said.

Senator Bonacic, from the Hudson Valley, who says Skelos is a long time friend, says he also has some doubts about the strength of the US Attorney’s case against the Senate leader. He says the Senate GOP’s own attorneys have reviewed it.

“They think it’s very thin,” he said. “They think it’s a reach.”  

Senator Betty Little, of the North Country, says she supports the decision to let Skelos remain. But she also hinted at a possible scenario where the leader could be replaced. But she says the decision would have to come from Skelos himself.

“I hope this isn’t a distraction.” Little said. “And if it is , then there may be some other changes.”

Senator Little admits it’s a “difficult time right now.”

Senate Finance Committee Chair John DeFrancisco name has been mentioned as one of the potential successors to Skelos.

“As far as whether I’d be interested in leader, I’ve always said, that, if there was an opening I would be,” said DeFrancisco. “There’s no opening.”

Skelos’ Deputy Majority leader, Tom Libous of Binghamton is under indictment, and out of the running.

Senator DeFrancisco says in the next few weeks it will become clear whether Skelos can indeed be effective as leader, and the Senate negotiates with Governor Cuomo, and the Assembly over renewal of New York City’s rent control laws and a related property tax break for real estate developers,

The real estate industry plays a role in the federal case against Skelos. The manager of a major development firm is a cooperating witness against the Senator.  

Meanwhile, Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins the leader of the Senate Democrats, who are in the minority in that chamber, says she thinks Skelos and the scandal now surrounding him will be a “tremendous distraction.”

“The reality is that we are here to govern,” Stewart Cousins said. “It is extremely difficult under these circumstance to have a leader who has to face these serious allegations and who has to defend himself from these serious allegations.”

All of the Republican Senators who spoke talked of Skelos remaining on until late June, when the legislative session ends. They did not speculate on what might happen after that.  Should Skelos stay as leader longer, he’ll likely face trial early in 2016, when it will be an election year.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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