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Senate Leader Skelos Resigns, Replaced by Flanagan

State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan
State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan

Senate Leader Dean Skelos has resigned his post, over a corruption scandal, and Republicans have elected Senator John Flanagan, currently chair of the Education Committee to be his successor.

Flanagan, a Republican from Long Island, a GOP stronghold in the Senate, became the new leader of the Senate with a unanimous floor vote from his Republican conference.

Flanagan emerged from a three hour closed door meeting to announce his victory.

“We come out of this unified,” said Flanagan. “And ready to do the people’s business.”

The race to succeed the disgraced Senator Skelos pitted upstate Senators against downstate ones. Senator John DeFrancisco, of Syracuse, had also sought the leadership post. DeFrancisco appeared with Flanagan, and says there are no hard feelings, and that all of the Republican Senators will work together.

“I’m sorry, but you’re not going to have a lot of theater,” said DeFrancisco, who says the Republican Senators, who hold on to a razor thin 32 member majority in that house “need each other to survive”.

Flanagan, a former Assemblyman, replaced his father, who died in office in 1986.  He is married with three children, and until today held the prominent post of Senate Education Committee Chair.

Flanagan says he does not know yet who he will appoint to replace him on the committee. But he does say that Senator Tom Libous, of Binghamton, will remain as Deputy Majority Leader, even though Libous is under indictment.  Senator Libous is also seriously ill, but has been attending the conference meetings via telephone.

Flanagan says he will be giving up his law practice. Senate Leader Skelos’ private law practice has come under scrutiny in the federal corruption case against him. Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was arrested in January, also is accused of manipulating his private law practice to illegally gain millions of dollars in payments.

Senator Flanagan did not directly answer, when asked whether federal prosecutors might have him in their sights, but he says there’s no cause for concern.

“I don’t believe there’s anything to worry about,” he said  “Period”.

The new leader pledged to run a more open Senate.

“So that the public knows what we are doing, how we are doing it, and equally as important why we are doing it,”  Flanagan said.

Senator Skelos, who will keep his seat in the Senate, though not a leadership post, at first blamed the news media in part for his ultimate decision to step aside, claiming a news photographer had upset his grandson, and caused the child to fall.

“My grand kid fell, split his lip,” said Skelos. “I said, ‘you know what, it’s not worth it’.”

Skelos admits there was another reason, too, following a federal complaint that charged him with six counts in an extortion and bribery scheme.

“Quite frankly, I think I was somewhat of a distraction,” Skelos said.

Senate Leader Flanagan, says he hopes as soon as possible to meet with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Governor Cuomo, to discuss major issues that need to be settled before the legislative session ends, including renewing New York City’s rent laws and a related tax break for developers.

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.