ALBANY, NY — Dean Skelos stepped down as leader of the New York Senate on Monday in the wake of federal corruption charges and was quickly replaced by another Long Island Republican, Sen. John Flanagan.
Skelos, who is keeping his legislative seat, is the sixth legislative leader to face criminal charges or scandal in Albany since 2008. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, stepped down from his leadership position in January.
Authorities arrested Skelos a week ago on charges that he used his position to extort payments for his son, Adam Skelos, who is also charged. Both men say they are innocent.
The resignation came after Democrats vowed to seek a vote to remove Skelos as leader.Skelos initially sought to ride out the political storm, but his support among Senate Republicans steadily eroded.
Flanagan emerged as the new leader after a three-hour closed-door meeting of Senate Republicans. Sen. John DeFrancisco of Syracuse, who had also contended for the top position, was at Flanagan’s side as he announced his victory.
“We come out of this unified,” said Flanagan, 54, an attorney and 29-year legislative veteran who had led the Senate education committee. “There is a lot of work that needs to get finished.”
The Senate elected Flanagan with a show of 32 hands: all 31 Republicans present and Democrat Simcha Felder, of Brooklyn, who sits with the GOP. It was the narrowest majority in the 63-seat chamber.
The 24-member Democratic Conference symbolically nominated Democratic Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. That was defeated by a voice vote, as was the nomination for Sen. Jeff Klein, head of the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference.
Just before the vote, Flanagan shook hands with DeFrancisco and hugged Skelos.
Skelos, 67, was first elected to the Senate in 1984. He said Monday that he decided to step down to avoid distracting the Senate — and because a photographer last week entered his son’s backyard, causing his 2-year-old grandson to fall and split his lip.
“I said, ‘You know what, it’s not worth it,'” Skelos said.
Authorities said the legislative veteran traded his influence for more than $200,000 in payments to his son from a major real estate development firm and an environmental technology company. The money was paid to Adam Skelos, authorities said, with the expectation that Dean Skelos would use his position to support the companies’ interests before the state.
The charges had created a significant disruption as lawmakers work toward adjournment next month. Several significant items remain on the agenda, including the renewal of the laws governing rent regulations and mayoral control of schools in New York City and a tax credit for real estate developers. Government ethics reforms are another priority for many.
“Today is not a day for celebrations, it is simply another reminder of the culture of corruption that has plagued Albany for too long and must be addressed,” Stewart-Cousins said of Flanagan’s election.
The charges against Skelos were unveiled four months after Silver was charged with accepting nearly $4 million in payoffs. He is keeping his Assembly seat and has pleaded not guilty.
Flanagan is a member of the Long Island Nine, the all-Republican Senate delegation from Suffolk and Nassau counties. Upstate senators had initially backed DeFrancisco before going over to Flanagan. The move angered some upstate conservatives.
“Upstate betrayed,” tweeted Republican Assemblyman Bill Nojay, whose district lies south of Rochester.
After the vote, Flanagan told the Senate he was mindful of the state’s geographic rivalries, saying there were “regional differences that need to be respected.”