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Cathy Young shoots down speculation of Skelos departure

ALBANY – A Southern Tier lawmaker in the mix as a possible successor to the Senate Republican leader sought to shoot down speculation Saturday,

“I do believe he will remain as leader,’’ Sen. Catharine Young, an Olean Republican, said of Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

Two New York City news organizations reported Friday that Skelos will be charged soon with federal political corruption.

Though some Senate Republicans declined to discuss the Skelos situation either publicly or privately, Young said she is standing by the Long Island Republican.

“There are no charges, no specific information," Young said of reports Friday in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal that, citing anonymous sources, said Skelos is due to be arrested on corruption charges as soon as Monday.

“I’ve known Senator Skelos for a long time, and he always has conducted himself with integrity. He’s a decent human being, and I believe most people will support him (and) our conference will stay focused on getting the people’s business done before the end of session. We have a lot of important work to do," Young said.

How long that support lasts is pegged to the seriousness of the charges brought against him by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of the southern district of York.

Similar confidence by rank-and-file lawmakers was seen just this past January over the Assembly in the days before Sheldon Silver was forced to relinquish his long hold on the Speaker’s post following federal charges that he enriched himself through the power of his office.

Republicans say privately that they are not only a smaller but more cohesive group than the diverse group that composes the Assembly Democratic conference, which is now led by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

Senate Republicans know that the only way they have managed to hold onto power the last couple decades, especially in the face of changing demographics in the state that favors Democrats, has been to remain unified and to keep internal matters a subject for closed doors.

Skelos allies were adamant that the lawmaker will remain in office, though no one can say with certainty that he will remain as Majority Leader if charges are brought.

Were Skelos to leave office, there is no guarantee that Gov. Andrew Cuomo would call a special election to fill the seat; Cuomo over the years has kept many vacant legislative posts open until the following general election.

Should Skelos leave office entirely, the numbers get even more tricky for the Republicans. In the 63-member chamber, the GOP has 32 seats and one Democrat from Brooklyn who conferences with the GOP. There are five breakaway Democrats who are not a part of the GOP conference but have a power-sharing arrangement of sorts with the Republicans.

In the mainline Democratic conference, there are 24 members, plus one who is not a part of the group but votes with them.

The Skelos succession line-up is far from certain. The next in command, Deputy Majority Leader Thomas Libous, a Binghamton Republican, goes on trial in July on charges he lied to the FBI during its investigation of the senator and his son.

Among those being talked about to replace Skelos as majority leader, if he steps down, are Young, who runs the Senate GOP campaign committee, Senate Finance Committee Chairman John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse-area Republican, and Sen. John Flanagan, a Suffolk County Republican.

Press aides to Skelos have not returned calls or emails since Friday. Skelos himself has said little: only a brief, 30-second session with reporters to say he is cooperating with investigators and was not stepping down.

Sources Saturday said GOP lawmakers were talking among themselves, but that no one was openly running a Skelos replacement campaign.