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Skelos insists he’s ‘innocent’ as calls begin for him to step down

ALBANY – Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos, in his first comments since fellow Republicans late Monday said he can keep his job for now, lashed out at the federal prosecutor who had him arrested on corruption charges.

Skelos, 67, seeking to portray an image of normalcy as his political and legal future was under much debate, called the 43-page criminal complaint issued against him and his 32-year-old son, Adam B. Skelos, by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan as “nothing more than a press release.”

The Long Island Republican, despite calls by Democrats and a slowly increasing number of Republicans, said he is not relinquishing his powerful position for a simple reason: “I’m innocent.”

Skelos spoke to reporters after attending a memorial service for slain police officers.

Soon afterward, Albany’s latest scandal saw one of Skelos’ newest colleagues breaking with the majority leader. Sen. Robert G. Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, called on Skelos to step down. Ortt, one of several new GOP members who must be especially mindful of next year’s elections, did not return calls seeking comment.

On Tuesday afternoon, Ortt issued a written statement saying that there is much work to be done at the Capitol before the session ends June 17. “And I do not believe Senator Skelos can effectively lead our chamber in important legislative matters with this indictment hanging over his head,” Ortt said. “The functioning of the State Senate, and our state government, requires a leader whose sole focus is on the needs of New Yorkers.”

Asked about some Republicans, including 2014 GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino, calling for his resignation as leader, Skelos dismissed them as complainers.

Skelos also dismissed questions about the impact his arrest could have on the ability of Republicans to maintain their thin majority in the Senate in next year’s elections.

Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan, R-Elma, stood behind Skelos on Tuesday, though with some caveats.

“As the conference consensus was not to make a leadership change at this time and Sen. Skelos is entitled to the presumption of innocence, my priorities will continue to be to ensure the important business of the Senate remains uninterrupted and that the citizens of the 59th District are served. In the event these things are compromised, the issue of leadership must be revisited,” he said.

Senate Democrats on Tuesday pounced on the GOP decision to keep Skelos as majority leader following his arrest Monday on federal extortion and bribery charges – at least for time being.

Democratic leaders hit radio talk shows and media interviews.

Down the hall, meanwhile, Skelos was holed up in another round of private talks that included fellow Long Island Sens. John J. Flanagan Jr., of Suffolk County, who is said to be eyeing Skelos’ job if he steps down, and Jack M. Martins, of Nassau County.

email: tprecious@buffnews.com