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Senate GOP dodges questions on Majority Leader Dean Skelos’ fate

ALBANY – Senate Republicans might consider adopting a resolution honoring Henry Hobson Richardson.

The 19th-century architect’s designs at the State Capitol came in handy this week as Senate Republicans used every possible backdoor and hidden hallway in the Senate building to avoid reporters asking about Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos.

They used head fakes, lookouts, decoys, and circuitous routes to avoid answering questions about Skelos and his legal problems that began Monday morning with his arrest on federal corruption charges.


Skelos walked straight down a Senate hallway Monday into the throng of reporters waiting his arrival. He said nothing, but at least gave photographers their photo op.

Meanwhile, GOP senators took a longer, more twisting route. They came up an elevator on the south side of the building. Some took a right turn – the opposite direction of their meeting – and ducked into a sergeant-at-arms office.

They then walked through a hidden hallway that goes into the Senate secretary’s office, crossed through the Senate chamber, which had been locked. Next, they scooted to the left into another hidden hallway – also locked off from reporters – past Skelos’ private office, a conference room, another series of offices and finally through the “Bruno door" and safely into the closed-door conference room. (The Bruno door was built during the days of then-Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno and provided a handy way for him to get from the GOP conference room to his office without going into the public hallway.)

Three hours later, shortly before midnight, a long line of Senate Republicans snaked their way back through that same route. When a reporter caught up with them, they stopped moving and Sen. John Flanagan Jr., a Long Island Republican, approached the reporter. He declined comment and warned that the “real story” was just around the corner, where one of his Senate colleagues was about to make an official statement on the Skelos matter.

From that one GOP conference room, there are 13 different doors that senators can open into other parts of the third floor, from one side of the building to the other.

The avoidance strategies have taken different forms.

On Wednesday, as reporters from The Buffalo News and Gannett’s Albany bureau waited on senators coming out of the Senate chamber, Sen. Michael H. Ranzenhofer was asked by the Gannett reporter for a comment. The Amherst Republican told him to give him a moment. Ranzenhofer then went into an adjoining private room where senators can get snacks and drinks and that also has a backdoor. Ranzenhofer wasn’t seen again.

After he left the Capitol, Ranzenhofer’s office put out a statement saying he remains “very concerned” about the Skelos allegations and that the distractions “have been problematic.” He added he will work with GOP senators “to take action necessary to protect Western New York taxpayers.” The statement did not elaborate on what that means.

Then there was this unusual exchange Wednesday:

After not returning calls for three days, Sen. Catharine M. Young, R-Olean, emerged from a backroom off the Senate floor. A reporter asked if she believed that Skelos’ hold on the leadership would survive through the coming weekend.

Young nodded her head up and down but did not speak.

She was asked if anyone is campaigning for Skelos’ job

She shook her head from side to side – as in no.

Was she interested in becoming majority leader?

Another shake of her head from side to side – but no words.

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, sought to put Republicans on the record Wednesday. They asked for, and were denied, a floor vote on a motion to oust Skelos as majority leader. It did not go well for the Democrats. They began by choosing an unusual moment: right after West Point cadets were honored on the floor and just before a resolution was to be taken honoring a deceased Democratic state senator.

They dropped the idea for a few moments but retried as the Senate began honoring the victories of an Albany-area high school basketball team sitting in the balcony.

Sen. Michael N. Gianaris, D-Queens, yelled that Republicans had no right to reject their request. With the team’s resolution ceremony still underway, the Democrats stormed out of the chamber in protest.

Away from the Capitol on Wednesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo gave his first comments on the Skelos matter since the lawmaker’s arrest Monday morning. He called the charges against Skelos “deeply disturbing” but said that it was not his place to say whether Republicans in another branch of government should replace Skelos as leader.

Skelos’ future entered a dangerous position Wednesday afternoon as senators left Albany and returned to their home districts and will face a group they cannot avoid: constituents. It was over a weekend in January with lawmakers at home when Sheldon Silver, then the Assembly speaker, saw his support decline quickly before he stepped down from the post.

On Wednesday, the chairmen of the GOP committees of Erie and Suffolk counties joined some previous calls by GOP leaders for Skelos to step down.

Nicholas A. Langworthy of Erie County John J. LaValle of Suffolk County called for Skelos’ resignation.

“He stands accused of very disturbing and serious public corruption crimes,” Langworthy said. “His ability to be a leader of the State Senate and of our Republican Party has ended.”

“Leadership means knowing when it’s time to step aside,” the chairman said. “That time is now.”

On Tuesday, Onondaga County GOP Chairman Thomas V. Dadey Jr. also called for the senator’s ouster. Langworthy said that any Skelos effort to remain in office will prove a “barrier” to accomplishing Senate goals in the session’s final weeks.

A footnote in the criminal complaint that federal prosecutors unsealed Monday against Skelos and his son, Adam B. Skelos, says the majority leader sought substantial contributions from Glenwood Management, a major downstate developer with business ties to the son.

One of the recipients of the firm’s money was the Erie County Republican Party. The complaint against Skelos states that a cooperating witness in the probe told his employer, Glenwood, that he got a call from Skelos telling him to send overnight campaign donations to the Erie County GOP. It states that a lobbyist for the developer believed Skelos had “significant control” over the county party committee.

The complaint adds that the developer sent the county GOP group checks from five subsidiary companies – totaling $100,000 – on the same date in September 2012. The footnote in the complaint does not elaborate.

News Political Reporter Robert J. McCarthy contributed to this report. email: