ALBANY – Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse-area Republican, was close to getting enough support to become the new Senate Majority Leader when the current leader, embattled Sen. Dean Skelos, let it be known Friday afternoon that he is not going anywhere just yet.
A Republican official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said Skelos has threatened to quit his Senate seat if his GOP colleagues oust him from power – a nuclear option, because it would mean that Republicans then would not have enough floor votes to control their own destiny.
“Yes, things are now on a roller coaster,” the Republican official said Friday when asked if Skelos’ threat was being taken seriously.
The official said talks were advancing Friday on a number of fronts, with DeFrancisco and Sen. John Flanagan, a Suffolk County Republican, trying to line up votes to become the next majority leader. The official said the votes have been leaning DeFrancisco’s way.
But then came Skelos’ threat to quit his seat, a vow delivered to Republicans on Friday afternoon.
The problem with the threat, if real, is a number-based one. The Republican majority is derived from the 32 seats it holds in the 63-member chamber. They also have the support of a Brooklyn Democrat who sits with the GOP conference.
But if Skelos were to quit, that would bring the GOP number to 31. The added complication is the health problems facing Senate Deputy Majority Leader Tom Libous, a Binghamton Republican who is confronting his own legal problems with a July trial on charges he lied to the FBI when it was investigating his son.
Libous, who has told prosecutors he is dying from cancer, has been too sick to travel from Florida, where he is convalescing. Earlier this week, during a three-hour, private meeting of Senate Republicans, Libous participated in the gathering via speaker phone from Florida.
Without Libous in attendance, that would give Republicans just 30 votes, short of a majority to control any leadership floor fight without getting help from Democrats.
Should Skelos quit, there is no guarantee Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo would call a special election to fill the post; the governor has left a number of seats vacant until the next general election. Asked if Cuomo would call a special to fill the vacancy if Skelos resigned, the administration played coy Friday.
“There are no vacancies in the Senate that we are aware of,” said Richard Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesman.
Republicans, according to several GOP sources, on Friday evening were trying to determine the seriousness of Skelos’ threat to quit and what else he may be seeking.
Senators are due back in Albany on Monday, and lawmakers have made clear that they are planning to rescind the public and private support they gave to Skelos in the hours after his arrest Monday.
Republicans have sought to bring pressure on him to leave the leadership post on his own so that a nasty private conference meeting can be avoided Monday that would lead to his ouster.