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Senate Republicans huddle on Skelos’ future

ALBANY – Senate Republicans are behind closed doors to discuss the end of Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos’ reign and to try to pick his replacement as one of Albany’s three-men-in-a-room power system.

Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican, said going into the Monday morning meeting that he believes he has rounded up enough GOP votes to take over for Skelos. He noted, though, that Skelos first has to resign his leadership post, which lawmakers believe the Long Island Republican will make clear in the early part of the closed-door meeting.

Skelos, smiling, arrived at his Capitol office next to the GOP conference room about an hour before the gathering started.

Also vying for the Skelos job is Sen. John Flanagan, a Suffolk County Republican.

DeFrancisco and Flanagan shared a pizza Sunday night in Albany and could agree on one thing: neither was stepping aside, yet, to make way for the other.

Lawmakers were a mix of candid and guarded. Three Long Island Republicans, in an elevator ride up to the Capitol’s third floor, were in a joking mood, but offered no opinion on Skelos’ resignation or his possible replacement.

“Choosing a leader is a conference decision and it will be made by the members,” Sen. Catharine Young, an Olean Republican, said when asked who she is backing for majority leader. “I’m going to do what’s best for the taxpayers of my district.”

Republicans say Young over the weekend was one of the upstate Republicans siding with Flanagan, which led to a flurry of outreaches by upstate Republicans to convince her to join the DeFrancisco camp. Republicans have said Young was looking at becoming deputy majority leader either immediately – or when Sen. Tom Libous, a Binghamton Republican who currently holds the post, might step down. Libous has been in Florida fighting cancer and he faces a July trial on charges he lied to the FBI during its investigation of his son’s business dealings.

Among Young’s critics Sunday was Carl Paladino, the conservative Republican Buffalo businessman and failed 2010 GOP gubernatorial candidate. He sent an email to Young, obtained by The Buffalo News Sunday afternoon, saying that he would ensure she faces a “blistering primary” next year if she backs Flanagan.

Senate GOP newcomers have been especially on edge for the past week, with the prospects that Skelos’ legal troubles could hurt their own re-election bids next year. Sen. Rich Funke, a Monroe County Republican who has been in office for only five months, said he hopes that Skelos “will do the right thing and step down” rather than forcing Senate Republicans to oust him from his leadership job.

“My hope is that John DeFrancisco at the end of the day is our Senate leader. I certainly have to support an upstate guy,” Funke said, noting the Syracuse-area Republican would be an advocate for upstate and would help with some upstate GOP goals such as weakening the SAFE Act gun control law.

All day Sunday Republicans were preaching unity for the Senate GOP conference. Without it, the conference could break apart and lose power to Senate Democrats.

“I think there’s always that concern if we split apart in some fashion,” Funke said.