ALBANY — Senate Republicans spent three hours behind closed doors Friday at the Capitol, disagreeing with one another over why they lost control of the Senate and battling over a leader to guide them in their new, far-from-influential position as the minority party in the 63-member chamber.
In the end, they decided to go again with Suffolk County Senator John Flanagan as the GOP leader.
Losing to Flanagan in what became a bitter, behind-the-scenes leadership fight was Senator Catharine Young, an Olean Republican. Flanagan was tapped to become Senate minority leader by a 14-9 vote.
The normally secret doings of the Senate GOP conference meeting were made unusually transparent when one senator, James Tedisco of the Schenectady area, held up his legal pad after the gathering to show how each senator voted in the GOP leadership contest.
Young, according to Tedisco’s white legal pad from Staples, got only one vote from a fellow Western New York senator — Robert Ortt of Niagara County.
“It’s democracy. Sometimes it doesn’t go your way. It didn’t go my way last Tuesday. It didn’t go my way today," Ortt said of the election results that gave Democrats a 40-23 edge in the Senate.
Ortt had been one of the upstate senators insisting that the new minority leader be from upstate. In the next Senate session starting Jan. 1, upstaters will dominate the GOP conference, which will have only four GOP senators from Long Island and New York City. Other upstate Republicans, including senators Michael Ranzenhofer and Chris Jacobs from Erie County, did not signal that as a roadblock for Flanagan in interviews this week.
“Hopefully, Senator Flanagan will be able to lead the conference," Ortt said.
Flanagan emerged after the vote in a Capitol conference room — soon to be grabbed as the home of closed-door talks by Democrats — to say he will be an “articulate” leader who will represent GOP interests across the state.
“The public reminds us of who’s in charge. We have to earn back their support and confidence," Flanagan said.
Flanagan warned that Democrats, who now control both houses and again all statewide offices, will be pushing through everything from measures to provide undocumented immigrants with drivers' licenses to a single-payer health insurance program. He predicted the state’s property tax cap will be attacked by Democrats and income taxes will rise.
“I’m scared to death of what’s coming," Flanagan said.
The Long Island Republican earlier this week called for a meeting Friday afternoon, which suggested he had grabbed enough support to remain as GOP leader. Compared with his current job as majority leader, the minority leader post is powerless over all important matters that will be considered by the Legislature.
Flanagan said he has not been given an indication from the Democrats precisely how many GOP staffers — there are many hundreds — will be losing their jobs.
Flanagan said he is confident no GOP senators will be leaving office prematurely next year — for other jobs, or retirement — that would reduce their ranks even more.
The GOP leader said he has also made no decisions about committee assignments for the 23 Senate Republicans. That would include, he said, whether Young will keep her seat on the Senate Finance Committee or as head of the GOP Senate Campaign Committee, the central fundraising arm for the Republican lawmakers.
Leaving the Capitol, Young twice did not directly answer whether she thought Flanagan can successfully be the face of the new Senate opposition party. “I think we’ve elected our leader. The conference has spoken," she said.
And with that, GOP senators headed to the elevators, leaving a building where the Senate has been dominated by their party for much of the past 100 years.
When they return in six weeks, they will find their Albany offices and staff have shrunk, their ability to raise campaign money has greatly diminished and their leader will no longer have a seat at the table when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Assembly and Senate leaders decide everything from major policy matters to how a $170 billion state budget will be spent.