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NYSNYS NEWS: Marchione says she's with Skelos for now, Cuomo stays mum on bribery scandal, DeFrancisco says he has 'no idea' who will be GOP leader next week.
NYSNYS NEWS: Marchione says she's with Skelos for now, Cuomo stays mum on bribery scandal, DeFrancisco says he has 'no idea' who will be GOP leader next week.

By Kyle Hughes

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 6) Despite Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos's arrest on extortion and bribery charges, Senator Kathy Marchione (R-Halfmoon) said Wednesday she's sticking with him unless his legal troubles start to impact Senate operations.

"It can't impede what we have to do here," said Marchione. "I have a responsibility to my constituents and we all do to make sure the people's business continues to be done."

She said removing Skelos "for political reasons, and that's what we're talking about here, is not what we should be doing right now. We have (six) weeks left of session. We need to move on."

But she also said that Senate lawyers have advised her "the information to back up the charges was not there in that complaint." Federal prosecutors have charged Skelos with demanding payoffs and bribes for his son in exchange for fixing bills and lucrative contracts sought by a major real estate firm and a manufacturer of pollution-control equipment.

Marchione spoke after Senate Democrats attempted to force a vote on the floor to strip Skelos of the leadership post he has held since 2008. The move failed on procedural grounds, prompting Democrats to walk out on the session and Republicans to complain they were out of line.

Marchione said Democrats interrupted her attempt to pass a resolution honoring the Shenendehowa High School boys basketball team whose members watched from the gallery as senators shouted at each other. "How honoring is that when you had the rudeness taking place in our chambers?" she said. "It's akin to a basketball analogy or a sports analogy taking your ball and going home."

Skelos stayed out of sight Wednesday, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo emerged from seclusion to comment for the first time on the latest arrest to shake the state Capitol. Cuomo, who counts Skelos as among his closest allies in the Legislature, said news of the arrests of Skelos and his son was "deeply disturbing and troubling."

Speaking after an event at Syracuse University, Cuomo had little else to say about the latest seismic scandal to hit Albany, expressing no opinion on whether Skelos should lose his leadership job. He said the arrests have had no impact on state government operations.

"It's not my place to tell them who their leader should be," Cuomo said, in remarks caught on tape by reporters.

Cuomo and the two main legislative leaders form the "Three Men in a Room" ruling triumvirate that decides the budget and which major bills to pass. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was arrested on bribery and fraud charged three months before Skelos was hit with similar charges.

Silver was stripped of his leadership post and replaced by Carl Heastie. Nothing has yet happened to Skelos, though his support appeared to be slowly eroding and rumors flew about plans for him to be relieved of his leadership post within days.

Senate Finance Committee Chair John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse), the third ranking GOP leader, said he had "no idea" if Skelos would still be majority leader when lawmaker return for session on Monday.

"There's got to be something that changes the mind of the (GOP Senate) conference and the conference has a position on if there's another conference and another position, then I'll abide by that," he said.

DeFrancisco, a successful trial lawyer who has never been tainted by scandal, is seen as the likeliest successor should Skelos step down. The number two Republican is Deputy Majority Leader Thomas Libous (R-Binghamton) who is facing trial on charges relating to the criminal conviction of his son in yet another corruption case.