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NYSNYS NEWS: In shift, Marchione says Skelos must go as support for Senate leader splits GOP conference. She prayed for Senate 'with a heavy heart' Thursday.
NYSNYS NEWS: In shift, Marchione says Skelos must go as support for Senate leader splits GOP conference. She prayed for Senate 'with a heavy heart' Thursday.

By Kyle Hughes

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 7) – At a National Day of Prayer service Thursday, Senator Kathy Marchione prayed with "a very heavy heart" for the Senate, then departed the Cathedral of All Saints to declare Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos should step down.

"I believe people are innocent until proven guilty," she said. "Yet yesterday, in the evening being asked to sign a letter (pledging support for Skelos), going back and forth, I just don't believe any longer that we're going to be able to do the people's business."

"And it is really with a very heavy heart, because I really do believe he is innocent and I believe it is wrong that we are trying his case in the media," she added. "I watched it with Senator Bruno and the man went through nine years worth of having his reputation ruined and he was innocent."

Marchione (R-Halfmoon) said she called Skelos's cellphone number Thursday morning to tell him she had withdrawn her support, but no one picked up the call.

At noon Thursday, Marchione was one of several state officials who led prayers in the gothic-style 19th century Episcopal cathedral one block from the Capitol. The event was part of the 64th National Day of Prayer, a Christian observance to offer prayers to guide and bless the leaders of government and the judiciary.

Also leading prayers was Senator George Amedore (R-Guilderland), who has also called for Skelos to step down. He offered prayers for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, without alluding to the Skelos drama. "I pray Lord that our governor will not be full of malice, selfishness, greed, haughtiness – looks of intimidation or pressure toward others," Amedore said.

Karim Camara, a former Assembly member and clergyman who is the head of Cuomo's new Cuomo’s new Office of Faith-Based Community Development Services, offered prayers for President Obama. Organizers of the Albany prayer day thanked Camara and Cuomo for participating, saying afterward it was the first in memory where a governor sent a representative to participate rather that simply forwarding a resolution.

Just one day earlier, Marchione said she backed Skelos's bid to hold on to the powerful leadership post despite his arrest this week on federal bribery and extortion charges. Skelos pressured members to sign a letter Tuesday backing his position, with 15 of the 32 GOP state Senators signing it. A 16th signature was that of a breakaway Democrat from New York City who caucuses with the GOP.

A majority of Senate Republican refused to sign the letter backing Skelos and Thursday, it appeared time was running out for Skelos. The Long Island Republican has been one of Albany's powerful "three men in a room" since 2008.

A GOP freshman senator who didn't sign the letter, Rob Ortt of North Tonawanda, said he would either join with Democrats on a floor motion to oust Skelos, or offer his own, The Buffalo News reported Thursday.

Senator Joseph Griffo (R-Rome) was asked to sign the letter supporting Skelos, but declined the request, a spokesman said Thursday. "Obviously things are changing day by day here," said aide Rocco LaDuca. He said Griffo "has made clear he didn't sign the letter because he didn't think it was appropriate at this time ... it should not be a public posturing contest."

He said Griffo, who declined an interview, thinks the question of Skelos's continued leadership of the GOP conference members "needs to be addressed among themselves internally."

Those signing the letter included Senator Thomas Libous (R-Binghamton), who is facing trial in an unrelated corruption case; and Hugh Farley (R-Niskayuna), James Seward (R-Milford), William Larkin (R-New Windsor), Michael Nozzolio (R-Fayette), and Cathy Young (R-Olean). The other 10 names on the list are all legislators from Skelos's home turf on Long Island and in NYC.

Marchione said both Senator John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican who signed the letter, and Senate Finance Committee Chair John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) who didn't sign are the two names she's heard floated as possible Skelos successors. She said he thought DeFrancisco would be an excellent choice.

"I believe that we need to move on from the distractions that we have and we need to select a leader and move on with business," she told reporters.