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New York Senate Leader Skelos quits top post after arrest

New York Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, arrives to his office at the Capitol on Monday, May 11, 2015, in Albany, N.Y. Skelos could face a vote seeking his ouster if he refuses to step aside following his arrest last week on federal corruption charges. Skelos has so far rejected calls to resign from Democrats and a growing number of members from his own Republican Party. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Republican Dean Skelos resigned Monday as leader of the state Senate after his arrest on federal corruption charges and was quickly replaced by another Long Island lawmaker, Sen. John Flanagan.

Skelos, who intends to keep his legislative seat, became the latest leader to lose his grip on power in a state government marred by corruption. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver stepped down from his leadership position early this year.

Skelos is fighting charges he used his position to extort payments for his son, Adam Skelos, who is also charged in the case. Both men say they are innocent.

The resignation comes after Democrats vowed to force a vote on Skelos’ ouster. Skelos held onto power for a week following his arrest, but his support among the Senate’s Republican majority steadily eroded.

Flanagan emerged as the new leader after a three-hour closed-door meeting of Senate Republicans. Sen. John DeFrancisco, who had also contended for the top position, was at Flanagan’s side as he announced his victory.

“We come out of this unified,” said Flanagan, 54, a 29-year legislative veteran who had led the Senate education committee. “There is a lot of work that needs to get finished.”

The Senate elected Flanagan with a show of 32 hands: all 31 Republicans present and Democrat Simcha Felder, of Brooklyn, who sits with them. It was the narrowest majority in the 63-seat chamber.

The 24-member Democratic Conference symbolically nominated Democratic Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. That was defeated by A voice vote, as was the nomination for Sen. Jeff Klein, head of the Independent Democratic Conference.

Just before the vote, Flanagan shook hands with DeFrancisco and hugged Skelos.

Seven top state lawmakers have stepped down in the past six years because of criminal charges or scandal. In January, Silver was charged with accepting nearly $4 million in payoffs. Silver is keeping his Assembly seat and has pleaded not guilty.

Skelos, 67, was first elected to the Senate in 1984. He said Monday that he decided to step down to avoid distracting the Senate — and because a photographer last week entered his son’s backyard, causing his 2-year-old grandson to fall and split his lip.

“I said, ‘You know what, it’s not worth it,'” Skelos said.

Authorities said the legislative veteran traded his influence for more than $200,000 in payments to his son from major real estate development firm and an environmental technology company. The money was paid to Adam Skelos, authorities said, with the expectation that Dean Skelos would use his position to support the companies’ interests before the state.

The charges had created a significant disruption as lawmakers work toward adjournment next month. Several significant items remain on the agenda, including the renewal of the laws governing rent regulations and mayoral control of schools in New York City and a tax credit for real estate developers.

Flanagan is a member of the Long Island Nine, the all-Republican Senate delegation from Suffolk and Nassau counties. Upstate senators had initially backed DeFrancisco, of Syracuse, before going over to Flanagan. The move angered some upstate conservatives.

“Upstate betrayed,” tweeted Republican Assemblyman Bill Nojay, whose district lies south of Rochester.

After the vote, Flanagan told the Senate he was mindful of the state’s geographic rivalries, saying there were “regional differences that need to be respected.”

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Associated Press writer Michael Virtanen contributed to this report.

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