The New Dean of the Republican Senate Tries to Keep His Majority Safe, and Maybe Even Make It Grow

“This isn’t that hard to read,” said Democratic Senator Liz Krueger of the decision to suddenly revisit the long-standing interpretation of the state’s constitution. “This is Dean, who is the existing majority leader, not wanting to find himself in a 31-31 situation, where somebody calls for the new vote on majority leader and he might not have the 32 votes.”

Mr. Skelos argued for it as a matter of legislative prerogative.

“The majority leader should be elected by the members, should not be elected by the executive branch,” he said. “That’s part of the separation of powers. Why should Andrew Cuomo or George Pataki, when he was governor, through their lieutenant governor make a determination that if 31-31 ever came who should be the leader of that chamber?”

Republicans passed the measure unanimously, and even added four extra votes-from the Independent Democratic Caucus.

No one is quite sure how long the IDC will play into Mr. Skelos’ hands, or for how long.

At a press conference on Monday afternoon-held in an upstairs corridor, while the Republicans and loyal Democrats were meeting in conference-the nascent effort still felt slapdash. A laminated state seal slid a few inches down the podium, and twice the floodlights and microphone cut out.

During the question-and-answer session, the group agreed with Mr. Skelos on the question of the lieutenant governor, but also gently pressed him on ethics reform.

“Clearly, one of the things the IDC is committed to that’s part of our platform is ethics reform,” said the group’s leader, Senator Jeff Klein. “We need a strong ethics law and I’m hopeful that Senator Skelos, the governor, as well as speaker Sheldon Silver can agree on something and have that passed quickly.”

Mr. Klein rejected the notion that the separatist Democrats were currying favor with the other side’s majority leader, but some of their colleagues see it more cynically.

Mr. Skelos riled the Democrat conference, and provoked charges of racism, when he rearranged the seating on the minority side to accommodate the four rogue Democrats, and gave them plum office assignments at the expense of some of their more senior Democratic colleagues.

The Independent Democrats also got committee chairs, which come with power, and a stipend.

“The others never asked,” Mr. Skelos explained. And if they did?

“Now I’ve filled up all the committees. But they never asked. This group asked,” he said.

“I was told of their intentions after they had made up their minds,” Mr. Skelos explained. “Certainly as the leader, it’s my responsibility to make sure they’re being treated fairly in terms of resources and staffing and legislation, and I intend to continue to do that.”

But the trickiest part of Mr. Skelos’ job will be redistricting.