- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - After a spate of corruption charges, convictions and two legislative leaders recently toppled by scandal, fixing Albany’s political machinery would seem a key priority for John Flanagan, the new leader of the state’s Senate.

But with only six weeks left in the legislative session, Flanagan will be busy addressing an already long agenda that includes renewing New York City’s rent regulations and a tax credit for real estate developers. Influence peddling around the real estate issues has been at the heart of federal investigations that have yielded the most high-profile charges.

“We have a lot of work to do before the end of session,” he told reporters Tuesday. “I would be surprised if there were further (ethics) changes before the end of the session, but that doesn’t mean the subject won’t come up.”

The Republican Suffolk County lawmaker has taken one step bound to please the ethics reformers who say there should be restrictions on lawmakers’ outside income: He voluntarily gave up his private law practice.

“I want to concentrate on this job,” said Flanagan, a 29-year legislative veteran.

Flanagan, 54, was picked Monday to lead the Senate after former Majority Leader Dean Skelos resigned in the wake of federal corruption charges.

Lawmakers are expected to take up several issues with big implications for New York City before they adjourn next month. One pertains to the city’s rent regulations that affect the leases of more than 2 million residents. Another governs a tax break for real estate developers that critics call unnecessary. The third gives New York’s mayor control of city schools. All three of those measures will expire in June if lawmakers don’t act.

Other items lawmakers are expected to debate before they adjourn include a minimum wage increase and the Dream Act, a proposal to extend financial aid to students in the country illegally. Senate Republicans oppose both measures, but Assembly Democrats are likely to keep pushing for them.

Flanagan will also have to contend with an upstate-downstate rivalry within the GOP, the Democrats who run the state Assembly and critics of Albany’s insider ways. Most powerful among those critics is U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who has called Albany a “cauldron of corruption” and whose office is prosecuting Skelos and former Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was arrested in January.

“People watch this in disgust,” said Fordham University political scientist Christina Greer. “They may not know the names of all the lawmakers, but they know the byproduct of Albany is a mess, filled with scandals.”

Skelos, who is keeping his legislative seat, is the sixth legislative leader to face criminal charges or scandal in Albany since 2008. Authorities arrested Skelos last week on charges he used his position to extort payments for his son, Adam Skelos, who is also charged. Both men say they are innocent.

The resignation came after Democrats vowed to seek a vote to remove Skelos as leader and as his support among Senate Republicans steadily eroded.

Authorities say Skelos extorted more than $200,000 in payments from a real estate development firm and an environmental technology company. The money was paid to Adam Skelos with the expectation that Dean Skelos would support the companies’ interests before the state, authorities say.

In January, Silver was charged with accepting nearly $4 million in payoffs. He is keeping his Assembly seat and has pleaded not guilty.

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