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New York Senate GOP Leader, Down 7 Members, Says He's Not Giving Up

Hans Pennink
Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan, R-Smithtown, listens as Senate members debate budget bills in the Senate Chamber at the Capitol in Albany in March.

The leader of the State Senate Republicans, who are in the minority in that chamber, says he’s not giving up on winning back seats in the Senate, even though seven GOP members have announced they are leaving or are seeking another office.

Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan, who ruled as the majority leader for several years until Republicans lost several seats in 2018, says he knows his party faces a big challenge.

“Are we in a tough position? Of course,” Flanagan said. “But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to be in there fighting and swinging.”

Flanagan spoke on a day when Joe Robach became the latest GOP member to say he will not seek reelection in 2020. Robach’s announcement comes just days after George Amedore of the Capital Region and Hudson Valley, Betty Little of the North Country, and Michael Ranzehofer of western New York all said they will be leaving office at the end of next year. Bob Antonacci of Syracuse won election to a judgeship last month, and will end his Senate career at the end of the month. In addition, two other western New York Senators, Rob Ortt and Chris Jacobs, are seeking to fill the congressional seat left open after with resignation of Chris Collins.

Flanagan says he intends to make the 2020 elections a referendum on the Democrats, and the policies they have enacted. He says that includes a congestion pricing plan for parts of Manhattan that Flanagan says amounts to a commuter tax, and criminal justice law changes that include ending most forms of cash bail.

“We have to aggressively recruit candidates,” said Flanagan who said he hopes to attract “good sitting elected officials who will jump in to run for elected office.”

He says Assemblyman Dan Stec of Queensbury will run for Senator Little’s seat.

Flanagan says he intends to run for reelection in 2020, and he hopes to remain as Republican leader. He says he spent many years in the Assembly, in the minority party, before being elected to the Senate, so he knows how to survive as part of the loyal opposition.

“I’ve been here 33 years, I’ve spent 19 of those 33 years in the minority,” said Flanagan. “I know what it means to fight and claw back and try to get things done.”

The Senate GOP leader says having President Donald Trump, who is a polarizing figure, at the top of the ticket in 2020 will help Republicans get elected in some districts, and hurt them in others.  

Flanagan was careful not to comment on the president or his policies, saying he prefers to focus on state government affairs instead.

Earlier in the week, the leader of the Senate Democrats, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, said she plans to increase her 40-seat majority to at least 43 in 2020.

“That is the floor, that’s not the ceiling,” Stewart-Cousins said. “I think we are ever closer to that and more.”

A spokesman for the Senate Democrats, Gary Ginsberg, commenting on Senator Flanagan’s remarks, said “every day we see another Republican senator abandon the sinking ship and announce their retirement.” Ginsberg said the GOP has no money, no candidates and no ideas.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.