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The Dean of the Senate

Binyamin Rose, Rockville Center, NY

There are no shortcuts when it comes to climbing ladders, whether they are painter’s ladders or political ones. Dean Skelos has scaled both types — rung by rung — en route to his present position as New York state senate majority leader. In an exclusive interview in his district office in Rockville Centre, Long Island, Senator Skelos made it clear that he wouldn’t have had it any other way

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


dean of senate A grandson of Greek immigrants, Dean Skelos’s first foray into politics came when he handed out Republican Party campaign literature at train stations and knocked on doors to help party candidates win votes, and elections.

“I would do all that type of legwork and after a while people would say, ‘That Dean Skelos — he’s a good guy.’ ”

Perhaps because he earned his first political stripes at train stations, it was only fitting that our conversation took place in his district office directly across from the Long Island Railroad station in Rockville Centre.

Senator Skelos’s main office is located in New York’s capital, Albany, where he serves as state senate majority leader. It is a both a position of power — as it comes with the responsibility for maneuvering legislation through the state’s upper chamber and enforcing party discipline — and a position of honor, since the majority leader is elected by his senate peers.

Albany may be home away from home, but Rockville Centre has been home to the Skelos family for the better part of the last century. His office at 55 Front Street gives Senator Skelos a chance to meet with constituents in a quiet and laid-back setting.

The office itself is unimposing. Built in 1890, the two-story red brick building with white-framed windows is leased to a mix of white- and blue-collar businesses. It is home to other state offices, law offices, a real estate appraiser, and a masonry and stonework company. An appropriate blend, a day after the Republican Skelos had thrown his support behind Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo’s broad job-creation program.

The New York Times has referred to Senator Skelos as a conscientious and detail-oriented lawmaker with immense charm; an inside operator who is guarded, perceptive and relentlessly strategic.

Those traits emerge during our conversation as well. The authority that goes along with his position comes across naturally, and his charm is not forced. He answers policy questions directly, and with answers that hold up well to scrutiny even after follow-up fact-checking.

Jewish organizations would echo the positive sentiments. A frequent guest of honor at Jewish functions statewide, he has built and maintained a long track record of support for legislation of importance to the Jewish community during his 28 years in the state senate.

Senator Skelos was instrumental in the 2011 extension of the state’s Tuition Assistance Program that will grant funding to rabbinical students. He supported a budget compromise in December that ended an onerous payroll tax levied to finance subways that was costing yeshivos dearly. He also was a force behind the recent redistricting that carves a new senate district out of the predominantly Orthodox Boro Park, Midwood, and Flatbush neighborhoods. While Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, is unlikely to sign off on the new district without modifications, the effort represents an important victory for both Senator Skelos and the Orthodox community.

 

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