In 2015, two up-and-coming lawmakers were elevated to the state Legislature’s top posts. In February, Carl Heastie was elected to replace Sheldon Silver as Assembly speaker after federal prosecutors charged Silver with corruption. In May, state Senate Republicans installed John Flanagan as Senate majority leader to replace Dean Skelos, who stepped aside while facing his own federal corruption charges. Flanagan and Heastie have both performed capably, helping their conferences move past the scandals. But unlike governors, who come into office at the height of their powers, it takes years for legislative leaders to earn the trust of rank-and-file lawmakers and master the art of negotiating.
“There’s a difference between consolidating power, which can happen right away by simply putting together a winning coalition, and actually cementing it, which involves earning and reaffirming loyalties by delivering legislation and money that individual members need – and of course protecting them if they should face a close election, particularly a primary,” Lawrence Levy, the executive dean of Hofstra University’s National Center for Suburban Studies, told City & State in 2015.
Last year, however, Flanagan failed to protect enough state Senate Republicans, cutting short his time as majority leader. In this week’s cover story, we recount the rise and fall of John Flanagan – and explore whether, after losing so many seats in 2018, he has a viable pathway back to power.