Martins’ support for Skelos in media spotlight

James Galloway

Former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos’ arrest dominated state headlines last week, but a contentious showdown between state Sen. Jack Martins, an outspoken Skelos supporter, and a Queens Democrat briefly stole the spotlight.

Martins (R-Mineola) was presiding over the Senate last Wednesday when Democrats staged a dramatic attempt to force a vote to oust Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), who faces federal corruption charges along with his son, Adam.

Martins denied the vote on procedural grounds — over the shouts of state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), whose microphone was eventually shut off.

During the heated exchange, Gianaris told Martins he “cannot single-handedly make up the rules of this Senate.”

Martins said the Democrats’ motion was incorrectly filed and called Gianaris “out of line.”

Then, in the midst of a resolution to honor a high-school basketball team, the Democrats walked out, in what the New York Times called “an oddity that might occur only in Albany.”

The remaining senators proceeded without them — and news outlets statewide ate it up.

Until Monday, when Republicans appointed Skelos’ reportedly handpicked successor, state Sen. John Flanagan (R-Suffolk), as the new majority leader, Martins had remained one of Skelos’ most vocal supporters.

Martins told the Daily News last week that Republicans should not move to replace Skelos because “I don’t think he’s let anybody down.”

And Martins put his name to statement signed by 16 state senators saying Skelos should remain in the top spot.

“We strongly believe that Senator Dean Skelos should remain on as majority leader of the New York State Senate,” the statement said. “He has the leadership we need to move the Senate forward so that we can continue to do the people’s work and finish out this year’s session in a productive manner.”

But just hours before the Flanagan vote, a group of sign-bearing constituents rallied outside Martins’ district office to denounce his continued support for Skelos, who they called corrupt.

“Jack Martins should be ashamed of his outspoken support of Dean Skelos.  Both on the Senate floor and in the press, he has been the number one defender of Skelos and his corrupt practices,” said Adam Haber, an organizer of the rally and Martins’ 2014 Democratic challenger.

Martins spokesman Chris Schneider referred to the rally as a “cheap political stunt[ ].”

Later Monday, however, Martins lined up behind Flanagan along with the rest of the Republicans following an hours-long closed-door conference meeting. After the vote, Martins issued his first public comment in support of a Skelos alternative.

“Earlier today, I joined with members of the Senate Republican Conference in electing Senator John Flanagan as the new Senate Majority Leader,” Martins said in the statement. “Having worked closely with Senator Flanagan since entering the Senate, I am certain he will do a great job for Long Island and New York, and I offer him my congratulations.”

Martins, along with all of Long Island’s senators, was subpoenaed in relation to the Skelos investigation.

Schneider said the senator complied with the subpoena and that Martins is not the subject of an investigation.

But at the core of the investigations into Skelos and former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) is a New Hyde Park-based real-estate giant whose reach extends into the coffers of dozens of elected officials across the state, including — but not limited to — Martins.

Prosecutors say Dean Skelos leveraged his position to lead a company identified in news reports as Glenwood Management Corporation to pay $20,000 to Adam Skelos for title insurance work he never performed and to secure Adam Skelos a $10,000-per month job at an environmental company in which Glenwood executives owned stakes.   

Leonard Litwin, Glenwood’s 100-year-old founder, is one of the state’s largest and most influential political donors to politicians on both sides of the isle. In 2013 alone, he donated more than $1 million, second highest in the state, according to the New York Pubic Interest Research Group.  

Using dozens of Limited Liability Companies to legally flout campaign contribution limits, Litwin directly or indirectly made at least 1,834 contributions worth $13.2 million between 2000 and 2014, according to figures compiled by the Gotham Gazette.

Martins received $45,000 in Litwin-affiliated contributions, but that was not unusual either on Long Island or in New York. Litwin contributed $110,000 to Skelos’ campaign and $59,000 to now-Rep. Kathleen Rice, along with dozens of other elected officials.

Between 2000 and 2014, Litwin donated $1.1 million to the New York State Senate Republican Campaign Committee and $1 million to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2014 re-election bid.

Litwin was by far the largest contributor to the campaigns of Cuomo, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. And Litwin was the driving force behind New York’s real estate PACs, including one that attacked Senate Democrats. (He also donated over $200,000 to the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee.)

“They are equal opportunity givers,” Susan Lerner, executive director of the good-government group Common Cause, told Capital New York about Litwin, adding “They have used the L.L.C. loophole for the benefit of the governor, and various committees and other legislators. I don’t believe there is anybody they don’t contribute to in some way.”

Schneider said Glenwood has “supported both Republicans and Democrats at all levels of government here on Long Island and throughout the state.”

Update: Following the publication of this story, a spokesman for Martins, Chris Schneider, submitted a statement in response to the protest outside the senator’s district office. Here is the statement in full:

“Six months after voters soundly rejected multi-millionaire commodities trader Adam Haber’s attempt to buy a state senate seat, he still proves himself to be a hypocrite. Haber and his fellow Democrats are the same ones who refused to call for their own County Legislator’s resignation even after he said he’d plead guilty to stealing more than $2 million. While they’re concentrating on cheap political stunts, Senator Martins remains focused on leading the fight to protect Long Island’s interests and ensure that progress continues on the issues important to Long Islanders.”

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