De Blasio’s speed limit in the hands of his ‘friend’ Skelos

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Dean Skelos. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
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ALBANY—Dean Skelos could hardly hide his smirk as he threw cold water on a bill to let New York City lower its speed limit to 25 m.p.h., an authorization Mayor Bill de Blasio needs to implement the Vision Zero program to prevent traffic deaths.

“I don't know if it will be on the floor,” Skelos told reporters after a press conference. “That's one of the things that we will be discussing. I know how important it is to Mayor de Blasio and he's certainly one of my best friends.”

Unlike Michael Bloomberg, who was Skelos' most generous political benefactor, de Blasio has publicly committed to ousting Republicans from their perch in the state Senate leadership.

The fact that the speed limit bill is carried by Bronx senator Jeff Klein, the Republican-allied leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, doesn't seem to matter. Klein, in a statement, said the bill remains one of his “top priorities,” but his fellow Democrats in the Assembly are not convinced he can bring it to the floor. They are prepared to advance a measure sponsored by Assemblyman Danny O'Donnell instead. (Both bills have the necessary formal backing of city officials.)

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Skelos' sudden reluctance is one of many ripples through this legislative session emanating from the Working Families Party's political convention last month, when Governor Andrew Cuomo promised to help oust Republicans—he called them “ultracons”—in a deal de Blasio helped broker.

Cuomo has since walked back his rhetoric, though it basically scuttled hopes that Cuomo's major end-of-session priorities, like a system of public campaign finance.

De Blasio, though, has held firm, and agreed to headline a fund-raiser for Senate Democrats next month.

Paul Steely White, executive director of the group Transportation Alternatives, said Skelos' comments “seem to speak to the transactional nature of Albany politics” that he hoped the speed limit will would “transcend.”

“We're confident it will pass,” said White. “People upstate, downstate and on both sides of the aisle understand that speeding is the biggest killer on our streets and we need a lower speed limit for the densest pedestrian city in our country.”

Skelos, for his part, hardly denied his motives. He turned away from reporters after the sarcastic comment about his friendship, but not after Capital asked whether politics were influencing his decision.

“Noooo....” he replied.