Joseph Bruno’s long reign is coming to an end.
The Senate majority leader, a Republican from the Rensselaer County town of Brunswick, announced Monday that he will not seek re-election this year. He was first elected to the Senate in 1976, and has been majority leader, one of the three people who run New York state government, since January 1995. As Senate leader, he directed massive aid to the Capital Region. He was the key player behind many local projects, including the redevelopment of Albany International Airport (which is outside his district) and the Rensselaer train station, and creation of the Luther Forest Technology Park in Saratoga County.
Assemblyman Roy McDonald, R-Saratoga, cited those projects along with Bruno’s rebuilding of Hudson Valley Community College, and efforts to redevelop the city of Troy, where McDonald was born and raised. When he was Wilton supervisor, McDonald recalled, Bruno helped him locate the Ace and Target warehouse distribution centers on Ballard Road. The assemblyman said Bruno has had a more positive impact on the region than anyone else over the past 32 years, and local residents are lucky that “He loved the same area he came from.”
Bruno grew up poor on the east side of Glens Falls and ran a telecommunications company before going into politics.
McDonald himself is widely seen as a leading contender to succeed Bruno as the senator representing the 43rd Senate District. The district encompasses all of Rensselaer County and eastern Saratoga County, including most of Saratoga Springs.
“I’m very interested” in running for the Senate, McDonald said.
No other Republican had been running because Bruno himself had allowed GOP committee members to circulate petitions for him, which appeared to indicate he was running for re-election. Petitions must be filed with the Board of Elections between July 7 and 10, which gives any other candidate the opportunity to run, as McDonald said he intends to do.
Another Republican, Rensselaer County Executive Kathy Jimino, declined to say if she will run for the Senate seat. She said she preferred to focus on Bruno’s accomplishments, citing tax cuts, along with support for education, health care and high technology, which helped make this “a good place to raise a family.”
Saratoga County Republican chairman John “Jasper” Nolan said he was unclear how the process would work. If Bruno files his petitions, Nolan said, it could come down to the committee to fill vacancies listed on those petitions to pick a new candidate. Nolan serves on that committee.
However, Nolan acknowledged that other Republicans could file petitions by July 10.
Brian Premo, a Brunswick attorney, is the Democratic candidate for the Senate seat endorsed by the Saratoga and Rensselaer county committees. Saratoga County Chairman Larry Bulman said he intends to keep supporting Premo, although he acknowledged it is possible other Democrats will now seek to run with Bruno out of the race.
Bruno, who keeps horses on a small farm where he lives, has Saratoga Race Course in his district. He has been the key figure on racing issues in state government.
Bruno’s wife of 57 years, Barbara (known as Bobbi), died in January.
Bruno himself, a boxer in his youth, has long seemed more vigorous than many people decades younger. His sometimes folksy manner covers a sharp mind commanding a usually sure grasp of legislative detail.
Bruno, 79, has been under investigation since 2006 by the FBI, in an inquiry linked to his work as a private business consultant. Bruno does not reveal how much money he makes as a consultant. Nor does Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, reveal how much money he makes from a law firm he is affiliated with.
Bruno has also seen his majority reduced to one seat as Democrats have been increasingly successful in New York electoral politics. Bruno, along with former Gov. George Pataki, led the Republicans leftward over the years, developing close ties with labor unions. Democrats are making a push to take over the Senate in this year’s election.
Reporters waited outside Bruno’s office for more than hour Monday evening, but he did not emerge. Gov. David Paterson did, and said: “He’s a class act. He’s a wonderful person.”
Earlier Monday, Bruno, Paterson and Silver held a news conference to announce agreements on nine bills, including brownfields reform, as the legislative session neared its end.
Bruno issued a statement saying: “Politics is a tough ballgame. Tougher now than it has ever been. But after 32 years of many successes and a few failures, I know now more than ever, and I can say that with comfort and confidence, there is no calling greater than that of public service. There have been few more rewarding experiences in my life. But, timing in life is everything.”
His remark about timing echoed comments he made a few weeks ago when asked if he was running for re-election, and he declined to answer the question.
The majority-party legislative leaders commonly use their positions to benefit their districts, and the next Senate majority leader is unlikely to be from the Capital Region. The leading Republican contenders are Dean Skelos of Rockville Centre and Thomas Libous of Binghamton. The Senate Democratic leader, Malcolm Smith, is from Queens.
Bruno ousted the prior Senate leader, Ralph Marino, with the support of Pataki, after the latter’s election as governor in 1994. Last year, he was widely seen as having outmaneuvered former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who sought to embarrass him for his use of state aircraft but wound up himself being damaged in the Troopergate scandal.
Silver issued a statement saying: “Over the course of our countless discussions, negotiations and debates, Senator Bruno has been the model of dignity and fortitude, wisdom and dedication.
“Although we experienced our share of disagreements, I always recognized and appreciated the senator’s unwavering commitment to public service.”
“Politics aside, it has also been my privilege to know Senator Bruno as a friend. I have always admired and appreciated his warmth, his generosity and his love of family. I will miss our daily conversations almost as much as I will miss the golf lessons I have given him each summer.
“I know that I speak for all of the members of the Assembly when I say that Senator Bruno’s no-nonsense manner and spontaneous wit will certainly be missed in the Capitol.”
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