Foss: Bruno’s legacy will live on

Categories: Sara Foss

Former Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno is gone. 

But he will never be forgotten. 

Not by those of us who live in the Capital Region and can still recall Bruno’s reign as one of the most powerful political players in New York. 

A swaggering, larger-than-life figure from the “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore” school of deal-making and clout, his leadership was a boon for his constituents, reshaping the local landscape in tangible and long-lasting ways.

His successful effort to lure the GlobalFoundries computer chip plant to Saratoga County might rank as his greatest accomplishment, but he can also be credited with getting the minor league ballpark at Hudson Valley Community College — known as “The Joe” — built and redeveloping Albany International Airport, which contains a bronze bust of the former Senate majority leader. 

There are reminders of Bruno almost everywhere you turn. 

I always think of him when I visit the Rensselaer train station, rebuilt and modernized with funding secured by Bruno. 

Most politicians toil away in relative anonymity. 

Not Joseph L. Bruno. 

During his time in office, he got stuff done, securing millions in state funding for projects both big and small. His legacy is tangible, something you can see and feel. 

It’s also impossible to separate it from the corruption that felled his contemporary, former Assembly Leader Sheldon Silver, and his successor, former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

Bruno was tried twice on corruption-related charges in federal court, with his 2009 conviction eventually overturned after a Supreme Court ruling narrowed the definition of honest services fraud, and his 2014 trial resulting in acquittal. 

Bruno’s trial exposed some of the uglier aspects of the Capitol’s inner workings, revealing, for example, that businessmen who met with the Senate majority leader later received state grants.

Illegal or not, that’s a problem — but Bruno didn’t see it that way. 

In fact, he seemed to revel in using his politics to reward friends and supporters, writing, in his 2016 memoir, “The funniest line of attack was when the three men were drawn and quartered for the alleged crime of doling out funds to help them and their allies, as if politicians should be above self-interest.” 

I wouldn’t say that politicians should be drawn or quartered, or that it’s realistic to expect them to be above self-interest — they are human beings, after all.

But the chummy, backroom wheeling and dealing that characterized Bruno’s style of politics ought to be frowned upon, and drummed out of state government.

To some extent, it has.

Bruno’s departure from state politics coincided with the Republican Party’s steady decline as a power in New York, and his brazen use of his political office to shower public money on his own backyard has fallen out of favor. Corruption hasn’t disappeared from state politics, but it might be harder to get away with. These days, being a regional rainmaker might come with more scrutiny. 

Bruno was, in many ways, one of the last – if not the last – of his kind. 

We will never see anyone quite like him again.

But his legacy? 

That will live on, for decades to come. 

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