On his final day in office, Sen. Joseph L. Bruno woke early, exercised, and then took a farewell tour of projects that were built or improved by money he brought to the district he has represented for decades.
The bus tour began and ended at the state Capitol, and Bruno, who is ending a 32-year career in the Senate, was nostalgic at times but was also upbeat for a new challenge and seemed relieved his public career was ending.
“This is supposed to be fun. Anyone here who doesn’t make it fun is going out the window,” joked Bruno to a throng of reporters and photographers on the bus.
A former Army regimental boxing champion, the 79-year-old Bruno chatted with reporters as the bus made stops at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, the Rensselaer Tech Park, Albany Nanotech, Albany International Airport and the Rensselaer Amtrak Station. He helped bring millions in state funding for projects at those sites.
Bruno said that after a disastrous relationship with former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, it’s refreshing to know the state is in good hands with Gov. David Paterson.
Paterson called Bruno during the tour and was put on a speaker phone on the bus so everyone could hear the conversation between the two men, who say they have become friends. They served for years in the Senate, Bruno as a Republican and Paterson as Democratic minority leader.
Bruno told Paterson he was saying nice things about him compared to that “previous piece of work,” referring to Spitzer. Paterson was heard laughing.
Paterson took a moment to praise Bruno, saying: “I know today is your last day. And I can’t think of a person I had more enjoyment working with, got more done with, especially at times when we were in adversarial situations. I would like to feel that we showed Albany that the only way this state is going to get out of a lot of the problems we have is better decorum on the part of its leadership.”
Paterson said he thought the two made a good team and developed a friendship.
Paterson said, “Pulling the IBM deal together this week was a fitting crescendo to everything you have done.”
IBM announced on Tuesday that it will invest $1.5 billion in three projects in upstate New York and the state will give the company $140 million in economic development grants.
In the past few weeks, Bruno has made a string of economic development announcements, including that IBM will invest $375 million at UAlbany’s NanoCollege. He also announced $6 million for Troy’s waterfront and $6 million for the Saratoga Springs City Center.
On Monday, the state will be at a loss because Bruno is not there, said Paterson, but it will provide an opportunity for someone else to step in.
The governor and his family visited Bruno on July 4 at the senator’s Brunswick farm, and Bruno joked that “everyone remembered how much Paterson ate.”
“Thank you for your friendship,” Bruno said to the governor. “I’m going to test you next week. I’m going to call and see if you remember who Joe Bruno is, governor.”
Bruno said that Paterson cares about people and is the right person to be governor. “He’s a real person. That’s what you need in high places.”
Bruno, who represents Rensselaer County and most of Saratoga County, stunned many in the Capitol when he announced June 23 that he would not seek re-election.
He said his decision to step down is “all about timing” and he has repeatedly denied that it has anything to do with a federal investigation into his outside business interests.
Senate Republicans elected Dean G. Skelos of Long Island as the new majority leader. Bruno called Skelos “a pro.”
He said the most important part of his political career is the people he has worked with and met. Mayor Jerry Jennings met up with him before the tour and gave him a rug that pictured landmarks in Albany, and Bruno said he was genuinely touched.
The bus tour lasted several hours on a hot summer afternoon, and Bruno, who wore khakis and a polo shirt, chatted casually about his 32 years in the Senate.
Assemblyman Roy McDonald, R-Saratoga, whom Bruno has endorsed to succeed him, sat by Bruno at the front of the bus.
The bus pulled into the stadium at Hudson Valley Community College — named “The Joe” after Bruno — and as he looked up at the banner with his name on it, he smiled. A small crowd applauded his arrival.
He signed a baseball for Clem Campana, the same ball that Bruno had signed years ago at the groundbreaking for the stadium.
“Next time I come here I’ll have to buy a ticket; they didn’t give me lifetime passes,” he said.
At the Rensselaer train station, he bought a family of three ice cream cones and drew a crowd.
“It’s emotional for me as I look around. It’s the last time I will be here as senator and my last time as a leader. Doors close and doors open,” he said.
Bruno has been credited with creating a $1.2 billion incentive package for Advanced Micro Devices to build a computer chip factor at Luther Forest in Saratoga County and now a new rail terminal in Mechanicville.
Bruno said the role of Senate majority leader will likely remain the same once he’s gone, and he thinks that’s a good thing. “There are negotiations. Everyone in the state benefits. You go to the [Albany International] Airport, everyone benefits. Take a look at what’s going on across the river, everyone benefits.”
There has been speculation that he will sign up to work with Kay Stafford, CEO of CMA Consulting Services in Latham.
Bruno said he has viable alternatives.
“I honestly do not have anything concluded. I really don’t. I have choices and preferences, and doing something in the private sector is one of my first choices.”
He said he’ll make a decision by Monday morning about his next job because he wants to get on with his life. “I’m not a good person to sit around and rest or anything.”
As the tour made its way around the region, Bruno spoke about his early dreams of being Senate majority leader and said that at one time he had wanted to be governor, but in politics “timing is everything and the timing just wasn’t right.”
Since his announcement, he’s been cleaning out his office filled with mementoes, and he said on Friday he lingered over a few and each one brought back a memory.
He said that tomorrow everyone will be calling him Joe.