Retired state Senator Joe Bruno at a book signing at the Book House in Stuyvesant Plaza. (Photo by Jim Franco/TheSpot518)
ALBANY — “Keep Swinging” is not just the name of his new autobiography, it’s exactly what Joe Bruno has done his entire life and is still doing.
“Fortunately we were able to overcome a lot of adversity in my early life and a lot of difficulties and failures and able to accomplish a lot of things not many have done,” he said. “It’s a book about perseverance and of inspiration and to remind people to never stop swinging.”
Bruno was born in 1929, the year the Great Depression gripped the nation. His father was a coal miner and his mother suffered from a prolonged illness until she died after a botched gallbladder surgery. The family was so poor, they didn’t have hot water in their Glens Falls flat.
To help support the family, Bruno went to work. He delivered newspapers, baked goods, set bowling pins and answered phones for a cab company.
From those modest beginnings, Bruno went into the service—he served in Korea and became a Golden Gloves boxer—worked his way through Skidmore College, started a successful telecommunications company, got into politics and, in 1994, became majority leader of the state Senate. It was the first time anyone from the Capital District had led either chamber of the state Legislature since Ozzie Heck was speaker of the Assembly from 1937 until his death in 1959.
At the beginning of his tenure, Bruno teamed up with Gov. George Pataki, a fellow Republican and Sheldon Silver, speaker of the Assembly, was the odd man out of the infamous three men in a room. As the relationships evolved, though, Bruno and Silver, representing a separate and distinct branch of government, found themselves aligning against Pataki.
Bruno said if people read his book, they will get a glimpse into what transpired behind the closed door of the room where three men cut deals and decided how to spend billions of tax dollars. A practice often criticized because it seemingly left out the other 200-plus legislators
elected to at least participate in the process.
“I was one of the three men in a room,” Bruno said during a recent interview, “and what went on wasn’t always as it seemed.”
Throughout his tenure as one of the most powerful men in the state, he did bring home the proverbial bacon, particularly to Rensselaer County, which he still calls home.
He was a driving force behind expansion of the train station in Rensselaer, the airport in Colonie and the UAlbany Health and Science Campus in East Greenbush. In addition, he provided funding for a host of nonprofit and civic organizations, volunteer fire departments and little leagues and countless other organizations throughout the Capital District.
After Pataki, Eliot Spitzer was elected governor in a landslide and one of the self proclaimed steam roller’s early targets was the most powerful Republican in the state – Bruno. While the animosity was intense, and included Spitzer siccing the State Police on Bruno, the threat was short-lived as Spitzer was chased out of office after 14 months amidst a prostitution scandal.
Shortly after, however, word leaked that the FBI was investigating Bruno for potential corruption. In 2008, he stepped down as majority leader and left the Senate. A year later, he was indicted on eight charges revolving around the ambiguous theft of honest services statute. After he was convicted on two counts, the Supreme Court bounced the statute, his conviction was overturned and the feds opted to bring new charges.
A jury of his peers found him not guilty, and Bruno has made a point of holding the federal government accountable for what he has called nothing more than a witch hunt.
“I wanted to document what the federal government did to me and the way they did it,” Bruno said of his book. “Was it a smart thing for them to be doing when there are terrorists running all over and serial rapists running all over and here they are pursuing me for nine years and spending some $30 million.
“But I beat them and it’s because I never stop swinging. That’s what this amounts to … life I mean … never give up and never stop swinging.”