Published in the New York Times, Tuesday, July 3, 2007
State-Financed Trips Weren’t Improper, Bruno Says
By DANNY HAKIM
ALBANY, July 2 — Joseph L. Bruno, the Senate majority leader, angrily denied on Monday suggestions that he had improperly used state aircraft and police escorts, saying he had been the subject of a number of death threats and needed protection.
His statements came as Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s administration called for a state review of the matter, marking a new low in the contentious relationship between the two men. The governor’s office forwarded documents relating to the flights to both the state attorney general and the Albany County district attorney on Monday.
The issue became public following a report over the weekend in The Times Union of Albany, which obtained documents indicating that Mr. Bruno took a series of taxpayer-financed helicopter flights to New York City in May that coincided with Republican fund-raisers. The State Police also drove Bruno to his scheduled events.
Mr. Bruno said he has always scheduled multiple events during his trips to the city, including state-related business, and was not doing anything that other state officials did not do. Mr. Bruno also said he used State Police transportation in part because he was the target of threats.
“They told me, the authorities, not to open mail at my home at times, not to open packages,” he said
He said a “deranged” man had been stopped outside of his office door once. “He was trying to get in, and when they asked him he said he was going to kill me,” he said. “So, you know, give me a break.”
The governor’s staff tried to undercut those claims by pointing out that no one had ever asked for a formal threat assessment to determine risks to Mr. Bruno, who has been Senate majority leader for more than a dozen years. Lt. Glenn Miner, a spokesman for the State Police, said a threat assessment would be made only if it was requested by Mr. Bruno or by the governor.
He also said he could not discuss specific security measures already being taken for Mr. Bruno.
Mr. Bruno said he was outraged that the governor’s staff members moved so swiftly to refer the matter to investigators, noting that Mr. Spitzer receives police protection and escorts during trips that involve events that can be considered political, including a recent series of speeches lambasting Senate Republicans.
The state’s Republican Party said it was seeking state records relating to the governor’s travel coinciding with fund-raising events.
Asked if his recent trips to New York were solely for fund-raising, Mr. Bruno said, “Of course not.”
“That would be just plain stupid,” he added. “It’s against the law, it would be criminal, it would be dumb, and it’s dumb for anybody stupid enough to allege that somebody would do that.”
Darren Dopp, the governor’s communications director, said the senator’s use of the helicopters was approved on the understanding that it was for “legislative business meetings,” adding that “we are forwarding documents regarding use of state aircraft to appropriate state authorities for review.”
Officials can be penalized under ethics rules or prosecuted under criminal statutes if they use state resources solely for political activity, but not if the trips mix politics and state business.
Mr. Bruno railed at the governor at length on Monday, calling him “an overgrown rich spoiled brat who has tantrums all over the place” and “too temperamental to be the chief executive of 19 million people.” He said the governor “does not understand that he is not a dictator, he is not a tyrant, he is not a king.” He also said the governor had done “practically nothing” to create jobs.
Mr. Bruno said Mr. Spitzer would “make a great salesman” because he has no capacity to hear people say no. And he said the Senate would be closely scrutinizing the governor’s nominee to head the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Dale Hemmerdinger, because he had held a fund-raiser for the governor.
“I grew up in the toughest part of Glens Falls, next to the boxcars, where kids would come up to you when you weighed 90 pounds and they weighed 120 and just punch you right in the mouth just because you were Italian, O.K., or just because you lived next to the boxcars, or just because they felt like it.”
“That’s how I grew up, O.K.?” he added. “So swing away.”
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- Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.