BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Mrs. Marylou Whitney
William P. Dake
Marcia J. White
President & Executive Director
E. Stewart Jones, Jr
Edward J. Lewi
Abraham M. Lackman
Matthew Bender IV
Meyer S. Frucher
John J. Gilbert III
George R. Hearst III
Daniel J. Hogarty, Jr
I. Norman Massry
Donald J. McCormack
Eleanor K. Mullaney
John J. Nigro
A. John Popp, M.D
Susan Phillips Read
Arthur J. Roth
Bruno: 'I live life a day at a time'
Fundraiser draws loyalists of convicted former state senator; protest outside
By JAMES M. ODATO AND BRENDAN J. LYONS, Staff writers
Click byline for more stories by writer.
First published: Wednesday, January 20, 2010
COLONIE -- Roughly 200 supporters, including bankers, lobbyists and area business leaders, turned out for a fundraiser Tuesday evening for Joseph L. Bruno, the former state Senate majority leader convicted last month of felony corruption charges.
Bruno arrived at the Desmond Hotel near the Albany International Airport just before 6 p.m. flanked by attorneys E. Stewart Jones of Troy and Stephen Coffey of Albany.
"The system is what it is," said Bruno, who faces possibly multiple years in prison at his sentencing, scheduled for March 26. ""I lived within the system. I thought I was getting the proper advice. I live life a day at a time. I have faith in the Lord … I'm not projecting too far out."
John Nigro, a commercial real estate developer who is also a state Legislative Ethics Committee member, joined in organizing the event.
Among the notable attendees were banker Daniel J. Hogarty Jr.; Price Chopper President Neil Golub, who like some others, entered through a side door; lobbyists James Crane and James Featherstonhaugh, who was the first witness called by the government at Bruno's trial; lobbyist David Dudley, a former Rensselaer County Republican chairman and former Senate counsel to Bruno; Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola; and ex- state Sen. Mike Hoblock.
Also present were: Robert Mujica, a Senate budget specialist; former Senate counsel Michael Avella; Abe Lackman, an ex-state Senate finance secretary under Bruno; state Senate GOP spokesman John McArdle; ex-Senate secretary Steve Boggess and Jack Casey, a Senate lawyer.
"He's a lifelong friend," Merola said.
Frank MacKay, state chairman for the Independence Party of America, which has endorsed Bruno over the years, said he drove up from Suffolk County because Bruno "is a friend forever."
Jerry Bilinski, a Columbia County veterinarian and Bruno friend, also attended. Bilinski owned and bred horses with Bruno. Those dealings were the subject of a portion of the indictment against Bruno, whose conviction included one count related to his horse breeding interests.
There were also several employees of CMA Consulting Services, which cut ties to Bruno, who was CEO, after his conviction last month on two counts of theft of honest services mail fraud.
James Barba, the head of Albany Medical Center, attended.
A.J. Sperrazza Jr., chairman and CEO of a Troy-based company that makes bearings, said he attended because Bruno has been a great leader who has done a lot for the community and upstate.
"I recognize astuteness and getting to the point and accomplishing something," Sperrazza said. "The man has gotten a lot done for people in this state."
The fundraiser's invitation indicated the price to attend the short cocktail reception ranged from $250 to $1,000. The event took place in a courtyard conference room inside the hotel and many guests left quickly after Bruno made a few remarks to the crowd.
Security at the hotel was tight and private hotel security officers closed the doors to the spacious conference room when Bruno addressed the crowd. Organizers declined to allow reporters inside the conference room.
MacKay, who heard the remarks, said Bruno joked "people usually like to be introduced … this is where everyone asks me to not introduce them."
Outside, 16 protesters stood in the rain at the edge of the hotel parking lot holding signs and banners that said: "Felon Joe Fundraiser," "Bribes Accepted," and "Money Out Of Politics."
The protesters were comprised of an informal coalition, said organizer Joseph Seeman, from groups such as Citizen Action, MoveOn.org, Tea Party Patriots and the Green Party.
Town police officers monitored the protesters without incident.
Bruno, who has received financial help from the community since being indicted on eight federal felony charges a year ago, told reporters gathered outside that he did not want to discuss his personal life. He said the event was organized by others and that he was told legislators were not invited.
Bruno declined to discuss the role of Nigro, whose post-conviction support of Bruno has received criticism by some government watchdog groups due to his role as a member of the Legislative ethics panel. Nigro testified for the defense at Bruno's trial as a character witness for the former senator.
Jones, who is part of a group called "Lawyers for Bruno" that formed last year, characterized Bruno as a decent man.
"This is not as much about the senator … this was to tell him how much we care about the senator," Jones said. "In the history of our region no one has had more impact on this region as Sen. Bruno. … Not since Gov. Rockefeller … has anybody come into this region and impacted it as much as Sen. Bruno. We could be another Detroit if not for this man."
Coffey said Bruno is a decent man who has treated people with respect. He added Bruno has endured intense pressure, public ridicule and depression from the ordeal.
A guest who attended the event said not everyone in attendance was required to pay. Some had contributed earlier to Bruno and were invited to Tuesday's event.
Bruno did not testify at his trial. He was convicted of corruption charges that alleged he used his political muscle to secretly enrich himself during a 14-year reign as majority leader.
Bruno's campaign funds, which once topped $1.5 million, were drained to pay for his trial costs. His attorneys said they will appeal the conviction.
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