Last week was certainly the political week that was.
First, Barack Obama took the oath of office and we took back the country. Then, the Capital District brought out its best and the first U.S. Senator from upstate since the 1970's when New York State Governor, David Paterson, appointed two-term democratic Congresswoman, Kirsten Gillibrand, to Hillary Clinton's Senate seat. And, then as if that wasn't enough, former republican State Senate Majority Leader, Joe Bruno, was indicted for reaping millions from companies that did business with the state.
Bruno's indictment is long in coming. After a three year federal investigation, the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District, Andrew T. Baxter, got in front of the media and told them that Bruno "exploited his office by concealing the nature and the source of substantial payments that he received from parties that benefited from his official actions"
When all was said and done, the Feds said Bruno received more than $3 million over a 13-year period from a handful of companies seeking state contracts and grants, as well as contracts to manage pension fund investments for at least 16 labor unions. Indignant to the last, Bruno vowed to fight the charges with his family by his side.
Perhaps he should reconsider which family members he picks. His daughter, Susan, is being questioned about the questionable resume she used to get what many consider a no-show job at the Research Foundation of the State University of New York. His son, Kenny, who disgraced the office of Rensselaer County District Attorney only to leave it to become a high paid lobbyist emerged as a focus of the federal investigation against his father because of he emerged, as the New York Times said "as a nexus between his father and a wealthy businessman."
His family woes aside, when Joe shakes folks down it doesn't always mean money exchanges hands. In order for the then-Republican controlled State Senate to let New York's Statewide Omnibus Non-Discrimination Act, what we've come to call SONDA, come to a floor for a vote, Bruno exacted a political price from the Empire State Pride Agenda.
It was the fall of 2002. Lesbian and gay ally H. Carl McCall was running a good campaign against sitting New York State Governor George Pataki. While Pataki was on record supporting SONDA, wouldn't let it come to a vote in the Senate, where it was sure to pass, unless the Pride Agenda endorsed Pataki. Bruno shook down the New York gay community's leading political organization in order to undermine McCall's campaign. After waiting over thirty years to get the bill passed, the Pride Agenda's leadership, then Matt Foreman, acquiesced.
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I was as disgusted then as I am now recounting the story. As the founding chair of the Pride Agenda, I received scores of irate phone calls. I didn't blame people for being angry. I was too. New York's LGBT community knew who our real friend and ally was. We stood by McCall but he went on to lose the race. The only solace I had was being able to sit on the floor of the Senate on December 17th, 2002--the day SONDA passed.
While Joe Bruno rattles his saber, another prominent politico from the other side of the Hudson River is rising in prominence. Kirsten Gillibrand, a two-term Congresswoman representing the 20th congressional district, won the sweepstakes on who was to replace Hillary Clinton as our junior U.S. Senator.
Faster than a New York minute, Gillibrand went from a member of Congress who did not support marriage equality to a U.S. Senate-designee who fully supported marriage equality. Perhaps it was a call from the Pride Agenda's Alan Van Capelle or perhaps it was the recognition that as U.S. Senator Gillibrand had to broaden her perspective because she was representing a much wider constituency than that of her rural, mostly Republican district. Whatever the reason, she changed her tune for the better.
She's even listed on equalitygiving.org's "Yes I Do" webpage of Senators and Members of Congress who support marriage equality. I was disappointed, however, that my new Congressman, Paul Tonko, who voted yes as an Assemblyman for marriage equality, isn't listed on the page yet.
Last week certainly was a political week for the record books. Barack Obama is now our president. Kirsten Gillibrand is now New York's junior Senator. And, Joe Bruno? He's on his way to becoming a footnote in New York's political history.
Missed the last Proudly Out? Read it here.