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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Justice Timeline

If you’re wondering why former state Senate majority leader Joseph Bruno is looking at jail time next week, and former Governor Eliot Spitzer is being celebrated this month at a New York City film festival, I can explain this reversal of fortune.

The origins of where former state Senator Bruno, a Republican, and former Governor Spitzer, a Democrat, stand today begins with the election of U.S. Senator Barack Obama as president of the United States. While all politics are supposedly local, the federal government can change things in a locality very quickly. To my mind, the changes atop the federal government’s executive branch have had a substantial impact on the fate of two former New York State political figures. Let’s go to the timeline.

President Obama was elected on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008. On Thursday, Nov. 6, 2008, Michael Garcia, the then-U.S. attorney in Manhattan and an appointee of President Bush, who now knew a Democratic president would name his successor effective January 2009, announced publicly that his office would bring no charges against the former governor.

“After a thorough investigation, this Office has uncovered no evidence of misuse of public or campaign funds [by former Governor Spitzer],” Mr. Garcia said, in a written statement. “In addition, we have determined that there is insufficient evidence to bring charges against Mr. Spitzer for any offense relating to the withdrawal of funds for, and his payments to, the Emperors Club V.I.P.”

Now, let’s turn our attention to former Senator Bruno who, like the former governor, had resigned his state office in 2008, and also spent the balance of that calendar year under federal investigation. With former Governor Spitzer in the clear, and President Obama having taken office on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009, Andrew Baxter, the acting U.S. attorney in Albany, announced on Friday, Jan. 23, 2009 an eight-count indictment against the former Senate majority leader. The thrust of the charges were that Bruno had wrongfully used his public office for personal financial gain, with prosecutors estimating Bruno had earned about $3 million in this manner dating back to the early 1990s. The negative publicity about Bruno in January 2009 gave an enormous boost to the state Senate’s Democrats in Albany, too, who had just won a majority in that chamber for the first time in 40-plus years. An aside: Baxter was subsequently appointed a U.S. magistrate judge, a federal post.

Following a 22-day jury trial, Bruno was convicted in December 2009 on two of those eight counts. The same jury acquitted the former senator on five of the charges, and was deadlocked on the final one. The 81-year-old Brunswick, New York Republican, who had represented the Albany suburbs in the state Senate since the 1970s, should spend the next eight years in prison, federal prosecutors recommended, in a Friday, April 23 memo to the judge who is scheduled to sentence Bruno on Thursday, May 6.

Now, some will argue the former governor’s conduct was a personal matter, and had no impact on his governmental responsibilities. I have one response: in the absence of a trial, how can you be so sure about that?

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: