‘Uncle’ Joe Bruno, Senate leader and champion of upstate, dies at 91

Photo courtesy of the New York State Senate
Senator Joe Bruno, left, congratulates Sen. Dean Skelos, right, upon his swearing in as Senate majority leader on April 1, 2009.

Joseph L. Bruno, the former New York State Senate majority leader and champion for the Capital Region, has died at 91. Bruno not only served as a state senator, he also served in the Army as an infantry sergeant in the Korean War, and was a prominent local businessman.

“When I served as the Assembly Minority Leader and he was Senate Majority Leader, I saw, firsthand, what a tenacious fighter he was for his district, the members of his conference, and for our state as a whole,” Senator Jim Tedisco said on Wednesday. “My deepest condolences and prayers go out to Senator Bruno’s family and friends. May he rest in peace.”

Numerous Capital Region buildings, parks and projects are named for the senator who became affectionately known as “Uncle Joe,” including the Joseph L. Bruno Stadium in Troy, home of the Tri-City Valley Cats, a minor league baseball team.

The son of immigrants, Bruno grew up in Depression-era Glens Falls, New York, making ends meet by selling ice off a truck, including during his years as a college student at Skidmore College.

He served in the United States Army in Korea, and as the leader of the Senate Republicans in New York, joining Gov. George E. Pataki and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver as the powerful “three men in a room.”

“There aren’t adequate words to encapsulate Senator Bruno’s life and legacy, but simply put, he was a giant,” said state GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy. “He represented all of the qualities you could ask for in a leader: charm, smarts, toughness and an unabiding passion for getting things done–not just on behalf of the people in his district, but for all New Yorkers.

Bruno’s first taste of politics came when he joined the Young Republicans in 1966. He was asked to be part of Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s re-election campaign team and served on the Governor’s campaign staff in 1966.

Bruno worked as special assistant to Speaker of the Assembly Perry B. Duryea (1969-1975), President of the New York State Association of Young Republicans (1968-1969), Chairman of the Rensselaer County Republican Committee (1974-1977), Member of the New York State Senate (1977-2008), and Majority Leader of the New York State Senate (1994-2008).

Upon retiring from the New York State Senate, Bruno worked as a longtime consultant to CMA Consulting Services headquartered in Latham, NY.

“The Capital Region lost a great friend and tremendous benefactor last night,” said Kris Thompson, Bruno’s former press secretary. “Joe Bruno brought economic development and opportunity to an area in need. He worked tirelessly on behalf of his constituents not only in his district, but throughout the state. His Hollywood looks, disarming personality and funny wit made him a friend to his colleagues on both sides of the aisle, as well as his constituents.

“People loved being around him.”

Bruno was first elected to the New York State Senate in 1976 and he ultimately became the first businessman to lead the New York State Senate as the Majority Leader. During his tenure with the Senate, he was instrumental in bringing major economic development projects to the Capital Region including Southwest Airlines, Jet Blue Airways, Global Foundries and Nanotech. In addition, he brought the farm team for the Houston Astros, “the Valley Cats,” to the region and the stadium was affectionately named “The Joe” after him.

“He was a stalwart advocate for upstate and always stood up for the ‘little guy,’” said Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County Executive and former state assemblyman. “As a very young elected official some years ago, I remember meeting Senate Leader Bruno for the first time. I was immediately drawn to his charismatic energy and larger than life personality.

“Over the years of my service, I was always taken by his kindness, generosity of time, and willingness to talk to even this young Assembly Minority Member. There have been very few public servants with more ferocity and passion than Senator Bruno and I suspect we will not see another like him for a long time.”

Photo courtesy of the Albany International Airport

According to the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities in New York, “Under his leadership, New York State enacted the College Savings Program, which encourages saving for college. [And he] established the College Bound program, which enhanced the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) maximum award to $5,000 and made tuition payments tax deductible.”

He also helped launch Ge*NY*sis, a biotechnology program in New York which created thousands of new jobs and gained more than $ 1billion in federal and private investments, according to Senator Bruno’s website.

Over his time in the state Senate, according to Siena College, Senator Bruno’s “accomplishments have assisted in creating over 360,000 new jobs throughout the Empire State.”

“Few lawmakers have accomplished as much as Sen. Bruno achieved during his time in Albany. We have lost a true giant in state government, whose wisdom and tenacity will be greatly missed and unlikely to be seen again,” Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay said.

“Senator Bruno was a leader who served New Yorkers well,” said Conservative Party Chairman Gerard Kassar. “He understood the problems that New Yorkers faced in business and everyday life. His passion for doing what was best for New Yorkers was well known as was his passion for getting things done right.

“Senator Bruno was the same person when meeting with constituents or meeting with national leaders, a gentleman who used all the skills he learned through life, as a veteran of the Korean War, as a boxer, as a successful businessman and as your next-door neighbor, to help make the world a better place.”

His political stance was staunchly conservative. In 1995, when he was serving as State Senate Majority Leader, he supported the reinstatement of the death penalty in New York. However, this ruling was later deemed unconstitutional, and the death penalty was later overturned in 2004.

Senator Bruno’s support for gay marriage changed and evolved over time. While in the Senate, he opposed bills to legalize gay marriage. Yet in 2002 he softened his position and got the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA) through the Senate. But, he flipped his position in 2007 when the governor wanted to recognize gay marriages performed outside of New York state. Later in 2009, after he had left the state Senate, he reversed his stance again and stated publicly that he supported same-sex marriage.

His political career was not without its controversies; he stepped down from the state Senate before being indicted and convicted on honest services fraud in 2009. These charges were later overturned, but more legal trouble followed him in the years to come.

In 2012, following the United States v. Skilling Supreme Court case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued an opinion vacating Bruno’s conviction and authorizing a retrial, as requested by the United States. Bruno was indicted and charged with carrying out a plan to defraud New York State and its citizens, “of the right to his honest services through bribery and kickbacks by soliciting and accepting payments from an Albany businessman.”

Senator Bruno was later acquitted of these charges in 2014.

“He fought every single moment of his legendary life – fighting for his country in Korea, fighting boxers in the ring, fighting Democrats and Republicans alike if they stood between him and his community, and fighting with dignity and courage through the very end,” said Sen. Robert Ortt, the Senate Republican Conference leader.

“He was a rare, true giant for his community, for middle-class taxpayers, for upstate New York, and for the Republican Party. While our legislative careers did not overlap, he still served as a valuable teacher and confidant to me and so many others.”


Final Arrangements

To honor Senator Bruno’s life and his many accomplishments, the family will be celebrating a Funeral Mass at St. Pius X in Loudonville this Friday, October 9th at 1:00pm.  Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mass will be live streamed.  Joe’s friends and those wishing to celebrate his life are encouraged to watch in the Mass live on the St. Pius X website:


Or view the Mass one hour later on the St. Pius YouTube or Facebook pages:



In addition, the New York State Senate will be web-casting the Funeral Mass in a Hearing Room in the Legislative Office Building to be determined.

On the way to the funeral mass, Senator Bruno will make his final visit to “The Joe” for a circling of the field  that he loved to visit and looked forward to throwing out the first pitch of the season on many occasions.  MEDIA is welcome to the field for the one last trip around the bases. The arrival is expected to be about 12:15pm.

Upon conclusion of the 1 pm Mass, he will be driven past the New York State Capitol at about 3:15pm on the way to his final resting place at Oakwood Cemetery in Troy for a private burial service.

Anyone wishing to pay their respects are invited to greet the procession to honor him and his life as he visits “The Joe” and circles the Capitol. Approximate times are 12:15 PM at “The Joe” and between 3:00-3:30 PM at the Capitol after the Funeral Mass.

Funeral Arrangements in the care of John H. Clinton Funeral Home now located at Wynantskill Funeral Home. For online condolences please visit www.wynantskillfh.com

A vide video made by his son, Kenneth Bruno, can be viewed via the following link,