Longtime New York State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno died today.
Some of my most interesting times as a reporter happened when I was the only journalist on the scene.
As a radio guy without a camera, I think it puts a lot of newsmakers at ease— or maybe it makes them feel like they’re at an advantage.
Anyway, I was at an event to ask Joe Bruno about state budget negotiations as headed by Albany’s long-infamous “three men in a room,” where the governor, the Assembly Speaker, and the Senate Majority Leader would swap and balance their special interests to make sure the budget would have the votes to pass for the governor’s signature.
Bruno was warm and overly friendly— and entirely evasive. We both played the game. I likely had at least two more stops that night and it was clear I wasn’t going to win a Pulitzer for the story that would result from the interview. It would probably just end up as a couple of quick sound bites for the morning show.
My last question was something like, so what is it like being one of the three men in the room?
With the same overly friendly approach, he said that three men in a room was a myth, not how it actually worked, etc, etc… it was a sound bite he’d been well-practiced at giving for more than a decade.
I thanked him and stopped my recorder.
“There’s no such thing as ‘three men in a room,’” he said, with calculated seriousness and determination in his eyes that hadn’t been there during the interview.
Then a gleam grew from that cold look and a faint smile appeared at the corners of his lips, but the way he straightened his spine at the same time gave more of a sinister vibe than a warm one.
He made sure our eyes were locked when he said, “but it’s great being one of those three men,” keeping that gaze long enough to intimidate but short enough to claim otherwise.
He was not only a tough old-time politician, but he was also a boxer— a good one.
I met a little of both that day.