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Joe Bruno Gets His, But Does It Matter?

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Joseph Bruno is 80 years old. Nobody but his friends and family cares whether he goes to jail.

What we want to know is whether the fact that the former Senate Majority Leader was convicted of federal corruption charges will make any difference in Albany.

For instance, will the rest of the legislature be so shocked by the idea that Bruno could go to jail for 20 years or more that the lawmakers will search their own souls and reform? Bruno, after all, was the former king of the hill, one of the "three men in a room" who, along with the governor and Assembly leader, made all the deals, and decisions, about how to run the state of New York. If he can go down for a term far beyond his possible lifespan, shouldn't that convince the rest of the lawmakers that it's time to straighten up and fly right?

Probably not. After all, over the last few years they've seen this before, on a slightly lower, but far more expansive scale. Clarence Norman Jr., the Assemblyman and former Brooklyn Democratic leader, was convicted of extortion and sentenced to three-to-nine. Guy Velella, the powerful Republican senator from the Bronx, went to jail for bribery and conspiracy.

Brian McLaughlin, the former Assemblyman and union leader, was convicted of racketeering and sentenced to ten years in the clink. And less exalted members of the Albany rank-and-file, like Senator Efrain Gonzalez (mail fraud), Assemblywoman Diane Gordon (accepting a bribe), Assemblyman Roger Green (petty larceny) and Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio (influence-peddling) have been convicted or copped a plea over the last few years. (This does not, of course, include Senator Hiram Monserrate, who was recently convicted of assaulting his girlfriend and sentenced to community service. )

The mere sight of Bruno being carted off to the clink -- although there will, of course, be appeals -- seems hardly likely to convince the rest of Albany that things have gone so terribly wrong that they need to change their ways.

Bruno was, after all, convinced of only two of the eight counts against him. The jury did not feel that the fact that he ran his "consulting" business through his state Senate office was a crime, possibly because the ethics laws in New York are so lax you practically have to announce your plans to commit a felony in advance and then do the deed on cable TV to violate any of the current rules.

And they may have been right. You have to go out of your way to break the rules as they're presently constructed in Albany. You can't just hire yourself out as a consultant to firms who then miraculously get contracts to manage union pension funds just before the Senate, under your guidance, decides to expand those very pensions.

No, that's normal life in Albany. Bruno finally got his comeuppance for hiring himself out as a consultant to a company for which he did nothing at all.

Bruno also ran afoul of the jury when it came to his failure to report some of his income from pseudo-consulting activities. Perhaps the legislature will toughen those requirements in the future.

That, too, will make no difference. Right now the lives of many members of the state legislature are so intertwined between private business and public duties that it would be impossible to unwind them. Lawyer-legislators represent clients who have interests before the Assembly and Senate. Realtor-legislators make deals on behalf of well connected developers who have other business with the state government. And consultant-legislators, well, consult.

Changing course in Albany will require a drastic switch in the entire culture of the state capital. Legislators will have to be required to work full-time at their jobs. The ones who can't can retire and become lobbyists. They'll hardly know the difference.