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« Strategy Memo: Foot In Mouth | Blog Home Page | Cannon Primary Saga Continues »

Bruno To Retire

Joseph Bruno is not a household name anywhere outside political circles in New York, but the Senate Majority Leader, seemingly the last barrier standing in the way of total Democratic control over the Empire State, has been a major factor in the state legislature for more than three decades. That reign will come to an end this year, as Bruno announced to colleagues yesterday that he will not seek re-election in November, the Democrat and Chronicle reports today and the New York Times wrote last night.

Bruno, who has presided in the state's upper chamber since 1994 and been in the Senate since 1976, told fellow Republicans at a closed-door meeting yesterday that he believed it is time for him to move on, and time to give his colleagues a chance at new leadership. His announcement was greeted with warm statements from friends and enemies alike, including Governor David Patterson, with whom Bruno had a much warmer relationship than previous executives.

State House Republicans will watch the Senate President go with mixed emotions. On one hand, Bruno held a tenuous majority for the party even as Republicans around the state suffered traumatic losses -- in 1994, the GOP held 14 of the state's 31 Congressional seats; this year, three of the six remaining incumbents have announced their retirements. On the other, the GOP's Senate majority is just a single seat, and recent losses have led to criticism that Bruno's campaign tactics are out of date.

Bruno's seat itself, on the eastern edge of the state stretching from Nassau in the south to Troy and parts of Saratoga Springs, is likely a safe open seat for Republicans this year, but several others will probably go Democratic when longtime incumbents retire. Several Republican members win easy re-election in districts in Queens and Brooklyn, inside New York City, that otherwise vote heavily Democratic. Democrats see the State Senate as one of their best chamber pickup opportunities in the nation.

Already this cycle, the party has won two special elections in Republican-held seats, including one in upstate New York and one on Long Island in a campaign that cost upwards of $5 million. There are now 32 Republicans in the upper chamber and 30 Democrats.

Why should a state legislature be of concern to national parties? In New York, as well as in about three dozen other states, the legislature, usually in concert with the governor, has control over state and federal redistricting after the decennial reapportionment. In New York, the senate majority leader, the assembly speaker and the governor all send a representative to negotiate new Congressional District lines, a process which can severely impact re-election prospects for some incumbents (Each state has its own rules for redistricting).

In 2012, New York is projected to lose two more Congressional seats, dropping its current total of 29 to 27, its lowest number since 1823. Democrats, who control the assembly by a wide margin and presently own the governor's mansion (though Patterson's term expires in 2010, leaving one more chance for Republicans to come back), are salivating over the prospect of winning back the Senate, thus giving them all three seats at the redistricting table. Should they do so, the party can target two Republicans to draw into unfavorable districts, instead of having to oust one member from each party.

Two Republican state senators are likely to run to replace Bruno as head of their party, and each will likely argue that they are capable of maintaining the razor-thin majority. Long Island Senator Dean Skelos and Binghampton Senator Tom Libous met with Bruno after his announcement in hopes of preventing a serious battle that could harm their attempts to keep the majority, the Times reported. Both would have an uphill battle, both in 2008 and 2010, when all the chamber's 62 seats come up for a vote.