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Come Together

The left and right form a temporary alliance outside the Joe Bruno fundraiser

by Elizabeth Knapp on January 21, 2010

Broom-wielding protesters gathered at the entrance of the Desmond Hotel in Colonie Tuesday, hoping to “sweep out political corruption,” as many of their signs read.

Inside, a fundraiser was being held for former state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, who was convicted of two counts of corruption charges in federal court in December and now faces enormous legal fees for his defense. The Joseph Bruno Legal Defense Fund was created by Bruno’s allies, who believe he was wrongfully accused of felony charges.

Hosted by Legislative Ethics Commission Commissioner John Nigro, and attended by such local notables as prominent defense attorneys Steve Coffey and E. Stewart Jones, the fundraiser served as a focus for protestors questioning political ethics as a whole and demanding, among other things, an “ethics reform.”

“It’s like Heinrich Himmler having a party for all the Jewish rabbis in Rome,” said Paul Coffey, a member of the Albany Campaign for Liberty. “It just doesn’t fit.”

For many, this event was seen as just one example of an entirely flawed system. Though Bruno claimed he was merely trying to operate within an already corrupt system, the protesters at the Desmond believe it was his duty as an elected official to change the system instead of capitalizing on it.

“It’s like the Nuremberg Defense,” said Kevin McCashion, Sons of Liberty Coordinator, “it doesn’t work.”

According to Joe Seeman, member of Civil Action and moveon.org, this fundraiser was yet another working of the political machine.

“This should be a shameful event,” McCashion said. “Bruno is gone, but the political machine is still in power. Joe Bruno is just the poster child, but the problem is a lot deeper.”

Taking money out of politics, it is widely believed, would lead to reforms in other areas, including health care and education. Many protesters—from the left side—suggested having publicly funded elections in New York similar to those in Arizona, Maine, and Connecticut.

“This is an issue connected to every single issue,” said Seeman.

This rally brought together otherwise conflicting party affiliates, with activists belonging to organizations such as Citizen Action, the Solidarity Committee of the Capital District, Campaign for Liberty and Tea Party patriots.

“I’m with the Tea Party,” said “Spyder,” as one protestor identified himself. “And these other people are with the Working Families’ Party. We’re basically political enemies, but when it comes to right versus wrong, I guess we both just get it.”

Seeman and Spyder have not seen eye to eye on such issues in the past.

“At first, I thought they were here because it was a Republican,” said Spyder. “But after talking to Joe [Seeman], it turns out he agrees with me, which is . . . really weird.”

Normally shouting to one another from across the street, Albany area activists belonging to opposing organizations now have the opportunity to collaborate on various issues in a more civil way. A committee of conservative and liberal activists has been formed to hold left-right panel discussions, where speakers with a range of different perspectives can offer their own opinions in an effort to find common ground. These panel discussions are held at WAMC’s Linda Norris Auditorium on Central Avenue. The next discussion will feature six speakers talking about global warming to “try to find where we agree,” said McCashion, who is moderating this event.

“It’s about people coming together in the face of something that’s wrong,” he said. “Just like this Bruno rally. No matter what side we stand on, we all know corruption is wrong.”