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Campaign finance bill becomes personal feud for Spitzer and Bruno

A disagreement over restricting campaign donations to politicians turned into a personal feud Tuesday between Democratic Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer and Senate Republican Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.

The dispute emerges as several other issues remain unresolved with just nine weeks until the end of the legislative session.

Bruno, of Rensselaer County, unleashed a torrent of criticism at Spitzer -- characterizing the governor as wealthy and out of touch with New Yorkers. He also branded Spitzer as spoiled, unable to control his emotions, power driven and unfocused on the real problems facing the state, including the upstate economy.

"Let's face it. This is a fellow who grew up having anything that he pleased, being able to say anything that he wants to say. That's how he grew up," said Bruno, referring to Spitzer's family wealth. "So, it's kind of hard for him to relate, sometimes, to the average person, I think. On a personal level, I like him. I just wish that he wasn't as temperamental and didn't have tantrums."

"Once again, Joe Bruno's arguments are right on point, as we can see," Spitzer said sarcastically, during an event in Schenectady County, where he targeted veteran Senate Republican Hugh Farley for not backing his campaign finance measure. The governor's appearance came just after a meeting with editors of a local newspaper in Bruno's district to complain about the majority leader's stance on a Spitzer plan, which collapsed Monday, to sharply reduce campaign donation limits.

Spitzer said he would travel the state -- a tactic he took with Assembly Democrats after they bucked him on a new state comptroller candidate in February -- to tell voters in Senate districts "that we must do better." He declined to say which Senate Republicans in Western New York he blames for the plan falling apart.

"It will backfire," Sen. Dale Volker, R-Depew, said of Spitzer's threat to target lawmakers. "It will make individual members look more important."

Volker pointed to publicity received by Assemblywoman Francine Delmonte, D-Niagara Falls, who was targeted for criticism by Spitzer during his tour in February. Spitzer, who eventually canceled the tour after a death threat was directed to the new comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, did not single out Delmonte during a trip to Niagara Falls.

Senate Republicans say Spitzer's effort is all about his intent to wrest control of the GOP-led Senate, possibly as early as the 2008 elections. Today, Spitzer heads to Nassau County, a 2008 battleground area, to target Sen. Carl Marcellino, a Republican considered by Democrats to be beatable next year.

In the Assembly, where Democratic Speaker Sheldon Silver said his colleagues support all aspects of Spitzer's campaign finance bill, lawmakers are merely bystanders.

"Clearly, I'm concerned about it," Silver said of the dispute between Spitzer and Bruno. "I like people to get along."

Bruno on Tuesday offered to debate Spitzer. However, the governor did not accept.

"He doesn't want Republicans in this state," Bruno said. "He wants one-party system -- one party. Well, the people don't want a one-party system. They don't want people dictating everything."

Spitzer, who raised more than $40 million for his campaign last year, proposed cutting the state's individual donation limit -- now, the nation's highest, at $55,900 -- to $15,000.

The governor also wants to restrict the use of campaign funds.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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