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Accusations, rebukes fly high in Spitzer-Bruno battle

The summertime battles between Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer and Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno continued raging Monday.

The top Republican legislator asked the state attorney general to investigate the governor's use of state aircraft and to determine if the governor improperly had the State Police conduct surveillance of Bruno's state-funded trips.

Spitzer, who has laid low during the past week, on Monday emerged to call such a request by Bruno to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo "a distraction and a waste of time."

"He should have thought of that a month or two ago when they were apparently conspiring to do things that were not productive on behalf of the people of this state," Bruno said of what he believes are moves by Democrat Spitzer and his aides to get outside probes launched of the GOP leader. Bruno believes Spitzer wants to have him ousted as the head of the Senate.

Many Republican senators are standing behind Bruno.

"He'd like to have a worthy adversary gone so he can be his dictatorial self," the normally reserved Sen. Mary Lou Rath, R-Williamsville, said of the governor's view of Bruno.

So goes another day in Albany, where the partisan feud attracted the attention of CNN Monday. The ongoing drama is having its effect: there are still no deals on a host of major pending plans involving economic development, the environment, health care, tax cuts, criminal justice and the upstate economy.

The spat began following a July 1 story in the Albany Times Union that alleged Bruno was using state aircraft to attend political functions in Manhattan. The paper used a thick stack of documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Law, on the travels of Bruno as well as six other state officials, including Spitzer. The legal request was filled in lightning speed by the Spitzer administration; the Times Union FOIL letter was dated June 27, and the story ran just four days later.

Such requests can take weeks to fill. A far simpler request by The Buffalo News -- seeking information on a Senate plan for capital spending -- filed with the governor on June 22 has not yet been filled or denied. A Spitzer spokesman said the Albany paper had earlier verbally alerted the administration to its request and that the documents were simple to compile.

Following the story, the Spitzer administration said it was seeking to send the Bruno travel information to the inspector general, the Albany County district attorney or state attorney general -- or all three. Both the Albany County prosecutor and Cuomo's office are reviewing the travel documents.

Bruno said he wants Cuomo to now review Spitzer's use of state aircraft. Citing a New York Post story last week, he wants Cuomo to also look at whether Spitzer "targeted Senator Joseph L. Bruno for State Police surveillance," according to a letter from Bruno's counsel to Cuomo Monday. (Cuomo's office said all aspects of the matter are being reviewed.)

Spitzer aides have characterized the travel documents kept on Bruno by the State Police as routine. The governor Monday said his office was only involved in responding to a newspaper FOIL, not in directing the State Police to keep any logs on Bruno.

"We have acted in a way that is not only proper but is critically appropriate in the context of the issues that have been raised," Spitzer told reporters.

Spitzer again called Bruno "a friend" and said any differences they have had have been over policies, not personalities.

"What I said to him, I believe last week, 'With friends like you I don't know who needs enemies,'" Bruno said.

The governor also denied a New York Post story that his administration ever went shopping for district attorneys to look into Bruno's travels, but he dodged a question about whether he reportedly called Bruno "senile" in conversations last week with Senate Republicans. "I have not and will not let this become a personal battle between me and Joe Bruno," Spitzer said.

It is far beyond that, Republicans and Democrats alike say. It comes as the Senate is due back in town next week to take up some unresolved issues, but Spitzer and Bruno are not talking. The Assembly has no plans to return.

Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, was one of those Senate Republicans on Spitzer's call list last week. He said the chat with Spitzer was all positive, with no bad-mouthing of Bruno by Spitzer or talk of trying to stir up a revolt against Bruno. "My impression was he wants to find some middle ground and try to get some things done," Maziarz said of Spitzer.

Still, Maziarz blames Spitzer for the current logjam by tying resolution of all major issues to his plans for changing campaign finance laws. "I think the governor underestimated Senator Bruno's resolve," Maziarz said.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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