Nightlife icon running for state Senate in southern Brooklyn

vito bruno
Nightlife veteran Vito Bruno will run for state senator in southern Brooklyn.
Courtesy of Vito Bruno

A 1980s nightlife icon who managed the disco featured in “Saturday Night Fever” is running for state Senate in southern Brooklyn, telling voters he wants to paint the town red!

“Over the last few years, Brooklyn has changed for worse,” said Vito Bruno, a conservative Bay Ridgite running against Democratic incumbent Andrew Gounardes in the November elections. “I came into this race to save our community.”

Bruno, a Bensonhurst native, got his start at age 19 when he landed a job at Bay Ridge’s famed 2001 Odyssey club while studying architecture at Pratt Institute. He then opened an after-hours club called AM/PM in Tribeca in 1980, which drew stars like Robert De Niro, Dan Ackroyd, and Andy Warhol.

“We became the hottest club on the planet at that time,” Bruno said.  

Bruno went on to manage the Roxy, a Chelsea club where he booked artists such as Madonna and Marc Antony, and founded an entertainment company that scored 50 Billboard No. 1 hits called AM/PM Entertainment Concepts. 

But in recent years, the former nightlife impresario has traded raging soirées for the Republican party, staging an unsuccessful run for borough president in 2017, and serving as president of Brooklyn’s Edmund G. Seergy Republican Club. Now, he hopes to restore “law and order” to the state Senate district encompassing Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach, and parts of Gravesend and Midwood, he claimed.

“We need to respect the cops, we need to get a cap on our real estate taxes,” he said.

Bruno, who described himself as a supporter of President Donald Trump’s policies, spoke unfavorably of expanding bike lanes in his district, saying that he doesn’t “believe the people are for them,” although he has yet to nail down a policy position. Bruno also vowed to roll back bail reform if elected, claiming the new law — which bars judges from setting cash bail for many nonviolent misdemeanors and felonies — has caused an uptick in crimes.

“[Local police] say that crime is up 43%, and they blame it on bail reform,” he said. 

Bruno’s promise to crack down on crime, however, contradicts his past life as New York’s clubbing king, when his “outlaw” parties at AM/PM lasted hours after the city’s curfew. In 1983, he told the New York Times that he gave hefty cash Christmas presents to police officers, implying that he bribed them to turn the other cheek to AM/PM’s late-night, drug-fueled parties.  

Bruno would also fetch drugs for his celebrity friends, retrieving cocaine and Quaaludes for his good friend John Belushi, according to Bob Woodward’s 1984 book “Wired” — a claim that Bruno now denies. 

“I never gave drugs to anybody,” he told the Brooklyn Paper, arguing that his former club life is water under the bridge. “Talking about that is a waste of time. Nobody is the same person today that they were 40 years ago.”

Bruno, who has received the backing of Brooklyn’s Republican party, will face off against Gounardes in the November election in what’s bound to be a nail-biting race. The swing district, which voted for Trump in 2016 and Obama in 2012, elected Gounardes in the 2018 race with only 50.9-percent of the vote, ousting the 14-year Republican incumbent Marty Golden.

Gounardes has pushed for progressive reforms during his time in office, sponsoring pedestrian safety bills and supporting gun violence prevention.

“I’ve been proud to deliver on changes New Yorkers have been waiting for for such a long time — to restrict illegal guns, allow victims of child sexual assault to have their day in court and make our streets safe for all, among many other things,” he said. “We have much more to do, and we’re not going back to the days when we were told not to worry about climate change, crushing student debt, affordable healthcare, LGBTQ rights and street safety.”