ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Assemblyman Brian Kolb spoke exclusively to WROC in Rochester Monday after he recently announced he would not be running for re-election. The interview was conducted by WROC’s Adam Chodak.
Kolb’s decision to not run comes after his DWI charge on New Year’s Eve.
During the interview, the Republican lawmaker reflected on his 20 years in Albany, including 11 of those years as Assembly Minority Leader, but he also answered questions about whether his bowing out is linked to the ongoing legal matter.
Adam Chodak: So to start off Brian, I know you can’t get into the details of the case, but any general thoughts or messages that you want to get out there at this point, before the end of this whole ordeal?
Brian Kolb: No I think really it’s just a process and it’s a legal process and, you know, this is something that happens to people throughout our state or region. And it’s just something you have to deal with up front and I can’t talk about any of the details based on my counsel’s advice right now until we finish the legal process, but you know, however it turns out, we’ll just deal with whatever the end result is.
AC: Outside of the courtroom, how has this been for you — this whole process?
BK: Well, it’s been an adjustment for sure, especially stepping down as Legislative leader. You know, I’ve been doing it for almost 11 years, that was a real adjustment for me because I really loved being the leader of the Assembly Republican conference. It’s an adjustment, obviously from a workload perspective, from a responsibility perspective, but really at the time, the overwhelming media coverage was so focused on me personally, that I felt it in good conscious that it wasn’t fair to my colleagues in our conference, and the staff, to be having a distraction everyday.
With the media wanting to talk about that versus the important issues that our state faces everyday. So it was tough to give it up, but it was the right thing to do, because I felt that was in the best interest of our conference and our staff.
AC: So my only thought there is, you’ve been the Assembly’s Minority Leader for so long, I haven’t heard many complaints about how you’ve been going about these things. These types of cases seem to have a shelf life. Did you think, “well maybe this will die out out” and you could continue your job so the long term distraction might not be there.
BK: Well, absolutely it would eventually just go away, but the ridiculous amount of media coverage was over the top in my personal opinion and I just felt that, yes, but how long is it going to take for it to go away?
So that’s what really weighed on my mind and quite frankly, we’re just starting a new year in the legislature coming up and to be dealing with the media news issues, and about Governor Cuomo’s State of the State, and the budget, and I just felt as the chief spokesperson for the conference that it was not going to be an easy thing to wade through, from the standpoint of media coverage. So that’s why I felt that it would go away, but it was just going to take too long.
AC: Even in the short term it would have too much of an impact — is that what you’re saying? So you decide not to run, is that linked to this whole incident as well? To run for re-election of that a separate decision?
BK: Great question, because that’s the assumption that people are making. It had absolutely nothing to do with the decision not to run again, but you know, life throws some interesting twists and turns at you, and I’m not the only one.
There’s people, families, that have it far worse than I ever thought of having it, and who are going through a difficult time, but in the month of January, my wife lost her mom. I had two dear friends die of cancer. So I just took a step back and I said “you know, what am I doing this for and why should I run again if I’ve put in 20 great years?”
I think I did a fabulous job leading our conference for the last 11 years. I got a lot accomplished and I think from a job perspective, served my state and region very well. So it was some inner reflection, want to do some other things. I don’t know what they are yet, but I said now’s the time to do it.
AC: We’re seeing a lot of incumbents, both Democrats, but mainly Republicans in our area who are not running for re-election. Do you see a common theme there or a common motivation in what’s happening or is this just all coincidence?
BK: Well I think it’s mostly coincidence. I know it’s coincidence for me, certainly I can’t speak for Pete Lawrence or Rich Funke or Joe Robach — they all had their own individual reasons. I don’t think it has anything to do with a pattern of us being Republican, I think that’s purely coincidental.
You know, Albany is a tough place to work in, especially now with one party control which I think we’re seeing has not been good for New York State. Even though it’s one party control, we have people down there who are willing to speak up, fight back, come up with better ideas and solutions. That’s what the minority conferences do, and I’ve been doing it for quite awhile, and I enjoy the fight, I enjoy the battle.
My fellow Assembly Republicans, we take great pride in speaking out and stepping up. There’s a lot of satisfaction in that, and that’s in Albany, but the most important thing that we really do is back home helping our constituents. Certainly my office, my staff, myself, we’ve helped countless residents and businesses navigate, whether it’s an Albany bureaucracy or trying to get them funding for a particular project, you know there’s all sorts of things that go into it.
AC: Are you worried that losing these seasoned Republican voices in the Senate and the Assembly might lessen the influence that our caucus has in Albany?
BK: Well, I think that certainly when you lose the type of experience, the Joe Robach has been there a long time, Rich Funke’s a shorter time compared to Joe, but certainly Pete Lawrence has been there for a few years — I’ve been there for 20. It takes you awhile to find your sea legs in Albany, and just learning the legislative process, getting to know both sides of the aisle, dealing with the state’s bureaucracy and the governor’s office and what they do and what they don’t do.
So when you have somebody like myself, and the Robach, Rich, Pete — that’s leaving a lot of experience. It’s going to take awhile for whoever takes their place to catch up, whether they’re Republican or Democrat.
AC: In the time you have left, what are you hoping to accomplish?
BK: First and foremost, between now and April 1 is the budget. As it always is, and certainly in the legislature being that we’re going to be there until June. So there’s local bills that will hopefully get passed, that you work on for your local district, and certainly it’s just showing up, voting.
AC: Bail reform, do you think there is going to be an adjustment even with one-party control?
BK: I do. I think it’s inevitable. You know, Speaker Heastie right now I think is being more unreasonable and putting his feet in cement about, “you got to give it more time.” I think that it’s a public safety issue. I think Speaker Heastie and some of the Democrats in both houses are trying to make this a rich vs. poor issue about cash bail.
Well, cash bail is only one aspect of it, but the fact that repeat offenders can be re-released immediately without maybe some of the more dangerous, or more repeat offenders not having a judge to have the discretion to keep them off the streets.
So I think if nothing else, they should return that process back to the judges in our system. Do I think they’ll do something? I sure as heck hope so, before somebody really gets hurt. I had a very lengthy conversation with Speaker Heastie back in December when I was still there, close to 45 minutes on the phone. It was very professional, but I was listening to where he was coming from, but he really felt it was poor, minority communities, not getting a fair shake versus if you had someone who was white, with money — and that is how he framed the bail reform issue, but I think that something should be done and hopefully, maybe, they’ll do some sort of minor tweak in the budget so that it’s easier to get more votes versus a standalone bill.
But there’s even disagreement among Democrats. You get Upstate and suburban Democrats, both Senate and Assembly, that are screaming at their New York City colleagues, saying it’s killing us in our districts. It’s a whole different philosophy, and that’s where hopefully some calmer heads will prevail and make some reasonable adjustments. I’m all for reforming the bail system, and I’ve said that many times. It’s how you do it, and the problem is with the particular legislation, they crammed it through. They didn’t talk to any law enforcement, they didn’t talk to anybody in the judicial system, and you only had one party dealing with this legislation and that’s just a recipe for disaster, which it is.
And that’s the problem with Washington, that’s the problem with Albany. There’s not enough, shall we say, bipartisan approach to legislation that can effect lives.
AC: You got to my next question. We see it on social media and we see it in meetings: There’s an us versus them on both sides right now. The other side is the enemy and social media hasn’t helped with that. How does that play out in Albany, or is it just more congenial environment where you are friends with other representatives? I’m just curious to know if there’s a separation between those worlds.
BK: Absolutely there is separation, but there’s also still people, Democrats and some Republicans, who view things all through a political lens. Us versus them, I don’t. I’ve always had a working relationship. When it was Sheldon Silver as speaker, which I took criticism from my own party that through we should be throwing hand grenades at him. You know? That’s not helpful, it doesn’t move the football down the field.
And the same thing, I have a great working relationship with Speaker Heastie, and I think the rank and file legislators do more of a reach out. We’ve had New York City legislators come up to the Finger Lakes. I’ve gone down to New York City Assembly districts to try, you know. There really is two different worlds, and I think the more you do that — and I still think in Albany, the one thing they still do which I think is just whoever is in the majority things it’s their right to not involve the minority, in both houses.
And I’ve seen it with both parties by the way. The Senate was controlled by the Republicans and now it’s by the Democrats and same thing with the Assembly. There shouldn’t be an “R” and a “D” when it comes to positive legislation that can hopefully help others. It’s the same thing with resources. We may get a trickle of resources to help our communities, being in the minority of the Assembly, whereas if one of our members has the opportunity to deliver a $100,000 grant to a municipality, they’re given away millions.
And I say giving way, I think that if we’re going to have a legislator provide assistance in the district we all represent the same number of people, and each district, we should have equal resources to help our district. These are the sort of things that I don’t know if it’s going to change any time soon, because you know, we’re the majority we can do anything we want — that’s the mindset.
AC: Speaking of resources do you expect that you’ll play any role in this airport expansion in Canandaigua before your time is out?
BK: Well certainly anything that goes in Ontario County, I’m part of the conversion, but Mike Manikowski in Ontario County of Economic Development, we’ve always had a great relationship. They keep us in the loop, a lot of these things are dealt with, especially in the airport federal aviation side, and so we’re always in contact and conversation about that’s going how and how it can help the community, whether it’s the airport or anything else for that matter — from an economic perspective. You know that’s sort of my area of expertise as I do come from a private sector.
AC: So is that a real possibility, of improving the airport to that degree?
AC: That’s exciting.
BK: It’s very exciting, but the guy they should really be talking about that stuff to is Mike Manikowski.
AC: My last question, what message would you have if you could open up all the ears of the lawmakers in Albany? Having spent 20 years, especially in the minority, what message would you like to send them?
BK: Well I think the most important message — we’re here to serve all the people of New York State. We’re here to represent our district, but we’re all having an impact over 19 million lives in our state, and everyone of them is important, regardless of the color of your skin, of your gender, where you live. And the more we can remember that, and make sure we’re putting aside political philosophies.
I mean, you can have inherent disagreements about public policy, that’s OK, but you shouldn’t be shutting out a different point of view just because you’re in a different political party. And I think that’s an ongoing message I’d have for any legislator, but more importantly, legislative leaders in government.
I think Governor Cuomo as done a poor job at reaching out to minority conferences in both houses, and I can say that very comfortably as I was in that chair for 11 years. And so that, to me, is the most important thing. We can never forget that we’re supposed to rerpesent all 19 million New Yorkers, and if you’re represent New York City, and I’m representing Ontario and Seneca Counties. You now, we should still have as much input or equal input in terms of good public policy.
AC: Anything else you’d like to add that I might have missed?
BK: No, other than just to say for all of your viewers, and many of them from the Greater Rochester Region and the Finger Lakes district, especially my district — thank you for allowing me to serve for 20 years. It’s been a privilege and an honor and I’m going to miss it because it means so much to me, but I have to say thank you to all those people that gave me this opportunity.