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Tuesday January 23, 2018

Brian Kolb says he's no "bomb-thrower."

The Canandaigua Republican, Rochester native and the minority leader in the state Assembly since 2009, is also the first GOP candidate to toss his hat in the ring, announcing Dec. 12 that he's hoping to secure his party's nomination to take on Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in the 2018 gubernatorial race.

More: Upstate, schmupstate: When did we last have a governor from our neck of the woods?

He's staking his run on a platform of asking New Yorkers if they truly believe state government is working in their best interests, and trying to find ways to respectfully work together with leaders from the other side to improve the way the government works.

"People have to get engaged if they want a better state government," he said. "They've got to get involved. If they don't think state government is working for them — and that's what I think the decision is going forward into 2018 — then, are there enough reasons to fire Andrew Cuomo and hire Brian Kolb, or whoever (the GOP candidate) might be?"

 

Kolb currently represents the 131st District, which encompasses all of Ontario County and a portion of Seneca County. He has a long background in the private sector: he is former president of Refracton Technologies and a co-founder of the North American Filter Corporation, both in Newark, Wayne County. He has also been an adjunct professor at Roberts Wesleyan College

Gathering enough support in the more liberal areas of the state could be a heavy lift for the staunchly conservative Kolb — a vocal critic of the SAFE Act who voted against same-sex marriage legislation in 2011. Although there hasn't been a governor from upstate in nearly a century, Kolb said his across-the-aisle style is one that will bring more comity to a dysfunctional state government.

 

"My approach has always been, when it comes to public policy, to try to vote for or support initiatives I think are best for everybody regardless of political persuasion," he said. "I'm hoping the folks who have the opportunity to watch my candidacy and get to know me a little bit will see I'm a real person, and someone who focuses on real solutions for real problems. I want the government to be the best it can be for the people it serves."

Other Republicans considering bids for the GOP ticket in 2018 are state Sen. John DeFrancisco, R-DeWitt, Manhattan businessman Harry Wilson and Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro. Libertarian Larry Sharpe announced he was a candidate for governor in July. 

 

Kolb sat with the Democrat and Chronicle to discuss his run for the state's top office. What follows are portions of that conversation, lightly edited for space and clarity.

There hasn't been an upstate governor since 1921. How does a conservative upstate Republican appeal to Manhattanites or other Democratic strongholds downstate?

Certainly I think I have the skill set and experience to tackle complex issues because of my private and public sector experience, and that I’m not bringing an agenda other than serving the people of this great state. We've got issues that need to be resolved and there are differences I’ve had with Gov. Cuomo and I’ve spoken out about those and will continue.

 

But let’s talk about New York City. Gov. Cuomo has an ongoing feud with Mayor de Blasio, they’re both Democrats and they’re both trying to undermine each other and undercut the other's positions, and who suffers with that? The people of New York and the surrounding counties.

It’s the wrong message to send to our residents, people look to those who serve in government to help them, to help the people and not themselves and I think that transcends political labels. 

What does bipartisanship look like in a time that seems to have such a great political divide between Republicans and Democrats?

When I went to the state Assembly 17 years ago, it was awful. I introduced myself to the Senate majority leader and he ignored me. Now that's changed. Joe Morelle, the Democratic Senate majority leader from Rochester and I get along great. Do we vote the same on everything? No. Do we go back and forth, whether it's in the chamber or outside the chamber? Of course we do. But I think we respect each other. And I make a concerted effort to reach across the aisle and break down those barriers.

If you're a Republican, does that make you a bad person? No and vice-versa.

You talk about New York's "broken government." What does that mean and what issues do you see being overlooked, especially as they pertain to upstate?

 

My top priorities would be the top priorities of the state and what the people think they should be. And how do you get those? By listening to the legislature, by traveling around the state and also hearing from other groups interested in how state government operates.

As an example, I've asked members of our conference what their priorities are for their districts for the next year and it's a real cross-section. Property taxes, and having a better economic development strategy, especially for upstate. The economy in New York City is not too bad, but you get outside New York City and the farther away you get from New York City, that's where all of a sudden people are saying there's not enough economic opportunities here. It's why we're losing population, why people are having a difficult time selling their homes and at the same time paying their property taxes.

Earlier this week Gov. Cuomo snapped at a reporter who asked a question about what he would do to curb sexual harassment in state government, calling her query "a disservice to women" because it too narrowly focused on state government. He later apologized. How would you work to address issues of sexual harassment in state government?

In the state Aassembly, compared to the way things were done before, it has improved dramatically. Any claims are sent immediately to an outside attorney so there is no internal political control over an investigation.

I don't think the same process exists in (the) Senate or state agencies. Assemblywoman Sandy Galef from downstate, Westchester County said she was looking to introduce a bill that would put in a comprehensive, unilateral "same policy for everyone" approach. I haven't seen the specifics of the bill yet, but I like that concept where everyone knows what the rules are.

You want to make sure the very serious claims are addressed immediately, fairly and confidentially. Unfortunately in politics — and I just read an example of this today involving Sen. Schumer — (there) are false claims, people making up stuff or saying somebody said something wrong to me 20 years ago and it’s about inflicting political damage.

That’s the thing that you need to be protective of, that it’s not a kangaroo trial, and it’s not a rush to judgement and that you’re innocent until proven guilty versus guilty until you're proven innocent.

That’s the hardest rub with politics and elected officials, especially with the media. Just getting your name out there must mean you've done something bad.

And we've got to change that. And we’ve got to make sure serious issues are addressed comprehensively

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