Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb became the first Republican candidate to announce he is running for governor today. Kolb was one of several prominent Republicans in the state publicly mulling a bid for governor, with other potential candidates including state Sen. John DeFrancisco, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro and businessman Harry Wilson. The state Republican Committee said in a statement responding to Kolb’s announcement that it was seeking “put together the statewide ticket that will turn our state around.” In an interview with City & State, Kolb discussed his credentials, his vision for New York, and why he isn’t concerned about being outspent by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
C&S: What inspired your decision to run for governor?
BK: Well, I think ultimately, it's because I really think I can make a difference if I'm fortunate enough to be elected governor. I've got a lot of great ideas, I've got the energy, heart and passion to do the job, and all I want to do is help New York state and the families and businesses that are here to grow and prosper and that's my only agenda. I'm not trying to be president of the United States, I've got no other political ambitions other than to work hard for the state I grew up in and lived in almost my entire life. And that's what motivates me and gets me up every day, and this will be a significantly larger platform to do that statewide, than obviously being a state representative for an Assembly district.
C&S: Was there any particular reason you announced today?
BK: No. Well, other than I was ready, and I had indicated to a variety of media outlets I'd decide by Dec. 15, and I did. So, well, no better time than present.
C&S: There have been reports that the state Republican Party doesn't want a primary, so what will you do to make sure that you're the candidate chosen at the party convention in May?
BK: Well, really that's up to the state committeemen and state committeewomen to decide. They're the ones that get to vote. So I'm going to go make my case as to why I think I'm the guy, and we'll see what happens. Certainly, if other people jump in, they're going to do the same thing. And, sort of the best person will get the nod. As long as the convention process is run fairly, and everyone's had a fair shot at getting the nomination, and if I'm not the guy, I'll support whoever the convention nominates.
C&S: Why do you think that you're the right Republican candidate?
BK: Well, you have to believe in yourself, first and foremost. And I think my track record - I think the perfect blend of private sector experience and also public sector experience. I don't think anyone has that diversity of actually hands-on experience in both categories. And when you're talking about state government, you have to have a working knowledge to be successful and hit the ground running to be governor. And then in the Legislature, I know how the place works, and even more importantly I know how the place doesn't work. I think that's a perspective that I bring, and also I've owned my own business, I've worked for small and large companies, so I think that's a factor that - or multiple factors that I think prepare me to hold the job.
C&S: You and I have talked about ethics reform before, and how it can be difficult to get something passed through the Legislature. What do you think that you can accomplish as governor that you couldn't as an assemblyman?
BK: Well, I think first and foremost it's about leadership. Gov. Cuomo started the Moreland commission and shut it down as soon as they started to make some progress. I've already been out there with legislation in terms of changing the Albany culture, term limits for leaders, term limits for legislators and committee chairs. I believe that there should be a full and open transparency process and money that we're getting out as far as under economic development. The governor's operation is under a cloud of suspicion going forth into the January corruption trials of some of his closest aides and friends. Certainly, there's a lot you can do, but you've got to show leadership. You've got to make sure that everything you say and do is open and transparent, and restore public confidence. And I'm all into that because that's what I've been advocating for for a long time.
C&S: New York hasn't had very many governors from upstate. Why do you think that is?
BK: Well, I think in general, it could be a combination of a couple things. Have we had a candidate that's - regardless of where they come from, but let's say it's upstate - that people really want to support and get behind. It shouldn't be important where you live, it should be more important what you bring to the table and can you relate to the entire state of New York, because we're all in this together. And you can be from upstate - I have to be sensitive to the fact - and we do this in the Assembly Republican conference. We've got members that represent every different region of the state, and they all have different priorities for their region. But as leader of the conference, we have tried to do everything we can to help each Assembly district that we represent, and that's why I tell my members, "you've got to focus on the people that sent you here." And from a global perspective, I try to help facilitate that, and that's exactly what you have to do as governor.
C&S: On your website, you list cutting taxes as a priority. Is that affected by the Republican tax plan that's currently going through Congress?
BK: Well, I think we actually, with this tax plan, we have to really see what the final plan is. Do they actually put something into law? Just like everybody thought that they were going to get the health care reform bill done, and they didn't. So until they do, and until we see the final i's dotted and t's crossed and know exactly what we're dealing with, then we'll react to what we have to do in New York. And hopefully New York is not harmed by the tax bill, and if it is, we're going to have to adjust our ways in New York state to figure out a way to deal with it.
C&S: Why do you think that you're the best candidate to challenge Andrew Cuomo specifically?
BK: Well, again, I go back to my experience that I have, which means you're fit and ready to handle the job and responsibilities and know what's involved. I certainly have a background of legislation and ideas that we've introduced and fought for and championed for, so I have a track record. I have a voting record. So people know who I am. They know my personality and how it is to work with me. And certainly, beyond that, I have a passion for public service. And I think that's something that - I will work harder than anybody to fulfill my public service responsibilities, and leave no stone unturned, to do whatever we have to do to make our state better. And you can't measure heart competitively, but I know one thing, that when it comes to spirit and passion and heart, I'd put mine up against anybody's.
C&S: Do you think your "spirit and passion and heart" will be able to overcome Gov. Cuomo's significant campaign war chest?
BK: Well, I've got to tell you, in my Assembly career, and also dealing with Assembly Republican campaigns against the Democrats - we've always, always been outspent three, four, five to one. It's not about who has the most money, it's about how you spend the resources that you have. I come from a business background, and we're not going to waste money on consultants and extraordinary things that people spend money on frivolously. I don't approach it that way. And we're going to watch every dime and dollar just like I do to try to watch every dime and dollar to taxpayers. You have to bring that same approach to the campaign. We live in a different world than we did ten years ago in terms of access to social media, and digital advertising, which is much less expensive. And then it's about microtargeting - there's a whole host of formulas that we can use that I think we can be just as competitive.
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