A Place At The Table

April 14, 2009

Score One For Upstate.

Assemblyman Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, took the helm of the New York State Assembly Republicans Monday, vowing to “continue building the conference and advanc(ing) its common-sense agenda of a stronger economy, real tax relief and more opportunities for all New Yorkers.”
Assemblyman Brian Kolb

First, a note of congratulations. Kolb has been in the Assembly less than a decade, so to rise to a position of party leadership is a tribute to his political prowess and competence. And the fact that congratulations on his new role have come from Democrats, including local colleague David Koon (“We’re happy whenever any leadership position is held by an upstate member,” said his spokesman) and Gov. David Paterson (“I look forward to working with him,” said the governor), is heartening.

It’s also not surprising. Agree with his positions or not, Kolb has never been known to duck a tough question or a tough issue.

Now, a note of caution. The Ontario County native finds himself in a role that will be difficult. That he hopes to build his party — his conference — in the Assembly is understandable. Unlike the razor-thin Democratic majority in the state Senate, there’s plenty of daylight between the two parties in the Assembly. Kolb and Company number just 41 of the body’s 150 members. That doesn’t give the new minority leader much weight to throw around.

Still, he shouldn’t be afraid to make what noise he can. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has had the run of the chamber for some 15 years. It’s beginning to look like he may have the run of the state, as well, what with the bloated budget he recently crafted with two other state leaders — fellow Democrats Paterson and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith — who, between them, have less than 18 months in their positions. Somebody ought to be making some noise about the Silver empire, and Kolb has nothing to lose in doing so.

That said, his first priority must still be his home turf of western New York. Paterson, Silver and Smith all hail from New York City, and Kolb’s state Senate counterpart represents a district on Long Island. Kolb will be the only voice among the five that can speak out for upstate interests from personal knowledge and experience. It is imperative that he do so.

Keeping north-of-the-Tappan Zee Bridge issues on the agenda won’t conflict with Kolb’s goal of party-building. While the Assembly is largely Democratic, many of its Republican members represent districts in upstate and western New York.

The state is facing financial challenges the likes of which most of us have never seen. Western New York cannot be an afterthought in discussions to reinvigorate the state economy. We have every faith that a knowledgeable, engaging and enthusiastic leader like Kolb can play an important role in charting a new course for all New Yorkers. And we have every hope he will do so.

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