National News

Republican assemblyman enters race to challenge cuomo

Posted December 12, 2017 11:26 p.m. EST

ALBANY, N.Y. — Brian Kolb is not a power broker or a kingmaker, a rabble-rouser or a political bomb thrower. Perhaps his main claim to fame is his durability: Kolb has served 17 years in the state Assembly, about half that time as the leader for the influence-free Republican minority, acting as an articulate, if toothless, foil to the overwhelming Democratic majority.

But on Tuesday, Kolb earned a note of distinction by becoming the first major-party candidate to formally declare a campaign to unseat Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose formidable war chest and bruising political style have seemingly made other potential candidates wary to enter the 2018 race.

The optimistic Kolb — whose voicemail invites callers to “have an incredible day” — does not see it that way.

“The world we live in has been made up of the American dream, and part of the American dream is about trying to pursue opportunity,” Kolb, 65, said in a phone interview. “And here’s an opportunity to serve our state.”

Kolb, who represents a largely rural district outside Rochester, was thought to be one of three potential Republican challengers to Cuomo, a second-term Democrat who has rumored presidential ambitions, favorability ratings in the 50s and tens of millions of dollars in the bank.

One of those possible challengers, state Sen. John DeFrancisco, an irascible Republican critic of Cuomo, appeared at an event Monday in Albany alongside a possible Democratic candidate, the departing Syracuse mayor, Stephanie Miner, both of whom took the opportunity to bash Cuomo.

Another possible Republican candidate — one seemingly favored by many in the state’s Republican leadership — is Harry Wilson, a corporate turnaround expert who reiterated on Tuesday that he is near a decision.

By being the first to declare, Kolb invited attention, not all of it positive.

“Would a minority leader with a small ‘m’ who has had no power in his entire period in Albany, would he give Andrew Cuomo a hard time in a campaign?” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant who has worked for the governor in the past. “Would an ant bother a bulldozer?”

Sheinkopf did note that Kolb had been untouched by corruption, the most common crime among Albany lawmakers, an issue that may haunt the governor during next year’s campaign: A roster of Cuomo’s associates are to face trial in 2018 on federal corruption charges, including Joseph Percoco, who was once the governor’s closest adviser.

And that timing seems to encourage Kolb. “A lot can happen next year,” he said.

The state’s Republican chairman, Edward Cox, offered a respectful, if cautious, statement about Kolb’s candidacy. “We’re glad he has formally announced his intentions,” Cox said, before saying he was excited by the possibility of other candidates, too. “Gov. Cuomo’s corruption and mismanagement have failed New Yorkers, and it’s time for new, Republican leadership.”

He added that the party would be “working collaboratively with our county chairs over the coming weeks and months to put together the statewide ticket.” The Republican convention is next spring.

Republicans have not won a statewide race in New York since 2002, and demographics continue to be daunting. Democrats hold a more than 2-1 advantage in voter registration and are expected to have a surge in interest in 2018 because of congressional elections and President Donald Trump’s unpopularity in the state.

Still, Kolb said he had been encouraged by the showing of his fellow Assembly member, Nicole Malliotakis, R-Staten Island, in the recent New York City mayor’s race, saying he would be “microtargeting voters” in the city and concentrating on issues like Cuomo’s handling of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and his evergreen feuds with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“I think that that’s where you start to pick up votes and the party registration starts to melt away pretty quickly,” he said.

For all that, Kolb said he recognized the long odds at beating Cuomo but invoked the biblical story of David versus Goliath and the similarly themed Hollywood saga of Rocky Balboa as examples of underdogs winning the day.

“It could be a movie someday,” he said, “if we pull this thing off.”