WXXI Local Stories
Mon April 6, 2009
Assembly GOP Names New Leader
By Karen DeWitt
Albany, New York – The Republicans in the State Assembly have a new leader, now that Jim Tedisco, in an extremely close race for New York's 20th Congressional district, has stepped down from the post he held throughout the special election campaign. Assemblyman Brian Kolb, of the Finger Lakes, was chosen as Tedisco's successor.
Tedisco resigned from the Assembly Republican leadership position three days after the special election for the 20th congressional district, which so far, has been locked in a near-tie between Tedisco and Democratic candidate Scott Murphy, with several thousand absentee ballots still to be counted.
On Monday, the 41 Republican Assemblymembers elected a successor. Assemblyman Brian Kolb, a 53 year old former businessman from Canandaigua in the Finger Lakes, says he hopes to "ratchet up the debate" and get noticed, with a conference that is often ignored at the Capitol. But Kolb says just because the Assembly GOP is the smallest faction in the state legislature, doesn't mean that they can't have influence.
"I don't think we're the weakest conference, I think we're the strongest conference," said Kolb, who said the members have been "streamlined" and "united on public policy issues".
Kolb says he wants to give voice to alternative ways to solve the state's problems, like lowering state taxes and curbing local property taxes, something he says Democrats who crafted the state budget have ignored.
Tedisco was a colorful Assembly Republican leader, known for his marketing tricks, like installing a state budget countdown clock. He was also adept at seizing hot button political issues and mounting an opposition campaign. Tedisco was the first to lend former Governor Elliot Spitzer the "steamroller" label, when he went public with a heated conversation he had with the previous governor, during which Tedisco says Spitzer threatened to "roll over" him. The former Assembly GOP leader sensed some public unease with Spitzer's plan to give drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants, and was a result was nearly a nightly guest on the Lou Dobbs show and Fox News.
When Spitzer was found to have patronized prostitutes, Tedisco was the first to call for his impeachment.
Kolb says his style will be a bit different.
"There is only one Jim Tedisco," Kolb quipped.
Tedisco says Kolb will be a "great leader". Speaking on the day he resigned, Tedisco denied that he was pushed out of the job. There had been some complaints among Assembly GOP members that the former leader was absent during key times in the recently concluded state budget process. Tedisco said he now needed to devote time to the recount effort in the congressional race. But he said he'd miss his old job.
"It was the greatest job I ever had, I loved it, but it was the hardest job I ever had," said Tedisco.
Kolb says he is taking lessons from his predecessor, as well as other former Assembly Leaders, including Clarence Rapp Rappleyea, known for his folksy style and personal popularity, the political acumen of Tom Reynolds, who later went to Congress, and former Assembly Republican Leader John Faso, credited for his detailed knowledge of policy.
There's one way in which Kolb says he won't follow the footsteps of Tedisco. He'd been mentioned as a possible GOP opponent to Democratic Congressman Eric Massa in 2010. Kolb now says, he will focus entirely on leading the Assembly Republicans instead.
"Eric Massa, wherever he is right now, is breathing a sigh of relief," said Kolb, tongue in cheek.
Kolb predicts Tedisco will win the congressional race, and that one of his first orders of business as the new Assembly Republican leader will be overseeing a special election for Tedisco's Assembly seat.