PULASKI — Assemblyman Will Barclay is lining up support to take over as leader of his Republican conference, a move that could happen as early as Tuesday.
It didn’t take more than a few hours after the arrest of Assemblyman Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, on New Year’s Eve drunk driving charges for the rumor mill to start spinning. Kolb since 2009 had served as minority meader for the Assembly Republicans — often the loudest voice in Albany standing athwart the capitol’s Democrat-led progress yelling, “stop.”
The Finger Lakes Republican said after his DWI arrest he did not plan to resign his seat but voluntarily shed his leadership role, creating a vacuum at the top of the 46-member GOP conference.
Speculation immediately began as to who would ascend to Kolb’s now-vacant position as caucus leader — the minority leader is chosen by a vote of conference members. Sources with knowledge of the situation told The Palladium-Times multiple Assembly Republicans were interested in the Minority Leader’s spot but one name has emerged as front-runner: Barclay.
“It wasn’t something I was angling for, but the circumstances presented themselves,” Barclay told The Palladium-Times on Sunday. “I didn’t get up on New Year’s Eve and think, ‘maybe I’ll be leader within the week,’ there was no grand strategy.”
The holiday news of Kolb’s arrest was “disappointing,” Barclay said, as the former Minority Leader was “doing a great job” but “clearly made a very bad mistake.”
“Could (Kolb) have hung on (to his leadership role)? Maybe, but I respect that he felt it was best for the conference for him to resign,” Barclay said. “(Kolb) always put the conference ahead of his own interest.”
Barclay said he had spent the last several days polling his colleagues and has received “positive response from all across the state” in support of his leadership bid.
“It’s one thing to run an election in your own district but it’s different to run for minority leader of the Republican conference,” Barclay said. “It’s a statewide position and I’ve been pleased and heartened from what I’ve heard.”
“I’ve been around a while, I know the conference very well and I can be an effective leader — that’s why I decided to undertake this,” he added.
In the middle of his ninth term representing Oswego and northern Onondaga counties, Barclay’s political pedigree is among the most polished in the region. His father, H. Douglas Barclay, served as a member of the state Senate from 1965 to 1984 and as United States Ambassador to El Salvador. The Syracuse University law library bears the Barclay name and the family’s patriarch clout still looms large in upstate political circles.
Barclay was first elected in 2002 and in the 2019 session served as deputy minority leader, often leading his party’s floor debate during budget and legislative negotiations. In 2008, he ran in a special election for the 48th Senate District vacated by longtime lawmaker Jim Wright but was defeated in a close race by Democrat Darrel Aubertine. Aubertine would lose his seat to State Sen. Patty Ritchie two years later — a position Ritchie still occupies today.
Republicans have become a nearly endangered species in Albany: Democrats hold commanding majorities in the Assembly and Senate, as well as an executive in Gov. Andrew Cuomo who has shown willingness to embrace liberal policies coming out of the legislative chambers.
This week will mark the beginning of the 2020 legislative session and also see lawmakers gather in Albany for Cuomo’s annual State of the State address. Facing another year of resistance to the New York City-dominated Legislature, Barclay said he’s ready.
“A lot of times we don’t have the votes so we’re the opposition, but I’ll be a loud voice as much as I can and encourage our conference,” Barclay said.
Last year’s session saw a tidal wave of progressive reforms become law, including granting state driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and highly controversial bail reforms — issues Barclay said he’ll continue to speak out on, while advancing solutions of his own.
“We’re not going to just be the ‘party of no’ and say, ‘Democrats bad,’” Barclay said. “We have positive, logical solutions how to make our state better and we’ll be pushing that together.”
A vote on the Republican Assembly leadership is expected Tuesday, according to individuals with knowledge of the situation.