Two former colleagues could reunite in an attempt to unseat Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2018.
Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb and Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, both of whom are exploring gubernatorial bids, are in discussions to form a Republican ticket to challenge Cuomo, a Democrat, in next year's election. Kolb, R-Canandaigua, and Molinaro revealed their potential plan during a joint interview with The Citizen Monday.
The two men have been friends since serving in the state Assembly together. Before Molinaro was elected Dutchess County executive, he was a state assemblyman from 2007 through 2011. Kolb has served in the Assembly since 2000, including the last eight years as the chamber's minority leader.
Kolb and Molinaro speak regularly. It was during one of those conversations over the last two weeks that they discussed the possibility of becoming running mates.
"We're not out to kill each other," Molinaro said. "We're trying to find out what's the right mix of people to send the right message and win."
Kolb added, "We've been talking right along. We talk about issues that affect Dutchess County, whether it's local tax bills or what's going on statewide ... It's not like this is a new dialogue. We've always been in conversation, in discussion and whether it's social or business-wise, we've been doing that for awhile."
They have similar timetables for deciding whether to seek the Republican nomination for governor. Both anticipate making a final decision on the 2018 race within the next month.
Kolb said he's received "very, very positive" feedback at GOP events and from party leaders who he's talked to about a potential gubernatorial campaign. Molinaro said he's also received positive feedback from GOP leaders.
There are several factors under consideration for the would-be challengers. They will need to raise millions of dollars to mount a serious campaign against Cuomo, who has more than $25.6 million in the bank for his re-election bid.
The state's voter enrollment favors Democrats. A Republican hasn't won a statewide race since then-Gov. George Pataki was re-elected in 2002.
But both believe there's too much at stake in the 2018 election. And they both agree that there needs to be a leadership change in New York.
"There is too great an interest, I think, in (the Cuomo administration) to make a headline, to score political points, to leverage people against one another in order to score a win instead of truly understanding the kind of change that needs to happen in order to grow the economy, keep New Yorkers here and make the state more affordable and improve everybody's quality of life," Molinaro said. "One of the reasons that I'm even thinking about running statewide is because of the overwhelming burden the state places on businesses and taxpayers. Brian, I know, agrees with that."
Kolb said "pocketbook issues" are among the top priorities. He panned Cuomo's economic development strategy and one of his signature initiatives, the regional councils, that develop plans for investing millions of state funds to support projects across New York.
While the councils consist of regional representatives, Kolb said the final decisions on funding are made by the Cuomo administration in Albany.
Another flaw of the program, according to Kolb, is how the funding is distributed to the councils. Under the current model, the 10 regional councils compete for more than $800 million in state aid. Some regions win more money than others.
Kolb wants a more transparent process and would give equal amounts to each region for economic development projects.
Critics of Cuomo's economic development strategy also claim that the governor's campaign donors benefit more from his initiatives.
"We believe that everybody should be doing well and it shouldn't be who you're connected to or how many campaign dollars that you received," Kolb said.
There is a large field of Republican candidates considering a run for governor in 2018. Aside from Kolb and Molinaro, corporate restructuring expert Harry Wilson is exploring a bid. He narrowly lost to state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli in 2010.
State Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican, is traveling around the state to determine if GOP leaders will support him for governor. Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino, the GOP nominee in 2010, and Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who ran for governor in 2014, have been mentioned as possible candidates.
But it's Kolb and Molinaro who are discussing the possibility of a partnership — a ticket that would aim to defeat Cuomo in 2018.
"We have a mutual respect and an appreciation for each other," Molinaro said. "We both think that we have something to contribute both on behalf of our party but more importantly, for New York. And we're having a conversation about how we could do that together."