PULASKI — With Republican Assemblyman Brian Kolb’s New Year’s Eve driving while intoxicated arrest and subsequent resignation as the state assembly’s minority leader, former deputy minority leader and nine-term Assemblyman Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, stands very ready to take up the leadership mantle of his conference once the members’ votes are tallied Tuesday.
Having reached out to all 42 Republican members of the Assembly, Mr. Barclay said he is “heartened by the response I got to those calls. So, I feel good, but I would never take anything for granted until the vote is taken, which will be tomorrow,” he said Monday.
“A week ago, I wasn’t contemplating a run for leader. I’m certainly not pleased with the happenstance of how this came about, but we have to move on,” Mr. Barclay said. “I thought leader Kolb did the honorable thing by stepping down as leader. He had no obligation to do so. By stepping down, I think he’s letting us all move forward. We have to move forward, and so that’s what I’m doing. I think I’d be a good leader.”
This being the beginning of a new legislative session, Mr. Barclay said “played a big role in (Kolb’s) stepping down because we’ve got the State of the State on Wednesday, and there’s a lot of focus back here, rightfully so, and so I think he thought it’d be a distraction, because this is the time you need leadership.”
Over the years, becoming that leader “certainly crossed my mind,” Mr. Barclay said. “I was friends with Brian, and I certainly thought he was doing a good job, so I wasn’t going to challenge his leadership, but if the time did come, I would consider it at that time, which I did.”
After nine terms, at the age of 51, Mr. Barclay has become one of the senior members of the Republican conference.
“I’ve got to be in the top five, I think,” he said.
Mr. Barclay, a graduate of St. Lawrence University and Syracuse University College of Law is now the top Republican on the powerful Assembly Ways and Means Committee.
“Everything that has a fiscal impact in the state has to go through the Ways and Means Committee,” he said.
If elected leader, Mr. Barclay has his priorities.
“We have some incredibly talented members in our conference,” he said, “and I want to make sure that every one of those members is engaged. Because ultimately our goal is one, to increase membership, but more importantly, is to push good public policy in New York state. It’s hard for us because we are the minority, but as the opposition party, we want to really point out where we think the majority has gone wrong, and we also obviously want to propose alternatives to what they’re proposing. So, what I want to do is engage the whole conference in that fight, because obviously, if we have 42 voices versus five or six voices, our voice is much louder.”
His top legislative priority? “Push back on the cashless bail bill changes that were done last year,” he said. “Sometimes in Albany we react to emotion, we react to activists, and it doesn’t always bring good policy. We’re seeing that this was truly the case with this. Just to delay it for a year would, I think, be the best for right now, and then we can go back and re-examine it.”
Mr. Barclay’s strong opposition to unfunded state mandates “without a doubt, has been one of our messages since I’ve been elected, unfortunately. And instead of getting better, it’s getting worse. We haven’t been successful as we should on that, but we’ll definitely hammer the drum on that going forward.”
As minority leader, he will have to deal with the Democratic majority, who Mr. Barclay feels “has some courtesy and respect for what we’re trying to do on our side, and I would like to continue that professional relationship.”
He favors reform bills that will bring more legislation to the floor from both Republicans and Democrats by guaranteeing a bill with 76 sponsors gets voted on. “It’s reasonable that it should at least get to the floor,” he said. Presently, that is not always the case.
Another possible reform bill on the same issue would assure that each legislator got a certain number of bills to the floor for a vote each session.
As for his legislative successes, “saving the nuke (Fitzpatrick) plant by far was the biggest thing,” he said. “If I had to point to one thing in my career that I felt I played a substantial role in and was successful in, it would certainly be that.”
Another success “was getting relief for the people who suffered from the catastrophic flooding we had in 2017.
“People say you can’t get anything done in the minority, but you can,” he said. “That was my bill that ended up passing the Assembly.”
That bill affected many in Oswego County and others who border Lake Ontario. Republican Assemblyman Brian Manktelow, of the 130th Assembly District that borders the lake in Wayne County and the portions of Cayuga and Oswego counties he represents, praised Mr. Barclay for the work he did on that issue. His support for Mr. Barclay’s rise to the leadership role is total.
That same confidence in Mr. Barclay easily extends to Oswego County’s Republican Chairman Fred Beardsley.
“I think he will be a great asset to the minority,” Mr. Beardsley said. “Will’s got a history that’s just impeccable. I think it’s great for the state of New York, the Assembly, and it certainly can’t hurt in Oswego County. I see good things happening out of this, I do.”
And last, but hardly least, are the comments of the man who’s known Mr. Barclay for the past 15 years and sits beside him in the Assembly, Gary Finch, Republican assemblyman from the 126th district.
“He’s a great choice,” Mr. Finch said. “Will Barclay is the logical choice. He’s highly respected in the conference and is a very skillful legislator with a great grasp of the New York state budget. Legislatively, he’s a great debater on the floor.
“I expect the vote to be unanimous. If it’s not, it will only be one or two votes short. There’s no doubt. It’s just how big the vote is going to be. I think he’ll have the whole conference. You’ve got to be able to have everyone with you, and he is able to do that.
“Barclay has a collegial side to him,” Mr. Finch said. “He’ll tend to bring people together. I know he can work with the majority, and that’s probably the most difficult part of the job.
“I think he’ll do a great job,” he said. “I know he will.”