“Please consider the ramifications of impaired driving,” Kolb wrote, “especially as we prepare to close out 2019 and welcome in a new decade.”
It was a plea, Kolb later admitted, that he did not himself follow.
On New Year’s Eve — just a week after his precautionary column was published in the upstate Daily Messenger — Kolb was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated.
“This was a terrible lapse in judgment, one I have urged others not to make, and I take full responsibility for it,” Kolb said in a statement Wednesday. “I fully recognize the severity of the situation and I am profoundly sorry. There is no excuse and no justification for what occurred Tuesday evening. I made the wrong decision, and it is one I deeply regret.”
At 10:30 that evening, Kolb was just down the road from his home in Victor, N.Y., south of Rochester, when he drove his state-owned 2018 GMC Acadia into a ditch, said Ontario County Sheriff Kevin Henderson. A driver on an adjacent road noticed the large SUV run aground and called 911.
According to Henderson, a deputy arrived on scene and conducted field sobriety tests. The lawmaker failed them and was taken to the county jail, where a breath test showed his blood alcohol content was above 0.08 percent, the legal limit. No one was injured in the crash, and Henderson said Kolb was alone in the car when police got there. The sheriff, a Democrat elected in 2018, said Kolb would be afforded no preferential treatment.
“This is a high-profile individual, and I just want people to understand he’s going to be held accountable,” Henderson told The Washington Post. “Mr. Kolb is not being shown any favoritism because of his political stature.”
Henderson and Kolb have worked together in the past, and the assemblyman has been “very supportive” of local law enforcement, Henderson said. But he pledged that power, proximity and partisanship would play no role in Kolb’s case, using as an example the department’s release of Kolb’s mug shot — a portrait of the lawmaker sporting a gray hoodie and a five o’clock shadow.
“That shows the community that he is being treated like anyone else would be treated if they had this offense,” Henderson said.
The maximum penalty for a first-time DWI offender in New York is a year in jail and $1,000 in fines, with a mandatory driver’s license revocation of at least six months.
First elected 20 years ago, Kolb became minority leader in 2009. He’s now the legislature’s longest-serving member in a leadership position, and in 2018 he flirted with statewide politics, briefly running against longtime Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D).
But in the days since the arrest, at least one of Kolb’s Republican colleagues has called for his resignation. On Twitter, Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor said Kolb “should step down as Assembly Minority Leader.”
“That he hasn’t done so already is a disgrace,” wrote Lalor, who represents a district near Poughkeepsie.
Another Republican, Assemblyman Will Barclay, urged caution.
“Obviously, everybody is very disappointed,” Barclay, who has served with Kolb since 2002, told the Syracuse Post-Standard. “But Brian has built up a lot of good will in the conference. I don’t think there’s a movement to push for his resignation. I think we want to give him a chance to present his story when we’re back in session next week.”
But by Friday evening — before the legislature had reconvened — Kolb announced he would give up his leadership role, but continue as an assemblyman while “seeking professional help in order to heal, learn, and fully address the challenges that I, along with my family, currently face.”
“I have always tried to put the needs and best interests of our conference ahead of my own. That is why I have decided to step down as Minority Leader,” he said in a statement.
But the criminal case will go on. The Ontario County district attorney, Republican Jim Ritts, appointed the district attorney of neighboring Yates County as a special prosecutor in the case — an effort at avoiding claims of unfairness.
“We want to maintain the absolute integrity of the system and this prosecution by avoiding any possible appearance of impropriety,” Ritts told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in an email.
Kolb has a history of supporting stricter driving while intoxicated legislation. In 2009, his office boasted that he backed “legislation that would make New York State’s DWI laws the strongest in the country.”
Two days after his newspaper column published, the Democrat and Chronicle noted, Kolb sent a tweet reiterating his warning: “There is no excuse for driving impaired this holiday season,” he wrote.
That tweet has since been deleted.