ALBANY — A lawmaker with deep family ties to New York's North Country, Will Barclay, was the unanimous choice of Assembly Republicans Tuesday to lead their conference following the abrupt resignation of Brian Kolb.

Barclay, who turned 51 years old last Sunday, said his focus will be to challenge new criminal justice policies advanced by Democrats at the statehouse and seek to prune spending in a state with an annual budget of more than $175 billion and some of the highest property taxes in the nation.

Republicans hope Barclay can stabilize the minority conference, which was left reeling with the New Year's Eve arrest of Kolb on a charge of driving while intoxicated, an incident that took on more significance when it became known a state-owned sport utility vehicle was damaged.

Court records released in Ontario County included a statement from a witness that Kolb initially shifted the blame to his wife, reportedly telling the witness, a tow truck driver: "You know how women drive."

New information released by authorities indicated Kolb, who stepped down Jan. 3 from the leadership post he held for a decade, had a blood alcohol reading of 0.16%, exactly double the state's threshold for drunken driving.

Barclay, in an interview with CNHI, revealed that he will be assessing staffing and the allocation of resources, including state-owned vehicles, within the 43-member GOP conference.

While the Republicans attempt to be the voice of opposition in the legislture's lower chamber, they have no ability to get votes to the floor without getting the green light from the Democratic leadership. The Assembly, led by Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, an ally of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has 107 Democrats.

Barclay resides in Pulaski with his wife, Margaret, and their two sons. He made an unsuccessful run for a state Senate seat in 2008, an effort that was hampered when Democrats attacked him over the fact his family was charging fishermen $30 each for access to a popular stretch for anglers along the Salmon River.

In the interview, Barclay said his conference will begin the new session focused on retooling the bail law that limits the ability of judges to remand defendants to jail even though they may be considered dangerous.

"This clearly represents an overreach by the majority and the governor," he said.

Cuomo said this week he now believes the law he signed last year needs changes, calling the statute "a work in progress."

Barclay's father, H. Douglas Barclay, 87, was a state senator for more than 28 years and served as the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador in the administration of President George W. Bush.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com.

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