NYS Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb Says Launch Of “Citizens’ Committee For An Effective Constitution” Will Restore New York’s Reputation As An Effective State Government, Deliver True Reform

Leader Kolb says groundbreaking bi-partisan reform coalition will advance public discussion of the State Constitution and serve as non-partisan platform for how to best reform the constitution and create effective change; project will include statewide La
January 30, 2012

New York State Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb (R,I,C-Canandaigua) today commented on the launch of a groundbreaking, bi-partisan reform coalition – “Citizens’ Committee for an Effective Constitution” (CCEC) – that he is helping lead. CCEC is online and open to the public today and seeks to deliver a more effective State Constitution, a more effective state government, a more effective civic process and a more effective economy for the betterment of all New Yorkers.

Leader Kolb said that CCEC seeks to bring together, over time, recognized leaders and experts from the worlds of nonprofit/good government advocacy, private sector leadership and public service, academia and scholarly research to advance serious public discussion of issues pertaining to New York’s State Constitution, state government, the economy and public policy.

The launch of CCEC, first reported by Associated Press Albany Capitol Editor Michael Gormley, was carried this weekend in articles and analyses for statewide print, web and broadcast media and new media outlets including the Associated Press; Niagara Gazette; Democrat and Chronicle; Post-Standard; Saratogian; Daily Gazette; LoHud.com; Journal News; Poughkeepsie Journal; Staten Island Advance; Long Island Press; News 10; Empire Page and Twitter. CCEC also was covered in select New Jersey and Vermont AP media outlets.

CCEC has one goal: Restoring New York State’s reputation as the national economic and public policy leader by discussing and debating State Constitutional provisions that have contributed to statewide dysfunction, an underperforming economy and the loss of trust by New Yorkers in their state government and the men and women serving in it.

In order to develop and advance creative solutions to these problems, CCEC’s multi-year effort seeks to engender informed discussion, lively debate and purposeful action that transcends traditional political and ideological labels, and advance changes to the State Constitution that will produce a more democratic, responsive, and effective state government. CCEC will focus on State Constitutional change and advance a non-partisan, informed conversation on public policies. The Committee also aims to create a meaningful dialogue around the best methods to reform the State Constitution, whether through a Constitutional Convention or an Amendment-by-Amendment approach.

The three principals of CCEC are New York State Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb (R,I,C-Canandaigua); Bill Samuels, Chairman of New Roosevelt and the New Roosevelt Foundation; and Dr. Gerald Benjamin, Associate Vice President for Regional Engagement and Director of the Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach (CRREO) at SUNY New Paltz.

CCEC is live with an interactive on-line platform to serve as a free, 24-hour accessible informational clearinghouse for journalists, elected officials, scholars, policy advocates, citizen activists, interest groups and, most importantly, any New Yorker who wants to learn more about New York State government while affecting real and lasting change in the public arena.

“Nearly three years ago, I launched a grassroots, non-partisan effort to convene a ‘People’s Constitutional Convention’ aimed at empowering New Yorkers to make the types of fiscal and governmental changes our state government genuinely needed – changes like a State spending cap, term limits, independent redistricting, and initiative and referendum – but Albany’s broken status quo kept blocking. Today, State government has seen glimpses of reform, but New York still has miles to go before we have made good on the promise to taxpayers of a smaller, smarter, less costly and more effective government,” Leader Kolb said.

“I am proud to partner in this unprecedented bi-partisan reform effort with my good friend and fellow Canandaigua native Bill Samuels – one of New York’s strongest and most passionate voices for good government – and Dr. Gerald Benjamin, the preeminent expert, author and scholar on New York State government and our State Constitution. The purpose of our effort is to dust off the State Constitution, advance the cause of real Constitutional change and demonstrate how such changes could make a real difference for real New Yorkers. Our goal is a more effective State Constitution that leads to more jobs, a stronger economy and true government reform so New York State can reclaim its rightful role as national leader,” Leader Kolb stated.

Samuels, a leading good government activist and thinker in New York, said, “I have joined with Leader Kolb and Professor Benjamin, two of the state’s most thoughtful leaders on constitutional change, in this effort because we each believe that New York State should have the best and most effective state government in the nation. One of the fundamental hurdles to achieving that goal is to improve a state constitution that is outmoded and, in some cases, stands in the way of our elected leaders from doing the right thing on a particular policy issue. We want to help educate New Yorkers on how the constitution plays a role in our everyday lives and to spark a discussion on how we can best improve it.”

Dr. Gerald Benjamin, Director of CRREO at SUNY New Paltz, said, "Almost all New Yorkers know there is a national constitution. Far fewer know there is a State Constitution. Most of us only begin to pay attention to the state constitution when an issue comes up that involves it - like gambling. We want our project to generate a broad understanding of the crucial role the State Constitution plays in how we are governed in NYS.”

“In this time in which government reform is a front burner issue, we want to facilitate a lively, on-going debate about this core document, to remove it from the background and make it a focal point of New Yorkers' discussion about how our state is governed, and how our government might best be redesigned to serve its people.”

As part of its educational commitment, CCEC also is sponsoring a $1,000 scholarship essay competition. The contest, managed by SUNY in direct collaboration with CCEC, is open to law students and focuses on state constitutional issues. While any Constitutional issue can be chosen, a focus on campaign finance, redistricting or any of the topics on the home page are of special interest to CCEC. Essays selected as the strongest will be presented at a statewide conference on State Constitutional change where authors of the best will be awarded cash scholarship prizes of $1,000. To be eligible for the scholarship, essays must be between 5,000-7,500 words in length. A panel of subject matter experts and academics will evaluate the essay submissions, and select the best papers to be presented at a daylong conference, to be held at the Albany Law School in collaboration with its Local Government Law Center. Authors of essays delivered at the conference that are selected as best will not only appear on CCEC’s website, but will be eligible for an award of a $1,000 cash prize.

Dr. Benjamin, one of the foremost academic authorities on the New York State Constitution, will lead an on-going discussion of constitutional issues among professors and other experts in his “Professor’s Corner.” Topics already include Casino Gambling, Constitutional Change, Convention, Elections, Ethics, Property Tax Reform and Vacancies. CCEC encourages professors and experts around the state to reach out to the Committee to participate in the discussion.

CCEC’s on-line platform features analysis of public policy issues, their direct applicability and specific reference in the State Constitution. Thirty-nine policy issues are in development including the following:

  • Redistricting: Includes the subcategories “Population Deviation,” “Standards for Localities,” “Number of State Senators” and “Counting Prisoners”;
  • Campaign Finance Reform;
  • Constitutional Change: Amendment process vs. Constitutional Convention;
  • Constitutional Amendments;
  • Constitutional Convention;
  • Casino Gambling;
  • State Budget;
  • Initiative and Referendum;
  • Recall of Public Officials;
  • Election Administration;
  • Filling of Vacancies;
  • State Spending Cap;
  • Unfunded Mandates; and
  • Property Tax Reform

Each public policy issue section at CCEC’s on-line platform includes:

  • Fast Facts which enables the reader to get up to speed quickly on a particular policy issue and its constitutional history;
  • Point/Counterpoint which allows debate between proponents on either side of the issue on how to best address its constitutional ramifications as well as links to news articles, editorial and opinion pieces that have appeared in local media outlets and blogs across the state;
  • News and Opinions Pieces covering each issue culled from newspapers and blogs across the state;
  • Other States section allowing readers to compare and contrast how other state constitutions address similar policy issues; and
  • Links to Relevant Legislative Amendments that have been proposed in the New York legislature to address a particular policy issue.

More about the CCEC team

Brian Kolb, New York State Assembly Minority Leader

Brian Kolb was first elected to represent New York State's 129th Assembly District when a special election was held in February 2000 and was re-elected in 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010. On April 6, 2009, he was elected Minority Leader by his colleagues. Assemblyman Kolb’s district includes Cayuga, Cortland, Onondaga, Ontario, and Seneca Counties.

Brian’s legislative priorities include reducing taxes, improving the quality of education, fostering job creation, providing sound health care and reforming state government. He is dedicated to ensuring that residents and businesses throughout the district receive effective, responsive constituent service and timely assistance with state government inquiries. Brian’s principal goal is to be easily accessible and approachable to the people he represents. In a short time, he has gained a reputation for hard work, producing results and being very active in his district with a down-to-earth, straight-talking approach.

Assemblyman Kolb possesses a wealth of valuable private sector experience acquired as a business consultant, entrepreneur and chief operating officer of a variety of small and large technology-based businesses. He is the former president of Refractron Technologies and a co-founder of the North American Filter Corporation.

Brian has demonstrated a strong commitment to education throughout both his personal life and his professional career. He currently serves as an Adjunct Professor of Adult and Graduate Education at Roberts Wesleyan College, where his students have twice selected him Outstanding Faculty Member.

He is a former Chairman of the Finger Lakes Community College Foundation and is a former member of the Honeoye Central School Board and the Finger Lakes Community College Board of Trustees. Brian earned high honors while completing his Master of Science and Bachelor of Science Degrees at Roberts Wesleyan College.

Community involvement and public service have been hallmarks of Assemblyman Kolb’s background. He is currently a member of the Honeoye Chapter of the Sons of the American Legion, Ontario Charities Classic Board of Directors, member of the Ontario ARC Advisory Board, Honorary Board Member of Finger Lakes HealthQuest Foundation, a member of Merrill Hose Fire Company in Canandaigua, a member of the New York Farm Bureau, and is a Notary Public.

Brian previously served as Supervisor for the Town of Richmond, Chairman of Leadership Rochester’s Board of Directors, and as a member of the Ontario County Revolving Loan Fund Committee, the Ontario County Board of Supervisors and the New York State Public Authorities Control Board.

Mr. Kolb is a member of the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Heartland Institute’s Board of Legislative Advisors, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Rifle Association (NRA), the Shooters’ Committee On Political Education (SCOPE), the American Irish Legislators Society and the Knights of Columbus.

Brian lives in Canandaigua with his wife Lauren and has three grown children, sons Britton and Clayton, daughter Kylie, and one grandson, Everett.

Bill Samuels, New Roosevelt Foundation, Inc. Chairman

Bill Samuels, an innovative political thinker and social activist, has a lifetime of experience as a CEO and high-tech entrepreneur. Currently, Bill is managing Director of Carlyle Capital Group, the Executive Chairman of Resonant Software, a software technology company in San Francisco and the Hills Treatment Center in Los Angeles, a facility dedicated to helping people overcome addiction.

Raised in Canandaigua, Bill’s family and political roots are deeply anchored in upstate New York. His father ran for Governor with Mario Cuomo as his Lieutenant Governor in 1974. Upon graduating MIT and Harvard Law School, Bill made the decision to engage in socially responsible businesses, turning down a job on Wall Street to start an education company dedicated to training entry-level workers who lacked the skills to get and keep a job.

Bill was one of 15 national plaintiffs in 1968 that sued to open the Presidential Primary process. This lawsuit played a role in how the national presidential primaries have been run since 1972. In 1969, he helped start a public interest organization, Council on Economic Priorities, which made public companies’ policies on the environment, women & minority achievement, South African and tobacco concerns, labor safety and all corporate disclosure of outside financial donations and investments.

Bill was active in the movement against the Vietnam War playing a lead role in raising money to finance the 1971 Vietnam Veterans Against the War March on Washington.

After the 2000 Census, he helped finance the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of New York’s notoriously gerrymandered redistricting plan.

In the 2004 Presidential campaign, many were outraged by the huge influx of “independent” money into campaigns with the “swiftboating” against John Kerry. Bill produced a documentary to set the record straight, “Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry.”

Recognizing the kind of fundamental structural campaign finance reform that is needed, Bill launched the New Roosevelt Foundation, a multi-year campaign to achieve change around “Five Pillars of Reform” including a focus on New York’s campaign finance rules: highlighting the need for public financing, lowered contribution limits with closure of loopholes that have otherwise rendered them useless, and improved enforcement, so that our State Legislature can regain the integrity, functionality and common sense the voters are demanding.

New Roosevelt built from scratch a field organization totally devoted to Albany reform. An office was opened in the Bronx, and New Roosevelt executed a targeted field operation that ousted a disgraced New York State Senator.

Bill joined the 99% as a leading voice fighting the repeal of the millionaire’s tax in favor of an overhaul of the New York’s existing tax structure for one that is progressive where all New Yorkers can pay their fair share in order to support the infrastructure that business needs to thrive and grow local jobs. Bill remains focused on making New York a leading state on key issues like campaign finance so that it can once again serve as a national example.

Bill is one of 10 children — eight sisters and one brother — and is married to Marie Samuels and has a 15-year-old daughter, Kitty. Common Cause recently recognized Bill honoring him with the Democracy in Action Award for outstanding commitment to government accountability.

Dr. Gerald Benjamin, Associate Vice President for Regional Engagement and Director of the Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach (CRREO) at SUNY New Paltz

Gerald Benjamin joined the faculty at SUNY New Paltz in 1968 as an Assistant Professor of Political Science.

He achieved the University's highest rank in 2002 when he was appointed Distinguished Professor by the SUNY Board of Trustees. He has served as Chair of the Department of Political Science, Presiding Officer of the faculty and (for 12 years beginning in 1996) Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Today, Benjamin is Associate Vice President for Regional Engagement and Director of the Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach (CRREO) at SUNY New Paltz. CRREO is the principal locus of the college's efforts to raise its level of engagement within communities, governments, not-for-profits and businesses across the Hudson Valley. It seeks to conduct research on regional topics; encourage faculty to build regionally-based service activity into their scholarship and teaching; create and direct institutes and programs to meet regional needs; and offer conferences and programs on matters of regional interest.

Benjamin was director of the Center for the New York State and Local Government Studies at SUNY's Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany (1993-1995). Later, he was appointed by Governor Mario Cuomo as Research Director of the Temporary State Commission on Constitutional Revision. He also was Principal Research Advisor to the New York City Charter Revision Commission that brought about extensive structural changes in that city's government.

Between 2004 and 2006, Benjamin chaired the Ulster County Charter Commission. The work of this commission resulted in approval at the polls of the county's first charter, which went into effect in January of 2009. In 2007, Benjamin was appointed by Governor Spitzer to the State Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness that proposed wide-reaching reforms in local government in New York State.

Between 1981 and 1993, Gerald Benjamin was an elected member of the Ulster County legislature. He served in legislative leadership as both Majority Leader (1985-91) and Chairman (1991-93). Ulster County, during this time, had no elected executive; the legislative chairman was, therefore, the County's Chief Elected Officer. Ulster County, during Dr. Benjamin's tenure, had a budget of $165 million and more than 1,300 employees.

Benjamin earned a B.A. with distinction from St. Lawrence University. His Master’s (1967) and Doctoral (1970) degrees in Political Science are from Columbia University.

More about the Citizens’ Committee for an Effective Constitution (CCEC)

The Citizens’ Committee for an Effective Constitution is a project of the New Roosevelt Foundation, Inc., a New York State Not-for-Profit, founded by Bill Samuels, that has filed for 501(c)(3) status.