Ryan Whalen

Ryan Whalen is Capital Tonight's Western New York political reporter. He covers politics in Rochester, Buffalo and the Southern Tier. Ryan was a general assignment reporter for Time Warner Cable News Buffalo for nearly five years and worked in several other markets before joining the Cap Tonight team in 2016.

Posts by Ryan Whalen

Molinaro On Kavanaugh Allegations: Truth Needs An Opportunity To Be Told

On the same day the president departed from his previously restrained response to sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro took a different route.

In Buffalo, Molinaro said he comes from a place where any allegations, particularly of abuse, are taken seriously. He said every effort ought to be made to find the truth about California professor Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation Kavanaugh attempted to rape her when they were in high school in the early 1980s.

“How the federal government, how the Congress addresses that is certainly within their purview but I come from the perspective that those who have been victimized or at least alleged victimization, need to have an opportunity to have the truth be told,” Molinaro said.

Earlier this week, President Donald Trump defended his nominee but also said the accuser’s voice should be heard. While he didn’t reneg on that sentiment Friday morning, Trump in a series of tweets suggested “radical left wing” politicians are trying to destroy Kavanaugh’s reputation and delay his confirmation.

He questioned why nobody called the Federal Bureau of Investigations 36 years ago.

Ford’s attorneys are negotiating with the Senate Judiciary Committee to potentially testify next week.

Molinaro Doesn’t Expect Collins To Negatively Impact GOP Gubernatorial Turnout In WNY

Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro weighed in on the decision made by Rep. Chris Collins, R-NY-27, to remain on the ballot this November.

Collins, who federal prosecutor’s charged last month with crimes connected to insider trading, unsuspended his campaign earlier this week. The congressman said he is now “actively campaigning” while simultaneously working to clear his name.

“I will say that it’s certainly, certainly wasn’t what I was expecting but it’s a decision that he his family and his lawyers decided,” Molinaro said.

Collins also said he will serve the district in Congress if re-elected, a decision some members of the GOP including Carl Paladino have speculated might dissuade voters from coming to the polls. The district is traditionally a Republican stronghold, and a region where Paladino did very well during his 2010 campaign for governor.

However, Molinaro said he’s not concerned about Collins situation affecting his prospects.

“I suspect there will be heavy turnout nonetheless,” Molinaro said. “Certainly we want to be sure that voters understand in this district, in this part of the state, that the governor has turned his back on Western New York. He has and I won’t.”

The candidate was in Buffalo again Friday, as part of his “Cuomo Corruption Tour.”

Independence and Intrigue in SD-53

From the Morning Memo:

Perhaps there’s potential for Simcha Felder-type situation in Central New York, but a lot of cards need to fall into place first.

Democratic candidate Rachel May officially won her primary over incumbent Sen. David Valesky, following the counting of absentee ballots yesterday. However, Valesky will still appear on the November ballot, since he holds the Independence Party line, and potentially the Women’s Equality Party line as well.

Whether he will actively campaign as an independent candidate, however, remains an open question.

“Now that all the votes have been counted, I congratulate Rachel May on her win in the Democratic primary,” Valeksy wrote on Facebook. “Ms. May and her supporters deserve credit for their hard work and tireless advocacy on behalf of progressive causes.”

“Since last week’s primary, countless individuals have urged me to actively campaign as an independent. Out of respect for them, I will take some time to consider all options going forward.”

Should he decide to stick it out, Valesky has a few things going for him – namely the power of incumbency and just short of $400,000 in his campaign coffers as of 11 days before the primary. He is also running in a district that includes most of the city of Syracuse, where just last year Mayor Ben Walsh ran a successful independent campaign.

Meanwhile, Republican candidate Janet Burman isn’t expected to make much noise. She has run unsuccessfully for several other offices, and she has less than $2,000 in campaign money.

There’s also the matter of her name being conspicuously left out of a statement issued yesterday by Onondaga GOP Chairman Tom Dadey, in which he urged voters not to choose May in the general election.

“If Rachel May is elected to the Senate, she will bankrupt this state and make our communities more dangerous and our families less safe,” Dadey wrote. “There is an alternative to Rachel May and the Democrat socialists who are attempting to takeover our state government, and the voters of the 53rd Senate District would be wise to choose it.”

Might this be a sign that the GOP be open to backing Valesky in November?

Burman is not a lawyer, so she can’t be nominated for a judgeship and would only be able to get off the ballot if she moved out of the district. If the party could convince her to suspend her own campaign, it could either actively throw institutional support behind Valesky, or at a minimum, stay out of the race.

Then the question is this: If the incumbent were to launch a successful third party campaign with tacit – or even outright – support from the local GOP, who would he conference with in the state Senate?

Valesky is one of the founding members of the now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference, which helped the Republicans maintain control of the majority.

Despite a deal to reunify with mainline Democrats earlier this year, he and five other former members were defeated by a slate of progressive insurgents during the primary. Come next session, there will be no IDC, but it’s possible Valesky could decide to side with Republicans again.

After all, Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat, has been doing so for years, and has at times wielded significant influence as a result. Thanks to Felder, the GOP currently hold a one vote edge in the chamber, but Democrats have high hopes of taking back the majority in November.

That means SD-53 could turn into a swing district, depending on what Valeksy – and, more importantly – CNY voters, decide to do in November.

Struggling Niagara Falls Considers Hefty Garbage Fee

From the Morning Memo:

Niagara Falls continues to struggle with the loss of roughly $20 million annually from the Seneca Nation in casino revenue.

The city has already scaled back its budget, but now it’s proposing to make up some of the shortfall from its citizens pockets, charging as much as $200 per household in garbage fees.

The plan under consideration by the City Council would be included in the mayor’s Oct. 1 budget proposal. City leaders said it’s not something they want to do, necessarily, but is an alternative to cutting back on public safety.

“We understand the plight; we have to make some tough decision,” Council Chair Andrew Touma said. “I’m gonna do what’s best for my city.”

A group of protesters gathered last night outside City Hall to express their displeasure with the proposal.

“I’m asking them to cut the fat of City Hall before you come to our door asking for money,” protester Terri Kline said.

The Senecas have not made payments as part of revenue sharing agreement with the state since last spring. They say they have fulfilled their obligation under a 2002 compact.

The state disagrees, and the dispute is currently in an arbitration process, which is moving very slowly. The Senecas have offered to negotiate separately with Niagara Falls, Buffalo, and Salamanca where their casinos operate, but so far the cities have declined to engage, deferring to the state.

Last week, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster suggested during a 9/11 remembrance ceremony that the nation’s refusal to make payments is putting firefighters and police officers at risk.

NY-27: Collins Will ‘Actively Campaign’ and Serve If Reelected

Indicted Republican Congressman Chris Collins sent a letter to media and supporters Wednesday afternoon, promising to “actively campaign” for reelection.

Collins, who suspended his campaign in August, several days after federal prosecutor brought charges related to insider trading against him, surprised GOP leaders Monday when he decided to remain on the ballot. With the exception of a brief statement from his attorneys, the congressman had not been heard from since the decision.

However Wednesday, he promised not only to reestablish the campaign, but to serve if reelected.

The stakes are too high to allow the radical left to take control of this seat in Congress. Their agenda is clear. They want to reverse the recently enacted tax cuts, impose Canadian style healthcare, inflict new job-killing regulations and impeach President Trump,” he wrote. “We cannot stand by and let that happen.”

Democratic challenger and current Grand Island Town Supervisor Nate McMurray’s campaign has received vastly increased attention and support in the past six week. Cook Political Report recently upgraded his prospects of winning although he remains an underdog in the GOP-leaning 27th Congressional District.

The candidate promised an in depth statement in response but responded to the news on Twitter with two words.

“Bring it,” McMurray said.

Some Republicans, including former gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, had called for Collins to vow to resign if reelected. The congressman could potentially face expulsion and/or censure if convicted.

Collins has a status hearing in U.S. District Court Southern District of New York scheduled for October 11.

Longshot Candidate Cleary Releases Digital Ad In SD-2

The Democratic candidate hoping to unseat state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan in his home district has released her first campaign commercial.

East Northport horticulturist Kathleen Cleary’s campaign says the digital advertisement will target prime voters in Senate District 2. The political newcomer faces an uphill battle against the Republican who’s been in the state Legislature for 30+ years.

The spot begins with the candidate explaining she decided to run for office because the majority leader was holding up the Women’s Reproductive Health Act, which aims to strengthen abortion rights in New York State.

“If we were to lose Roe V. Wade, women’s right to an abortion would only be if their life was at stake, not if their health or their fertility, but their life. My first pregnancy nearly killed me. Five months later, my second pregnancy left me infertile,” she said.

The ad continued to claim Flanagan holds up many bills that would be beneficial to voters. Cleary said he is taking constituents for granted and is beholden to corporate donors.

The candidate has announced endorsements from New York State United Teachers and Communications Workers of America Local 1180. She has raised roughly $15,000 according to her July campaign finance report.

Flanagan has more than $1.4 million in his campaign coffers.

“Majority Leader Flanagan serves this state and his district with distinction, focusing on issues that matter to everyday people like cutting taxes, generating jobs and creating an affordable New York,” Flanagan campaign spokesperson Candice Giove said.

The campaign went on to say it is unfortunate any candidate would use the Roe Supreme Court decision as a talking point given it is already the law of the land and the state Attorney General’s Office previously offered a legal opinion that it stands in this state.

“The Reproductive Health Act goes far beyond Roe, allowing non-doctors – like nurses, nurse practitioners, and even doulas – to perform abortion, a medical procedure, up until the moment of birth,” Giove said.

She said the bill also diminishes protections for domestic violence victims when unborn children are killed, referencing a specific case in Bronx County earlier this year as an example of the current law’s value.


Cook Political Report Moves NY-27 To ‘Lean Republican’

Election analysis newsletter Cook Political Report believes indicted Republican Congressman Chris Collins decision to remain on the November ballot makes the seat more attainable for Democrats.

The report has moved his race against current Grand Island Town Supervisor Nate McMurray from Likely Republican to Lean Republican following Monday’s announcement. The author of the latest analysis, David Wasserman, compared New York’s 27th Congressional District to Pennsylvania’s similarly GOP dominated 18th district, where Democrat Conor Lamb scored an upset victory in March.

However, Wasserman also pointed out there is hopeful precedent for Republicans in Rep. Michael Grimm, who handily won reelection while under indictment in 2014. Grimm promised to resign if convicted which Collins, so far, has not done.

“New York’s 27th CD takes in Buffalo’s most Republican suburbs and voted for President Trump 59 percent to 35 percent in 2016. Collins, a former Erie County executive and one of the wealthiest members of Congress, became Trump’s first congressional endorser in early 2016 and took 67 percent in 2016. But in his last competitive race in 2012, he only defeated Democratic Rep. Kathy Hochul 51 percent to 49 percent,” Wasserman wrote.

He also wrote that while Hochul, not McMurray, was the Democratic Party’s first choice for the seat, it has appeared to galvanize behind McMurray in the last six weeks. Collins was arrested on charges related to insider trading in early August and suspended his campaign a few days later.

Local Republican committees had been looking at steps to substitute the congressman on the ballot, but could only do so with his cooperation. This week Collins and his lawyers signaled the GOP no longer had that cooperation.

NY-27 GOP County Chairs Meet In Albany To Discuss Collins Situation

The eight county Republican chairs from New York’s 27th Congressional District met Tuesday in Albany to talk strategy after being blindsided by the indicted incumbent a day earlier.

The meeting, which came as the state committee also met at the capital, was originally intended to discuss moving forward with a plan to substitute Rep. Chris Collins on the ballot. In August, Collins suspended his campaign after federal prosecutors charged him with crimes related to insider trading.

Monday, however, the congressman and his attorneys decided it was in their best interest to remain the candidate. Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy said he and his fellow chairs discussed strategy about how to get out the vote for all their elections, but particularly in NY-27.

“We’re looking forward to, you know, the next week or so, discussing things maybe with Congressman Collins team to see what their plans are for his campaign,” he said.

Langworthy did not provide much detail about the strategy but talked at length about how important it was to keep the seat in Republican hands. Again, he said a vote for the Democratic candidate Nate McMurray is a vote to impeach President Donald Trump, even though McMurray has said that’s not a priority of his.

“No matter what he says right now, he will be part of a Democrat majority if they were to take that in the House of Representatives that will go on to make their first order of business the impeachment of President Trump. We can’t stand for that and the conservative Republican voters of Western New York, we don’t want that in our region,” Langworthy said.

The Erie County chairman was asked about what would happen if Collins were elected then convicted. He said he feels very good about the candidates that had come forward for the seats over the past six weeks and believes the party has great options if needed in the future.

Wofford Says He’ll Go After Public Corruption ‘From Day One’

Republican Attorney General candidate Keith Wofford believes he would have broad authority to combat corruption in state government and promised to begin in investigating issues immediately if elected.

Wofford said the state constitution not only gives the AG’s office independent authority, it obligates the officeholder to prosecute corruption. On top of that, the candidate cited roughly a half a dozen different statutes he believes he would give him the tools needed to take on the issue.

The candidate said corruption is the number one issue in the race and argued it is costing taxpayers “a fortune.” He drew a distinction between himself and Democratic candidate Letitia James who on various occasions has said the state Legislature needs to approve new laws.

“I just want the people to know that from Day One, when I’m elected attorney general, we’re not going to have to wait for the Legislature. Contrary to what my opponent says, an effective attorney general can go after the biggest issue out there, that is public corruption, from Day One,” Wofford said.

James’ campaign said her record of taking on entrenched forces stands in stark contrast to Wofford.

“It’s incredible that Mr. Wofford is now suggesting that he can tackle corruption, given his support of Donald Trump,” said Delaney Kempner, campaign spokesperson.

Wofford did not rule out asking legislators to pass new laws but said he has no plans to wait for them to do so. He pointed to bid-rigging in particular as a major problem and said there are different angles to address it, including civil action to invalidate contracts, in addition to criminal prosecution.

“When the taxpayers are injured, it’s not just that the person who did wrong isn’t in jail. It’s that we have a lousy deal that hurts the taxpayers,” he said.

Wofford said, if elected, he plans to talk about guidelines, red flags, and best practices to avoid further issues. He said his office will look at campaign contributions and their connection to contracts.

However, in a departure from the stance of GOP gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro, Wofford said he doesn’t believe in banning contributions from people or businesses with which the government is contracting.

“I believe in First Amendment rights of people to give and to contribute,” he said. “People have an interest whether it’s a personal interest or a commercial interest. I actually believe in the right to give. It’s not the giving that’s the issue. It’s the question of whether there’s a nexus between giving and action by the government.”

State Senate To Examine Cuomo’s Conditional Pardons

The New York State Senate will host two public hearings to examine the state’s current parole policies and the governor’s use of executive order to grant conditional pardons allowing parolees to vote.

This year Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-NY, pardoned more than 24,000 individuals, drawing criticism from many of his opponents, including a number of Republican State Senators. Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee Chair Pat Gallivan, R-Elma, was among those critics.

Gallivan annouced the hearings jointly with the chair of the Elections Committee, Fred Ashkar.

“I am troubled by the seeming automatic release of cop killers, sex offenders and violent felons who now have had their rights restored through a questionable process,” Gallivan said. “The governor’s blanket pardon of approximately 25,000 convicted felons, who have yet to pay their debt to society, is wrong. We need to examine current parole policies and the impact of the governor’s Executive Order to ensure public safety is properly served.”

The governor’s executive order received almost immediate backlash when he issued the first round of pardons in May, although prisoners’ rights advocates and civil liberty groups applauded the move. The criticisms continued as state senators and Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro expressed concern about the potential for convicted sex offenders to vote in school polling places during the primary.

The governor’s office has maintained the executive order puts New York on par with 16 other state – liberal and conservative – in restoring voting rights to the formerly incarcerated. The hearings take place on October 1 and October 2 in Albany and Long Island respectively.