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.

Posts by Ryan Whalen

Demonstrators Continue to Push Collins for Town Hall

From the Morning Memo:

Activists in Western New York continue to pressure Rep. Chris Collins, a prominent supporter of President Donald Trump, to hold a town hall meeting.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in front of the Republican congressman’s Lancaster office last night – an effort that comes about a week after many of the same protesters paid for two electronic billboards asking “Where’s Chris Collins?”

In fact, finding the congressman is not a difficult task – just turn on the TV. He’s been all over the national media outlets as one of the main Trump surrogates.

Some of his constituents said while Collins has been doing plenty of talking, he hasn’t been listening to them. They’re concerned about the congressman’s seemingly unwavering support for Trump and his policies.

“I’m a breast cancer survivor and I’m very concerned about them repealing the Affordable Care Act and with it would go the exemption for pre-existing conditions,” Jane VanDeusen of Lake View said. “I have family member who has hemophilia and his medication cost $5,000 a month. These people are hard workers we’ve all paid taxes. It just seem very unfair that they would appeal the Affordable Care Act.”

Collins allies, meanwhile, have questioned why he would want to heed the protestors’ calls and expose himself to what they believe is a vocal minority, only interested in shouting him down. They pointed to the town hall meetings held by Collins’ congressional neighbor – and fellow Trump backer – Rep. Tom Reed this past weekend, which were at times confrontational.

Some Collins backers even made it Lancaster last night to provide something of a counter-demonstration.

“People who do live in the district do support Collins as he wins election after election, and as is out right now serving the country with Trump and the Administration trying to make America great again,” one supporter, who gave his name only as “Joshua” said.

Collins, for his part, has said he has no intention to host a town hall, calling them “useless” and saying he prefers to meet with people one-on-one.

He has also noted that he won his district with about two-thirds of the vote in the last election, and says he’ll continue to serve his constituents to the best of his ability.

Rep. Chris Collins Supporters Raising Money For Billboard

Supporters of Rep. Chris Collins, R-New York, have started a crowd funding campaign to raise money for a billboard. Michael Caputo, a Collins ally and former Donald Trump campaign staffer, created a GoFundMe page, which as of Monday afternoon was about $500 short of its $1600 goal.

The effort is intended to counter two electronic billboards that bash the Western New York congressman for being unavailable to his constituents. On his page, Caputo suggested those billboards were backed by leftists who hate the president and want to destroy his closest allies.

“When they’re not namecalling, attacking police, breaking windows, burning property, or physically assaulting women and men who support the President, they’re organizing online to defame good people like Chris Collins. Last week, the leftists couldn’t find any Trump supporters to beat up so they raised money to put up a billboard trashing our congressman,” he wrote.

Caputo wants to put up a billboard responding to the accusation that the congressman and Trump Transition Team congressional liaison isn’t working hard for the people he represents.

“We want to raise enough money to put up a billboard that tells the truth – 78% of NY-27 constituents are delighted with Rep. Collins’ service to our community, and the leftists are just loudmouths who lost,” he wrote.

Caputo said the number he’s referring to is the percentage of votes Collins received last election. Collins has won New York’s 27th district comfortably, but in actuality received roughly 67 percent of the vote in both 2016 and 2014.

The congressman has not endorsed the fundraising effort. Meanwhile, the groups behind the “Where’s Chris Collins?” billboards are planning a protest outside his Williamsville office Monday afternoon, again calling on the congressman to host a town hall meeting.

WNY Congressmen Meet With POTUS

Rep. Chris Collins and President Donald Trump looked a lot like old friends as they sat side by side yesterday at the White House during a meeting of some of the president’s earliest supporters that the Western New York congressman organized at Trump’s request.

“Today’s meeting demonstrated the loyalty President Trump has for the people that stood with him from the beginning,” Collins said after the get together.

The congressman said the discussion, which lasted more than 45 minutes, covered everything from infrastructure funding to healthcare and tax reform.

“President Trump has delivered on promise after promise so far during his presidency,” Collins said. “I look forward to this being the first of many meetings with President Trump, and will continue relaying the important interests of Western New York directly to the White House.”

Southern Tier Republican Rep. Tom Reed also attended, and said continued communication and partnership with the White House can only be good for his constituents.

“Things like promoting US manufacturing, reforming our tax code or making college affordable for all will bring our nation come together so all will have the opportunity to succeed,” Reed said. “Therefore, I value our relationship with the President and greatly appreciate the President providing me an opportunity to have it.”

Reed also said he came away from the meeting, which he described as “very candid” and “direct,” that there’s “just nothing there on the Russia issue.” He was speaking of reports that members of Team Trump were in contact with Russian officials both during and after the presidential election last year.

It was Michael Flynn’s lying to Vice President Mike Pence about discussions Flynn had with Russia’s ambassador to the United States regarding sanctions against Russia that cost the now-former White House national security advisor his job.

Reed said the president made it clear during the meeting – as he did at yesterday’s freewheeling, 80-minute press conference – that he’s mostly concerned about how information about the conversations with Russia leaked out of the White House.

“He said he would get to the bottom of it,” Reed told The Buffalo News. “It’s the leaking of classified information, a real national security risk.”

Cuomo Opposes Trump Executive Order Substance, Not Method

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been a staunch and consistent critic of the president’s executive order that temporarily halted immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

Last week, a panel of federal judges upheld a lower court decision blocking it, but President Trump told reporters the administration plans to roll out a retooled immigration order next week.

Hours later, Cuomo maintained his disagreement with the intent of the ban during a stop in Western New York.

“In New York, immigration is accepted,” he said. “In New York, immigration’s part of life. We get that we are all from somewhere else.”

A reporter pointed out to the governor that he has utilized the same executive order mechanism of which he’s been criticizing POTUS for taking advantage.

In an effort to circumvent the Legislature, Cuomo has unilaterally enacted some initiatives throughout his tenure, most recently addressing pay equity for state employees and employees of state contractors last month.

The governor scoffed at any comparison between what he did and what Trump did, however, saying:

“My point was, I disagree with philosophy. The executive order as a mechanism was not the germane point here. It was and is the philosophy of being anti-immigrant.”

WNY Tea Party Activist Accused Of Voter Fraud Takes Misdemeanor Plea Deal

An eight-month legal saga involving Western New York Tea Party activist Rus Thompson appears to have been resolved relatively painlessly Thursday morning. Thompson, facing felony voter fraud charges, pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of offering a false instrument for filing. His attorney said he’s not likely to face any prison time as a result.

Thompson was accused of voting in the wrong district in three separate elections between 2015 and 2016. Due to zoning issues, he had been evicted from his home in Grand Island and moved to Niagara Falls, but continued to vote in his previous district.

Thompson essentially admitted to that in his affidavit but said he was only living in the Falls temporarily and never registered to vote anywhere but Grand Island.

“I do everything on Grand Island it’s been my home since 1995 and I will be back on the island, but the senseless politics that are being played here. In politics you win or you lose you lose you turn around and you fight the next fight, not on Grand Island, on Grand Island you fight you win they lose they come after you with everything they’ve got,” he said.

While Thompson, typically outspoken, did his best to follow his attorney’s advice and remain silent throughout the course of the litigation, some of his friends, like former gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, suggested the case was politically motivated. In particular, Paladino believed then-Acting Erie County District Attorney Michael Flaherty was trying to make a name for himself in the middle of his election campaign.

Thompson previously turned down a deal offered by Flaherty that would’ve likely allowed him to avoid prison but still plead guilty to a felony. The activist said if he had accepted he’d give up his right to vote or own a gun, two of the things he advocates for regularly.

In September, John Flynn defeated Flaherty in a Democratic primary and ultimately won the seat. Flynn said Tuesday felony charges were not appropriate.

Thompson and his attorney repeatedly thanked the new DA for taking politics out of the case.

Rep. Collins’ Growing Influence Puts Him In Spotlight

From the Morning Memo:

Western New York will be well-represented today as President Donald Trump meets with some of his earliest supporters from Congress at the White House.

New York Republican Reps. Chris Collins and Tom Reed were among a select few chosen to share their input with the president about his first month in office.

“It’s clear President Trump values loyalty and remembers the people who have been with him from the beginning,” Collins spokesperson Michael McAdams said.

He said Collins, the first sitting congressman to endorse Trump, was actually asked to organize the meeting – a clear sign of Western New York’s continued influence in the White House. Collins, meanwhile, continues to be a key surrogate for the president, and a near-ubiquitous presence defending Trump on national TV.

Thanks to that role, the congressman’s national profile has risen significantly over the past year, though that has – at times – put him in a difficult position.

Earlier this week, Collins appeared on CNN’s New Day with Chris Cuomo (brother of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo) to discuss the sudden resignation of now-former White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

As one of the first people to speak for the administration on this issue, some of Collins’ answers came off a bit clunky, (though, to be fair, the White House itself has been having a hard time getting its message straight on this one), and he was repeatedly rebuked by Cuomo.

“That had to be Chris Collins’ 350th live television interview since he endorsed Donald Trump,” former Trump campaign staffer Michael Caputo said.

“He’s had good ones and bad ones but he’s done remarkably well overall, and I know that the president is very proud to have him representing him on television. That was a very difficult interview.”

Caputo noted it was unlikely the administration, which at the time was preparing its own response to the Flynn mess, gave Collins much guidance before he went live. Still, some of the congressman’s comments – including one where he suggested the Republican silence was due to the fact that many members of Congress were otherwise engaged having Valentine’s Day breakfast with their spouses – made good fodder for the late night comedy shows.

Both The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah lampooned Collins Tuesday night. But Caputo said he doesn’t believe that will make the congressman reconsider appearing on shows like New Day in the future.

“Given the choice to take an interview or not on behalf of the president, I think Representative Collins is inclined to say yes every time,” Caputo said. “He knows that the president has a need for surrogates out there and he’s one of the best ones that the president has.”

The fact that Collins has become the subject of comedy shows, according to Caputo, is just one more sign of his increased relevance on the national stage. Next stop: Saturday Night Live.

Slaughter Revives Weekend Voting Bill

From the Morning Memo:

Rep. Louise Slaughter, a Rochester Democrat, is dusting off legislation she first introduced back in 2013 that would move election day from its traditional Tuesday to the weekend.

Slaughter is co-sponsoring the Weekend Voter Act with seven other Democrats. Under the legislation, general elections would become a two-day event. Elections would be held the first weekend in November – as long as that weekend does not fall on the first two days of the month.

Slaughter said the traditional first Tuesday of November election makes many Americans chose between work and voting, which contributes to low voter turnout.

“Holding Election Day one day during the work week is an outdated requirement that was established over a century ago,” she said. “If we want to strengthen our democracy, we must make it easier for Americans to vote, not harder.”

The congresswoman also noted that historically speaking, Tuesday was chosen for voting because of its comparative convenience. She said when Congress chose the date back in 1845, it was a “court day” when landowners traditionally took care of business in town.

Capital Region Rep. Paul Tonko, a co-sponsor, called the legislation “visionary.” He said engaged citizens are the cornerstone of the democratic system of government.

“Each year millions of Americans face the daunting challenge of juggling weekday work and family schedules to exercise their Constitutionally-guaranteed right to vote,” Tonko said.

Rep. Collins Organizes Exclusive Congressional Meeting With Trump

The president will host about a half a dozen of his earliest supporters from Congress at the White House on Thursday. Rep. Chris Collins, R-New York, the first sitting congressman to endorse Donald Trump and the transition team’s congressional liaison, organized the meeting.

Collins spokesperson Michael McAdams said it should be a casual conversation about Trump’s first month in office. Southern Tier Congressman Reed has also been invited to join.

“This just shows Western New York’s influence in the White House and Congressman Collins was happy to facilitate that,” McAdams said. “It’s clear President Trump values loyalty and remembers the people who have been with him from the beginning.”

He said the meeting should take roughly a half an hour.

WNY Dems Applaud Federal Court Ruling

From the Morning Memo:

The president of the United States is gearing up for a legal battle. Shortly after three federal appeals judges upheld a block of Donald Trump’s travel ban for seven Muslim majority countries, POTUS fired back.


Back in Western New York though, some high-profile Democrats are celebrating the decision. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-NY, said Thursday’s ruling showed the Constitution and the country’s checks and balances system works.

“I have a great deal of respect for the judicial process. This ruling confirms the Executive Order is not only morally outrageous and overreaching but unconstitutional,” Higgins said.

Meanwhile Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, who moonlights as the state Democratic Party chair, said he looks forward to continuing to make his city a preferred destination for all people.

“We are pleased by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit,” Brown said. “Buffalo’s immigrant and refugee population has added to the vitality of our city.”

The president called the ruling “political” Thursday, but Higgins added in his statement he hopes Congress and Trump can put politics aside. He called for the two sides to come together on foreign relations, national security and the economy.

Legal Analyst: LP Ciminelli Motions Unlikely To Succeed

From the Morning Memo:

In court documents submitted earlier this week, attorneys for three former executives of Buffalo development company LPCiminelli, called for charges against their client, at minimum, be tried in Western New York.

The bribery and fraud charges against Louis Ciminelli, Michael Laipple, and Kevin Schuler are part of a widespread and highly-publicized case related to bid-rigging and state contracts in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature upstate economic development project: The Buffalo Billion.

The attorneys for the executives said the complaint actually lays out at least three separate conspiracies, and the allegations against their clients primarily surround Buffalo. They made several arguments for severing and transferring the case.

Legal analyst John Elmore said with many overlapping witnesses and the potential expense of conducting multiple trials, it’s going to be a tough sell to a judge.

“This is big business and big government and New York City is the center of our state, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the motion is denied,” he said.

As far as a motion to dismiss the charges all together, Elmore said a judge is very unlikely to do that in a case where a grand jury has already decided there’s enough evidence to go to trial. Still, he said the LPCiminelli attorneys were smart to submit the defenses.

He said in cases like this, an attorney should consider every plausible defense because even if they are denied, it allows for them to be reconsidered should there be an appeals process.

“I’m sure that the judge is going to take into consideration the convenience of the defendants, the effect that it’s going to have on their families and their businesses; but is that enough to cause a change of venue?” Elmore asked. “I don’t think so.”