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

Gillibrand Donates Trump Contributions, Coy On 2020

When reporters asked U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, earlier this year about running for president, she said she was “ruling it out.” Her answer was less definitive Friday, when in Western New York she was faced with a question about whether she was reconsidering.

Instead, Gillibrand employed a tactic often used by the governor, also considered a possible 2020 contender, pivoting to next year’s election instead of the one three years away.

“I’m really focused on running for Senate in 2018 and so my hope and dream is to be elected here and so that’s what I’m hoping for,” she said.

The senator has been thrust back into the national spotlight, taking a leading role as an advocate for victims of sexual harassment and assault, as well as a critic of President Donald Trump. In return, the president tweeted earlier this week that Gillibrand used to beg him for campaign contributions and “would do anything for them.”

“I think it was intended to be a sexist smear, intended to silence me on something I care very deeply about and the truth is, the president’s not going to silence me or the women who have stood up against him or the millions of women who have been marching since inauguration and showing up at town halls and running for office to be heard on the things that they care most deeply about,” she said.

According to the Federal Elections Commission, Trump did donate to Gillibrand in 2010 and 2007. The senator said the campaign gave all of his donations this week to a not-for-profit that deals with sexual violence.

She was also part of a bipartisan group that yesterday unveiled new rules for reporting sexual harassment in Congress. Despite the recent publicity, Gillibrand said the movement is not about her.

“What my job is then is to provide accountability. We have to create the structure around this pervasiveness and begin to show accountability, transparency and offer justice,” she said.

Gallivan Continues To Discuss Special Session With State Senate Leadership

From the Morning Memo:

Having legislators return to Albany for a special session is already a rare occurrence and the window for one to happen this year is quickly closing. State Senator Pat Gallivan, R-Elma, is still holding out some hope his colleagues will return to override the governor’s veto of a bill that would’ve blocked the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center from moving from its current location in West Seneca.

He said he continues to have discussions with Majority Leader John Flanagan and state Senate leadership.

“Our deadline’s not the end of the year,” Gallivan said. “We do have until we start up again next session so conceivably we could do something after the first of the year if there’s the willingness on the part of leadership and my colleagues to do this.”

It’s a long shot at best, but one the state senator will continue to pursue until the door closes. At that time, he said he’ll explore avenues.

“It’s something I believe very strongly in. This is a wrong decision. I think the governor was wrong when he vetoed this and I would hope that we could convince the governor to ultimately change his mind on this,” Gallivan said.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit to block the move to the same site as the adult facility in Buffalo, continues as well.

“There is the legal avenue and we still have a budget season coming up so even though he may have vetoed this legislation, the move is still not complete despite the construction starting. As they say, it’s not over until it’s over.”

20,000 Niagara County Pistol Permit Holders Yet To Recertify

From the Morning Memo:

According to the Niagara County Clerk’s office, there are 28,000 pistol permit holders in the county whose firearms were registered more than five years ago. Those people are required to get recertified under the SAFE Act by Jan. 31, 2018 or they will lose their permits.

Clerk Joseph Jastrzemski, a Republican, said he received updated figures from the State Police this week, showing just a little more than 8,000 of his constituents have gone through the recertification process so far.

“Our law-abiding gun owners that followed the rules and got their permits more than five years ago never expected to have to do anything else, except continue to be law-abiding citizens, to exercise their Second Amendment right to defend themselves and their families,” Jastrzemski said.

“When Gov. Cuomo imposed these new rules on gun owners, what he ended up doing was causing a lot of confusion among people who just try to follow the law.”

The clerk said he recognizes the law is unpopular among gun owners, but he believes compliance is their best option. He has met with various community groups and held a number of public forums across the county, and will host another one Saturday in Niagara Falls to answer any questions people might have.

“Everyone from firearms enthusiasts that normally hang out at the LaSalle Sportsmen’s Club to firefighters to professionals to just everyday moms and dads came out in the Town of Niagara to get answers,” Democratic Niagara County Legislator Jason Zona said.

“We understand that a lot of people have questions, and we’re just trying to provide them with the best answers to keep them legal.”

Jastrzemski noted there’s still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the law and how it will be enforced, and he has heard new questions at each meeting. He said it’s also causing confusion at his office, where employees have noticed longer lines and frustrated constituents.

Reilich: No Qualms About Kolb for Governor

From the Morning Memo:

Upstate Republican county committee leaders expect to have a strong voice when the party gets together for its annual convention next spring to select a 2018 slate of statewide candidates.

That could be a good thing for Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, a Canandaigua resident and the first Republican to announce his candidacy for governor.

Monroe County GOP Chairman Bill Reilich, who served in the Assembly with Kolb, describes him as a centrist who can work across the aisle but has strong family values.

“I certainly know Leader Kolb the best, having served with him in the Legislature,” Reilich said. “When you’re in battle, you’re dealing with legislative issues or a lot of times those sessions go long into the night, you get to know somebody pretty well. and he’s an outstanding individual.”

GOP leaders – Reilich included – have said they’re not interested in a primary, and would rather things take care of themselves at the convention.

Whoever faces off against Gov. Andrew Cuomo in this Democrat-dominated state will have an uphill battle right off the mark. Given the fact that Cuomo already has more than $25 million in his campaign war chest, it doesn’t make sense for GOP candidates to spend money fighting one another.

While others – like Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco – have said they won’t engage in a primary battle for the party’s gubernatorial nod, Kolb has not ruled out the idea.

Reilich says it’s too early to get upset about a potential intra-party fight.

“The reality is there’s a number of people that have said they’re considering running,” he said. “”I think there’s five or six. Leader Kolb is the first to come out and make it official.”

“He wants to show everyone and demonstrate that he’s serious and he’s in this to win, but the fact that there may be a primary, with so many people that are interested in running, we can’t predict what one or more of those people might do.”

The chairman also isn’t getting ahead of himself when it comes to endorsements, despite his long relationship with the minority leader.

“As far as backing somebody, I think it’s fair to everybody that we wait until the field develops, but again I would have no qualms with backing Leader Kolb,” Reilich said.


Fmr. Erie County Executive Considering GOP Gubernatorial Run

Former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra is considering running for governor in 2018. A source familiar with the situation, first reported by the Buffalo News, said Giambra is seriously considering his options and will likely make a decision in the next several weeks.

The Republican led the county from 2000-2007 and is known in part for introducing two budget proposals for 2005, called the Red-Green budget, with the municipality facing huge deficits. Giambra was also once a registered Democrat but changed parties before running for county executive.

He is known as a moderate and has been a critic of President Donald Trump.

“He is the commander in chief. I have great respect for the office,” Giambra said in January. “I am hoping that he’s going to begin to come off more presidential, more statesman-like than we’ve seen so far, and that’s been my biggest concern…that we’re demeaning the office.”

The source said Giambra’s decision could come down to whether Westchester County businessman Harry Wilson, a favorite of many party leaders, decides to run. If Wilson does not enter the race, the source said Giambra is about 90 percent sure he will seek the party’s nomination.

Others Republican considering challenging Governor Andrew Cuomo next year include state Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, and Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro,

Schumer: Tax Bill Threatens Buffalo Billion Project

A major project aimed at revitalizing Buffalo’s impoverished east side could be threatened by the federal tax reform bill U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, D-NY, said Monday. The Northland Corridor project is a brownfield redevelopment to create an urban business park and workforce training center.

It includes the former site of the Niagara Machine and Toolworks Factory which Schumer said could be eligible for up to $16 million in historic tax credits. Current forms of the tax bill eliminate or greatly reduce the federal credits, although a number of Upstate congress members are vowing to fight for their inclusion.

Monday, the senator urged the National Parks Service to expedite the approval of the factory site to the National Register of Historic Places, before cuts or reductions are realized.

“We’re racing the clock as House Republicans could success in eliminating this vital program, which helped turn around Buffalo during turbulent times. That’s exactly why I am urging the feds to quickly review and approve this application. We need this job training center to enable residents and job seekers to gain the skill they need to be competitive now and in the future, and this historic designation will help make that a reality,” Schumer said.

New York State has committed $44 million to the project as part of the governor’s Buffalo Billion initiative. The Buffalo Urban Development Corporation is overseeing the transformation which is already underway.

Schumer Touts 19th Straight Year Visiting Every NY County

Despite being perhaps the country’s most high-profile Democrat, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, D-NY, has continued the parochial focus he’s become known for over the past two decades. Schumer announced Friday, for the 19th straight year, he has visited all 62 New York counties.

That’s every year he’s been in office. According to a press release, he is the only New York State public official in history to accomplish that feat.

“One of the very first promises I made in 1998 when I ran for the United States Senate was to visit all 62 counties in my first year in office. This is a tradition that I have continued every single year because of how much I learn, not to mention how much I enjoy doing it,” Schumer said.

There were questions this year about whether Schumer could step into his new role as Senate Minority Leader and continue to maintain his ambitious travel schedule. He said over the course of 2017, he visited Upstate New York and Long Island more than 100 times.

“Senators who stay in Washington and never return home are simply not doing their job.’ That’s why I go to the street fairs, parades, graduations and all kinds of public events. Whether I’m in Allegany County or Franklin County, I’m always mixing and mingling with my constituents,” he said.

Among the accomplishments highlighted by his office this year were securing a $33 million grant to install positive train control between Schenectady and Poughkeepsie, lobbying CSX to delay cuts he said would’ve affected employment at Buffalo’s General Mills factory, and pushing the Department of Defense to test contaminated sites in Newburgh. The office said it would issue a full report at the end of the year.

Higgins Fights For Historic Tax Credits

From the Morning Memo:

One item eliminated in the federal tax reform legislation has many upstate developers concerned. On the House floor yesterday, Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, issued a call to preserve Historic Tax Credits.

Higgins, a member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, said the credits pay for themselves. In fact, he said, they generate $1.20 for every $1 credited by the federal government.

“When historic buildings are renewed, including in my community of Buffalo, New York, Main Streets across America are restored, jobs are created, and business, income and property tax revenues are generated,” Higgins said.

“The federal Historic Tax Credit does, in fact, pay for itself and more by helping cities and communities to become economically independent and self-sufficient.”

In a press release, Higgins cited a National Parks Service report that Historic Tax Credit-related investments generated 86,000 jobs and $3.5 billion in income nationwide for the 2015 fiscal year. He said New York state utilized more of the dollars, $748 million, than any other state.

The congressman said his Western New York region has also led the state in the past five years with 88 total projects.

One Buffalo-area developer, Rocco Termini, told Spectrum News if the credits aren’t restored it will paralyze upstate cities.

Both Higgins and one of his Republican colleagues, Rep. Tom Reed, have vowed to fight for Historic Tax Credits in Western New York and the Southern Tier.

Although both are members of Ways and Means, which helped craft the tax bill, neither are on the committee to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate bills.

WNY Political Operatives Plead Not Guilty To Election Law Charges

Two Western New York political operatives charged with felony election law violations, including former Erie County Democratic Chairman Steven Pigeon, pleaded not guilty Thursday afternoon in state Supreme Court. A third person will be arraigned at a later date.

Pigeon, David Pfaff and Kristy Mazurek all face two felony counts for allegedly coordinating with Erie County Legislature candidates in 2013 to circumvent campaign finance rules. At the time, they were members of an independent expenditure committee called the WNY Progressive Caucus.

All three pleaded Not Guilty to a felony complaint in April but in order to move to trial the state Attorney General’s Office sought and received a Grand Jury indictment this month. Thursday, Pigeon and Pfaff pleaded not guilty once again.  Mazurek’s arraignment is being rescheduled due to a medical issue.

The defendants were supposed to be processed after court at the state police barracks in Boston but all parties agreed to postpone because of the weather. Attorneys have 45 days to file motions then there will be a window for responses and replies. The next scheduled hearing is March 12 at 2 pm.

Prosecutors said they have witnesses and are ready to go to trial, which could be either a jury or non-jury. The Attorney General’s Office also moved to waive the felony complaint in light of the indictment.

Pigeon is also facing separate charges in two other cases, one in state Supreme Court and another in Federal Court, but both cases stem back to when investigators executed a search warrant at his Buffalo condo in May 2015.

Buffalo Common Council President In Tel Aviv As U.S. Reverses Israel Policy

From the Morning Memo:

Buffalo Common Council President Darius Pridgen has been in Israel for more than week. The pastor is on an interfaith mission trip to learn more about the views of Christians, Muslims, and Jews and their conflicts in the Middle East.

Before he heads home later today, Pridgen believes he might see that conflict up close.

Making good on a 2016 campaign pledge, President Donald Trump yesterday formally recognized Jerusalem as the nation’s capital, and set forth a plan to eventually move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv.

Pridgen said he was in Jerusalem earlier this week, where, to little surprise, citizens were celebrating the decision.

“I’ve been meeting with people this week, some who are opposed to the move, but many of the people when I was in Jerusalem, the marketplace, the people who work in the marketplace, were very supportive of the move when I was in Jerusalem,” he said.

Pridgen noted he was spending the final leg of his trip in Tel Aviv. He said he’s seen calls in local papers for Palestinians to declare “three days of rage” in response to the president’s announcement, but things had so far been relatively calm.

“There isn’t a lot of discussion about it,” he said. “When I was in Jerusalem, people were applauding the president. I’ve been in Tel Aviv twice now since I’ve been here, and there has not been any movement or any response from the people here in Tel Aviv of a positive nature.”

The common council president said as long as he stayed in the hotel until he left, he believed he’d be safe but also believed there could be more uprising in other parts of the city.