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

A Rough Couple Of Days For Alicandro

For the Morning Memo:

It was Politics 101 for Wall Street attorney Manny Alicandro at this week’s state Republican Convention.

The first-time candidate came to the Ziegfeld Ballroom hoping to be named the GOP designee for attorney general – something that seemed very likely possibility just a few weeks ago.

Then now-former Democratic AG Eric Schneiderman resigned, and everything changed for Alicandro, who saw his clear shot to the nomination obscured when multiple candidates entered the race for the now-vacant statewide post.

By Tuesday, it seemed pretty clear Republicans were either going to choose New York City lawyer Keith Wofford, (the ultimate designee), or former Pataki administration aide Joe Holland.

To make matters worse for Alicandro, some members of the party were openly questioning if he had been a resident of New York for the five years required to hold a statewide office, even though he insisted repeatedly that he had lived here for a decade.

On Wednesday morning, Alicandro said the residency questions were all cleared up, and in his opinion were just a tactic to pressure him out of the race. If that was the case, then problem solved because he had been convinced that running for comptroller made more sense than taking on a crowded AG field in which party leaders so clearly favored other candidates.

The switch didn’t work out, however, as investment banker Jonathan Trichter, a registered Democrat who only recently decided to switch his enrollment to join the GOP, convinced enough Republicans with reservations about his political bona fides that he was indeed the right candidate to take on the Democratic incumbent, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

Alicandro did get a huge cheer Wednesday from party members on the convention floor, but not for the reason he probably envisioned at the outset.

Rather, they were celebrating his choice to decline the comptroller nomination altogether – ultimately shortening Day 2 of the convention by about an hour, and sending a lot of eager travelers on their way.

“I learned the votes weren’t there for me, and I just didn’t want to go through the whole process, and just really, party unity,” Alicandro later explained. “I think it just made sense to support Jonathan, and just withdraw my nomination.”

Alicandro did not walk away from the convention bitter. He said it was a good experience for him, and he plans to explore other runs for office in the future.

“I actually feel really good about it,” he said. “I’ve gotten a lot of support from people. I mean, this is just the beginning for me, not the end. This is my first time doing it…There’s a lot I learned from it. There’s a lot more I need to learn but you know, I think down the road, there’s a lot of opportunity for me in the party and hopefully you won’t see the last of me.”

 

GOP Sources: Alicandro Will Have To Prove He Lived In NY To Be Considered For AG Designation

Wall Street attorney Manny Alicandro was the first Republican to announce his candidacy for attorney general, but there are questions right now about whether he’ll even be part of Thursday’s designation process.

At one point, Alicandro was the likely Republican nomination, but after Eric Schneiderman’s resignation amid domestic violence allegations, several other candidates emerged. Now, according to sources with the state party, it is not clear if he has been a permanent resident of New York State long enough to qualify for the seat.

Under the State Constitution, a candidate for statewide office must be a resident of New York for the five years “immediately preceding election.” According to state Board of Elections documentation, Alicandro registered to vote in New York in 2014.

In 2012, according to Federal Elections Commission contribution disclosures, his address was Lakewood, New Jersey. Two years later the address he listed for contributions was in New York City.

Alicandro did not make any contributions around November 2013, the time period in which he needed to be a resident, so there is a gap in information to consider.

I asked the candidate personally about these inconsistencies with the address. He assured me there was nothing to worry about and said he has had permanent residence in New York since 2008.

When I asked him about the New Jersey address, he said it was his mother’s house which he sometimes listed on the FEC documents. Sources with the party are not insinuating Alicandro is lying, but say it will be incumbent on him to prove he lived in the state before November 6, 2013 if he wants to be considered as a candidate.

They said the party can’t risk designating somebody who might not be allowed to run for the office. The other candidates include NYC lawyer Keith Wofford, Rockland County Attorney Thomas Humbach and former George Pataki aide Joe Holland.

While the seat is still up for grabs, GOP Chairman Ed Cox believes Wofford is the favorite.

Molinaro Welcomes Pataki Comparisons

It would make sense for a Republican gubernatorial candidate in New York to want to be compared to former Governor George Pataki these days.

In 1994, Pataki upset incumbent Democrat Mario Cuomo to become the first member of the GOP to win the seat in 24 years. He also was the last Republican elected to that seat.

That same year, 1994, Marc Molinaro became the youngest mayor in America at the age of 19. More than two decades later, Molinaro is trying to emulate what Pataki did.

The party is not shying away from the comparison at all at its designating convention this year. Before the candidate made his acceptance speech, a short video played driving home all these points.

Pataki introduced Molinaro to the stage. He said similar to when he ran, the media is not giving the Republican much of a chance, but we should.

The similarities don’t end there. Like the former governor, Molinaro is viewed as a moderate who could appeal to disenfranchised Democrats and independent voters, two cross-sections of the electorate needed for a member of the GOP to win in this blue state.

Even during his convention speech, with an audience that was primarily Republican, the candidate brought an inclusive message. It’s something that no doubt will continue and possibly be even more pronounced as his campaign continues.

There are some differences from 1994. When Pataki won, he was buoyed by voters who were coming out in droves to voice their displeasure with Congress and the Clinton Administration.

This year, however, there is an expected “blue wave” of Democrats voting in opposition to President Trump and the Republican Congress. The GOP believes while they don’t have a Clinton, they do have another Cuomo to campaign against.

Molinaro and the preceding speakers continually talked about corruption in New York State government. They pointed out in the last 12 years a governor, an attorney general, and a comptroller have left their offices in disgrace – all Democrats.

Despite the fact he’s been in politics for more than half of his relatively young life, Molinaro is making the argument he represents fresh ideas and a voice for voters across the state, not just in his party.

At least George Pataki and a room full of enthused committee members seem to agree with him. Now he needs to convince the rest of the state.

What To Expect At The GOP Convention

From the Morning Memo:

The state Republican Party’s convention kicks off today.

GOP Chairman Ed Cox says he expects no early surprises, predicting both gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive, and his hand-picked running mate, former state Senate candidate Julie Killian, should be officially nominated this morning without any hitches or challenges.

Cox said he’s looking forward to an exciting convention that will be a referendum on Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The chairman pointed, as he often does, to a former top Cuomo aide, Joe Percoco, who was recently convicted in a federal corruption trial, and another trial on corruption charges of former top SUNY official, Alain Kaloyeros, which is scheduled to start next month, as proof that the governor is vulnerable this election season.

“The governor is sinking in the polls, and he’s got some real problems with another trial coming up,” Cox said. “All of this is happening during the campaign. It’s time for a change here in New York, and that’s what this convention is about, and that’s why we’re excited.”

While the main focus of Republicans this year is to unseat Cuomo, they are not taking for granted the other two major statewide races.

Some members of the party believe their chances to win the attorney general’s office, which is unexpectedly vacant as a result of the abrupt resignation of former Democratic incumbent Eric Schneiderman, took a bit of a hit when 2014 candidate John Cahill decided not to run.

But Cox seemed to be very high on the candidate he now believes is the favorite to receive for the nomination: Keith Wolford, a New York City lawyer who was born in Buffalo and attended public school there.

“He wants to clean up Albany and really do the professional job of an attorney general rather than having the attorney general being an aspiring governor and thinking of politics,” the chairman said of Wofford. “He has not been in politics. He just wants to do the job right in a professional way.”

Wofford is a very late addition to the AG mix. Previously, the Republicans appeared poised to support another NYC attorney, Manny Alicandro, who stepped up to challenge Scheiderman in what was widely believed to be a slam-dunk re-election effort for the Democrats. Alicandro has said he is continuing to seek the GOP nomination, despite the upheaval in the race.

As for comptroller, the chairman said there are several good candidates who offer different things to the races but he believes investment banker Jonathan Trichter, a longtime Democratic political consultant, is the leader.

Cox said Tricther has important experience dealing with pension funds, which is a major component of the office, though his Democratic registration, which would require a Wilson Pakula to run on the GOP line, is a significant drawback for many rank-and-file Republicans.

Meanwhile, the chairman said he doesn’t expect the president to make any surprise appearances at the convention, even though he’ll be not far away – on Long Island – for an event regarding the MS-13 gang.

Given the Democrats’ relentless effort to tie every single Republican candidate running this fall to the president, who is polling very low in his home state, though continues to maintain support among staunch GOP voters, it’s probably wise for the president to stay away from the convention.

Protestors are planning to demonstrate outside his Long Island event, and it’s a safe bet his name will come up multiple times – and not in a good way – as the Democrats gather for their convention at Hofstra.

EC GOP Talks Up U.S. Senate Hopeful Farley

From the Morning Memo:

U.S. Senate candidate Chele Farley left a good impression on Republicans in Western New York, following her first trip to the region last week. Erie County Republican Committee Chairman Nick Langworthy organized a meet-and-greet with the candidate, and had nothing but praise for her after her departure.

“She spent an entire day here with us in Western New York,” the chairman said. “I’m looking forward to hosting here again here after the convention. We need to have her here on a regular basis so she can get to know all parts of WNY and why it’s a different place than the rest of the state.”

Langworthy predicted that Farley could have a more successful campaign than past opponents of Democrat incumbent U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, noting that a growing number of are people interested in the race at the national level because of Gillibrand’s speculated desire to seek the Democratic presidential nomination (something she has never confirmed she’s actually planning to seek).

According to the chairman, Farley has already demonstrated an ability to fundraise and stay on a focused message. Langworthy said Gillibrand doesn’t spend much time upstate, which is something Farley can use to her advantage when she’s trying to connect with voters.

“How often do we see Kirsten Gillibrand in Buffalo?” Langworthy asked. “It’s a rare occasion. (U.S. Senate Minority Leader) Chuck Schumer, you’re likely to run into him in the street. Kirsten Gillibrand? You never see. Just like the governor.”

“Tightly scripted, choreographed events,” he continued. “Regular people really never get to interact with Kirsten Gillibrand in Western New York. What is her constituent service? I have not heard one person that’s come back with a story about how she’s helped them in any way, whether it’s a small business person or a regular citizen having trouble with the government.”

Of course, it did take Farley more than two months to make it to Buffalo herself. But Langworthy said that, by design, the candidate needed to spend the early part of her campaign “setting up the apparatus to raise funds to get off the ground running,” before she could actually do many in-person events around the state.

Langworthy said that in his view, the U.S. Senate race is really just getting started, and he expects to see much more of the Republican/Conservative candidate moving forward.

LPCiminelli Executive Takes Plea Deal Ahead Of Buffalo Billion Trial

A former LPCiminelli executive has accepted a plea deal with the United States Attorney Southern District of New York and will serve as a cooperating witness in a trial this June connected to alleged bid-rigging for state-led development projects.

Kevin Schuler pleaded guilty to two counts: Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud and Wire Fraud. He faces up to 40 years in prison.

However, in exchange for cooperation, prosecutors will not recommend a specific sentence to the Court. The U.S. Attorney’s Office could also file a motion requesting the Court consider his cooperation when sentence.

As part of the deal, it is understood that Schuler will disclose any information the office asks of him, including any documents, records or other tangible evidence. He also agreed to testify before a grand jury and at trial if asked.

The government asked for a bribery charge against Schuler to be dismissed. It said it believed there was not sufficient evidence to proceed to trial against the defendant on that count.

Five defendants remained including former SUNY Polytechnic head Alain Kaloyeros who is charged with bid-rigging, two other LPCiminelli executives facing bribery accusation connected to the Buffalo Billion initiative, and two Syracuse developers.

 

U S v Kevin Schuler Plea Agreement by Ryan Whalen on Scribd

Farley Makes First Campaign Stop In Buffalo

From the Morning Memo:

It may have been Chele Farley’s first campaign visit to New York’s second biggest city, but the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate said she plans to spend plenty of time in Buffalo moving forward.

Her opponent, Democratic incumbent Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, is sometimes criticized for not spending much time in Western New York. Farley accused her opponent of underestimating the importance of WNY specifically – and upstate, writ large.

“I’ve been in Binghamton, I don’t know, three or four times, just since I got the nomination in March,” she said. “I think I will be spending a lot of time here but I live in New York. My kids go to school in New York.”

Hailing from Manhattan, Farley, a former official of the state GOP and a first-time candidate for elected office, admitted she is not well known outside NYC – if at all even there. But she noted that in an off-year election, about half of votes are cast outside the five boroughs.

As politicians often are asked to do these days, a reporter asked that Farley define the confines of “upstate,” and she – daringly – obliged.

“It all has to do with who actually comes out to vote, so this is an off-year election, and my definition of upstate is the MTA Line is sort of the end of what I would call downstate, so Poughkeepsie, in my view, is the definition. Anything north of that is Upstate,” Farley said.

Regardless of the seemingly never-ending debate over where downstate ends and upstate behinds, Farley she said she wants to represent all of New York.

She repeated a (semi-debunked) claim that Gillibrand has not had a single bill of which she was the primary sponsor become law.

The senator has claimed to have played an integral role in moving many major bills through the U.S. Senate, but Farley maintained that her characterization of Gillibrand’s record is fair and accurate.

:”The point is she needs to do more,” Farley said. “A million New Yorkers have left the state in the last ten years. Why? Because they don’t have jobs. Their taxes are too high. That’s something we need to take care of. You don’t just tack your name onto somebody else’s bill. We actually need solutions that work for New York.”

Farley insisted that, unlike her opponent, she will be able to deliver on promises to her constituents. She compared herself to the president in that respect, citing the U.S. embassy’s move to Jerusalem as an example of his campaign promises made and kept.

Erie County Clerk Takes Preemptive Stance On Licenses For Undocumented Immigrants

From the Morning Memo:

The Erie County Clerk will preemptively announce today the county’s auto bureaus will not process drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants, regardless of what the state Legislature does.

Both the state Senate and Assembly are currently considering legislation to institute the policy. Other advocates believe the governor can move forward on his own through an executive order.

However, County Clerk Mickey Kearns said there are already avenues for non-citizens to obtain licenses if they have the appropriate documentation. Kearns also noted auto bureaus are already facing a high volume of customers and do not need the extra strain.

“As the County Clerk elected by the taxpayers of Erie County to look out for their best interests, I cannot in good conscious follow through on a policy that will violate federal laws by knowingly providing government identification to illegal immigrants,” he said.

Kearns also pointed out a similar proposal from then-Governor Elliot Spitzer failed in 2007 after “significant backlash” from county clerks. He plans on writing a letter to the State Clerk’s Association calling for a resolution against the policy.

“As what happened more than a decade ago, there was widespread opposition, with many county clerk’s refusing to enforce this policy in their auto bureaus. I expect the same response should the legislature and Governor plan to move forward with this proposal,” Kearns said.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to our request for a response but the Erie County Democratic Committee chairman had one of his own. 

“If Michael Kearns is unwilling to uphold the oath that he swore to the citizens of Erie County just months after taking it, he should resign immediately,” Jeremy Zellner tweeted.

Kearns is a registered Democrat but ran for clerk with the endorsement of the local Republican committee. He had already,for all intents and purposes, been disowned by Erie County Democratic leadership.

ECWA Fairs Poorly In Customers Satisfaction Study

From the Morning Memo:

It’s a tale of two county water authorities.

J.D. Power released its third annual study measuring the satisfaction level of water utility customers. The Rochester region faired quite well.

In fact, the Monroe County Water Authority tied for first with the Boston Water and Sewer Commission in the Northeast region. Its score of 735 was well above the 709 average.

The Erie County Water Authority, on the other hand, scored a 669 – the third worst in the region.

ECWA in the past several months has made more headlines due to its reputation as a political patronage pit than for its actual service to customers. The board was accused of handing its executive director a lucrative severance package at the beginning of the year – a so-called Golden Parachute should he be pushed out by the new Democratic-controlled leadership team.

More recently, the authority was revealed to be withholding its final payments to Zeppelin Communications, the public relations firm with which it had a contract until earlier this month.

The board is questioning ZeppCom’s billing practice, while the company’s managing director, veteran GOP consultant Michael Caputo, (who’s not doing too badly in the headline-generating department himself, thanks to his ties to the 2016 Trump campaign), is threatening to sue.

Despite the slew of bad press, ECWA has insisted it is focused on its mission to provide safe, high-quality and affordable drinking water through reliable infrastructure to its customers.

But the results of this latest survey suggested it might not be doing a very good job of that. The poll looked at six main factors: delivery, price, conservation, billing and payment, communications, and customer service.

“While the mandated water quality reports produced by regional water authorities do a great job of measuring specific water quality issues, they are not telling the whole story when it comes to perceptions of the water that is coming out of customers’ faucets,” said Andrew Heath, senior director of the Utility Practice at J.D. Power.

“Whether it’s a serious problem like high lead or mineral counts, or a more subjective issue like bad taste or low pressure, a significant number of residential water utility customers are not happy with the product. Water utilities need to understand why customer views are not matching the views of the water utility and need to address these concerns.”

Across the nation, 88 utilities that deliver water to at least 400,000 people were measured. It is important to note that J.D. Power studies are based on entirely on customer opinions, so thanks to the slew of bad press, there could potentially be a bit of a chicken and egg situation in Erie County.

Will Seneca Nation Casinos Take Sports Bets Soon?

When it comes to potential sports gambling operations in its three Western New York casinos, the Seneca Nation of Indians is playing its cards close to the vest. Monday’s Supreme Court ruling effectively legalized sportsbooks at a federal level, leaving the regulation up to states.

The Nation, however, is sovereign and like most gaming issues in New York State, there appears to be some disagreement about what it is allowed to do in its casinos. The Senecas have not said they are moving forward with a sportsbook, but in a short statement said they will take a close look at the ruling and the possibility of creating another amenity for guests.

“We closely monitor all developments in the gaming industry that could potentially impact the experiences that we are able to offer to our millions of visitors,” a spokesperson said.

The New York State Gaming Commission also continues to review the decision. There is already a law in the books allowing only the state’s casinos to accept wagers on sporting events, only after they are granted a license by the gaming commission.

A spokesperson for the commission had “no comment” about whether the law would apply to New York’s Indian casinos as well. The Oneida Nation in Central New York seemed to indicate it was cleared to move forward under the terms of its compact.

Niagara Falls Assemblyman Angelo Morinello, R, said at least with the Seneca Compact, there is no mention of sports gambling. He believed it would need to be negotiated between the Nation and the state before Seneca casinos could move forward.

“This would be additional gambling revenue that there’s no authorization or rules or direction as to whether or not either the City of Niagara Falls or the State of New York is entitled to a percentage,” he said.

The Senecas and the state are also in the middle of a stalled arbitration process to decide a dispute over slot machine revenue. While sports betting is not a part of that arbitration, there is a chance it could be used as a bargaining chip to renegotiate the compact instead.

“It would seem that it could be but on that, it’s a legal issue and I’m not going to speculate at this time because the arbitration process is moving forward slowly but it is on the compact itself,” Morinello said.

The assemblyman said he is not sure what New York could do to stop the Nation if it started operating a sportsbook but he believes the federal government could get involved. In the meantime, he is not particularly concerned about the state falling behind in terms of gaming competition and believes the Legislature should take its time addressing the new developments.