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

Who’s Harassing Whom In NY-23?

From the Morning Memo:

Republican Rep. Tom Reed’s campaign says members of his staff were threatened, harassed, and insulted following a rally held in support of his Democratic opponent this past weekend.

Team Reed released several screenshots from social media, in which obscenities were directed at the congressman’s campaign manager, Nick Weinstein, who was present at the event in Olean. One person wrote: “Can’t wait to see you in public.”

Reed’s campaign said the rally for Democrat Tracy Mitrano was hosted by several liberal activists groups, including Citizens for a Better Southern Tier.

“As an elected official, I have come to accept all that goes with it,” Reed said. “That unfortunately includes unfair, baseless personal attacks against me and my family. But to harass and threaten members of my staff is completely unacceptable. These actions are cruel, petty, and concerning, and reflect the extremism of our opposition. Such extremism must end.”

Weinstein said he was surprised by the “hateful rhetoric” coming from an event that was billed as a unity rally. He insisted he and other staff members are always courteous when they attend events – even when they don’t agree with what is being espoused there.

“We will continue to respectfully engage on the issues, and look forward to working every day to earn the support of every voter in the 23rd Congressional District,” Weinstein said.

The campaign insinuated the incidents could be connected to, or at least consistent with, the comments from California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters who last month appeared to encourage her supporters to harass members of the Trump administration. 

But Reed’s opponent and her supporters, not surprisingly, have a different view entirely.

In response to the Reed campaign’s press release, Chautauqua County Democratic Chair Norman Green released his own statement. It did not include an apology for the tone of the Facebook thread. Instead, he said Weinstein was the instigator over the weekend and is known in Southern Tier Democratic circles as the “harasser-in-chief.”

He said Reed’s campaign manager has attempted to enter Democrat-sponsored events several times this year and resisted when asked to leave. Over the weekend, Green said, Weinstein was up to the same old tricks.

The Democratic chair said the goal of Reed’s campaign is to divide and inflame voters instead of engaging on the issues.

“Weinstein stood dead center in front of Mitrano silently filming her,” the chairman said. “It wasn’t the filming that was the problem. Tracy Mitrano has nothing to hide. In fact, her aim is to expose Reed and his take-from-the-mouth-of-working-families policies.”

“But Nick Weinstein took that position dead center in front of Mitrano for one reason and one reason alone; to be the Reed harasser in chief. Abbey Daugherty, communication director for Reed was also at the rally respectfully filming from a side view. It should be no surprise that no one called her out.”

Meanwhile, Mitrano’s campaign said it reviewed the insults directed at Weinstein and found “no evidence” that he was threatened or harassed.

“When we read the whole thread under Mr. Weinstein’s photo, we were pleased to see that a member of our campaign posted a reminder that it’s his right to attend out events and to record. He would like nothing more than for you to argue, harass, or record him, so that he can put it up on his Twitter to mock you. Let’s focus on Tracy’s message of bringing economic opportunity back to the district!’ We agree!”

The Mitrano campaign said the comments are protected by the First Amendment, however they are a good reminder “not to post anything online you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see.”

Mystery Check Sent To Erie County Clerk

From the Morning Memo:

A Buffalo Common Council member is trying to figure out why his long-time campaign treasurer wrote a large check to another local politician without his consent.

Democratic Councilman David Rivera said his staff notified him Tuesday, when new state campaign finance reports came out, that he had given $5,000 to Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns.

Rivera said that accounted for more than half of the total amount of money in his campaign account, and he doesn’t believe he has ever contributed more than $250 to a single individual – let alone written a 4-digit check.

Confused, he reached out to the bank and learned the check has been authorized by his treasurer of roughly a decade, Edwin Martinez. Rivera then reached out to Martinez, but has not been able to get in touch with him. He believes he’s out of the country, and so the mystery persists.

“To this day, I’d like to find him and talk to him about what was behind this,” Rivera said of Martinez.

Rivera was able to get in touch with Kearns, a former colleague on the Council as well as a former state assemblyman. The clerk said he knew nothing about the contribution. and refunded the full amount to Rivera yesterday.

The councilman said he has opened a new campaign account, and will send a letter today to the state Board of Elections asking that Martinez be replaced as treasurer. He said he is embarrassed and perplexed by the incident, and has asked the Erie County District Attorney’s office to open a formal investigation.

Kearns confirmed the details of Rivera’s story, noting the two are long time friends and he immediately returned the money when the matter was brought to his attention.

Rep. Reed Defends Trump During MSNBC Interview

Southern Tier Republican Tom Reed defended President Donald Trump during a sometimes contentious interview on MSNBC last night.

Host Katy Tur asked the congressman about the president walking back a comment earlier this week in which he apparently sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin over United States intelligence regarding foreign interference in the 2016 election. Trump said he misspoke but Reed pivoted, arguing the more important point is the distinction between Russian meddling, which he says the president has repeatedly recognized, and collusion.

“That’s why it’s time to get the show on the road and move this process forward on the investigation to say if there’s collusion, if there’s meddling, what is it. Let’s get the facts out to the American people and get this behind us so we can start solving the problems of America,” Reed said.

Tur pushed further, asking why Trump seems to have a hard time agreeing with his own intelligence agents. She pointed out even on the walk-back, he added a caveat that others could have also interfered in the 2016 election.

Reed agreed, saying there is ample evidence of computer hacking out of China and North Korea in order to attempt to influence elections.

“The issue of meddling in our elections is a real threat and it’s clear that Russia was part of it,” he said. “Now that doesn’t mean Russia is the only actor that engaged in that, not only in 2016 but before, and what we should do as a country is recognize the threats to our election process and make sure that they don’t happen going forward.”

The congressman said he believes there is value to the meetings between the American and Russian presidents and took exception to a question about whether Putin has something on Trump.

“Obviously Putin is not friend of America,” Reed said. “He is an adversary. He is an enemy and we should treat him as that, however we do have to recognize that Russia does have influence in the world as a super power with nuclear weapons that can influence areas like Syria, Iran, North Korea.”
The congressman’s Democratic challenger this fall was critical of Reed’s “weak” responses and “playground language. ”

“Neither Reed nor the president takes cyberattacks seriously, because neither Reed nor the president understands them. As a cybersecurity expert, I am certain that 21st-century warfare will be cyberwarefare,” Tracy Mitrano said.

She says the 2016 hacking will be just the first skirmish and believes more needs to be done to fortify American from the attacks.

Erie County Legislator Submits Pay-To-Play Plan

From the Morning Memo:

New York candidates for statewide office have already made the need to crack down on so-called “pay-to-play” a campaign issue this year, and it’s a safe bet that how to deal with that will continue to be debated through the November election.

In Western New York, Erie County Legislator Pat Burke has submitted his own plan for addressing a problem he insists is not an issue at the county government level, but is clearly an issue higher up the political food chain.

The Democrat is running for state Assembly, and clearly is interested in making pay-to-play a campaign issue of his own. He said he has been wanting to address campaign finance reform since becoming an elected official, and sees an opportunity while fundraising is making headlines to push the legislation forward because “public trust in government is at an all-time low.”

Burke’s legislation would limit the amount any elected official or candidate for county office could accept to $100 from any individual or entity entering into a contract with Erie County worth more than $5,000. 

“This is a small community, and influence is relegated to a few people,” Burke said. “So the money that those in power receive in campaign donations has to be transparent.”

This plans is similar to the recent proposal from GOP gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro, which would ban any state contractor from making donations to elected officials.

Other components of Burke’s bill address increased transparency and reporting standards for government contractors and penalties for violations.

Assemblyman Files Ethics Complaint Against County Dem Chair

From the Morning Memo:

Western New York Assemblyman Erik Bohen has filed a complaint against the Erie County Democratic Elections Commissioner Jeremy Zellner with the county Board of Ethics.

In a letter to the board chairman, Bohen accused Zellner of using information he acquired in his official capacity to further his personal interest as the Erie County Democratic Committee chairman.

Specifically, the assemblyman accuses Zellner of filing a Freedom of Information Law request for Democratic Committee petitions, of which he was in a position to be aware in this role as party chairman, in order to damage Bohen’s image.

Over the weekend, Zellner called the assemblyman, a Democrat who won an April special election by running on the Republican and Conservative lines, a hypocrite on social media for choosing not to seek the party’s endorsement in the fall election, and then filing the necessary paperwork to become a Democratic committee member.

He also posted the petition with Bohen’s name and address on it.

The assemblyman said he did not carry petitions or file them, and also did not authorize anyone to do so on hie behalf. He said Zellner abused his position with the BOE to further his political agenda. 

The party is endorsing current Erie County Legislator Pat Burke, who was the Democrats’ candidate in the spring special election, and lost to Boehn.

“The commissioner of the Board of Elections has extraordinary privileges to view filed documents that challenge the Democratic Party, which he also controls, and I believe that Mr. Zellner violated the intent of Erie County ethics law by advancing his own interests,” Boehn said.

“Mr. Zellner FOILed his own Democratic petitions, he only disseminated the petition with my name and address on it to the public, and he used the petition to distort the truth. I have been a Democratic Committee member for 13 years. However, I had no intentions of running for that position again this year.”

Zellner has continually defended his dual roles against those claiming they pose a conflict of interest, pointing out that Republicans and Democrats unanimously supported his appointment to serve on the Board of Elections. He said Bohen’s complaint is meritless on its face.

“The social media post referred to by Mr. Bohen was made from my political account, and raised what I strongly believe are valid questions with respect to petitions filed on his behalf,” Zellner said.

“Mr. Bohen’s action is an attempt to distract attention from those questions and the answers that may result. At a time when faith in our democracy and electoral process is already being undermined for partisan purposes, Mr. Bohen’s attempt to do the same is particularly disturbing and utterly disingenuous.”

Zellner also strongly questioned Bohen’s claim that he knew nothing about the petitions he says were filed on his behalf to become a committee member. He pointed out the petition also included Bohen’s aunt Barbara Hart, with whom he has run in the past, and the party’s zone chair, Meg Corbett, who is the assemblyman’s cousin.

Assembly Economic Development Committee Chair Pushing For Reform

Western New York Legislator and Assembly Economic Development Committee Chairman Robin Schimminger, D, sees opportunity in yesterday’s Buffalo Billion bid-rigging convictions.

Schimminger said he agreed with the governor’s response that the state cannot tolerate anyone who tries to defraud the system but he believes that should be taken even further. He said the Legislature should not tolerate a system or person who enables a tainted system to exist.

Schimminger beat the drum last session for a number of measures to add transparency and oversight with regards to New York’s economic development polices. However, bills creating a searchable “database of deals” and giving the comptroller the power to assess state contracts before they were finalized, for instance, ultimately did not pass.

The Democrat said the trial and convictions ultimately could be the spark to push those measures through next session or sooner.

“There are already people who are saying that the Legislature should return to Albany to make these kinds of changes,” he said. “Certainly it has to make the likelihood of getting some change made, greater. It doesn’t lessen the likelihood.”

Schimminger, who has butted heads with the administration in the past, does not think the jury’s decisions will stop the Governor Andrew Cuomo’s aggressive economic development policies. He noted, not long after the defendants were indicted, the governor announced and began moving forward with a second phase of the Buffalo Billion.

The assemblyman said it will be up to legislators to make sure they’re enabling an atmosphere where more wrongdoing could take place.

“There’s a whole cast of characters beyond these who were part of this construct that, if you will, enabled this to happen, so that’s the next level of analysis which really has to be done here,” he said.

As for the projects, like the RiverBend manufacturing facility of which many of the allegations centered around, Schimminger said there will be a cloud over it but the businesses that have moved in since should be unaffected.

Buffalo Mayor Brown Responds To Bid-Rigging Convictions

Much of the Buffalo Billion case, of which four defendants were found guilty yesterday, surrounded the state tailoring a bid for $750 million RiverBend manufacturing facility to a specific developer.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, D, said he has no tolerance for public wrong-doing but was adamant the convictions do not diminish the “transformational effect” of the governor’s signature economic development plan which funded the factory.

“It has transformed lives,” Brown said. “It’s helping to transform this community and those resources are very much a part of Buffalo’s renaissance.”

The mayor said the funding continues to flow into the Western New York community, with projects in progress and others still to come. He assured developer, who may have felt cheated by the bid-rigging connected to RiverBend, that they will have their chances as well.

“There will be ample opportunities for people to participate in the resources that have been provided through the Buffalo Billion,” Brown said.

The question though, will developers be on a level playing field when those opportunities come around. Brown said at the local level, the city is always reviewing its process to ensure they are working and he expects the state will take its own steps to “make sure any mistakes, any wrongdoing are less likely going forward.”

WNY Republicans Pounce On Buffalo Billion Convictions

From the Morning Memo:

Western New York Republican Assemblyman Ray Walter is calling on the governor to answer “serious questions” about what his role has been with the state’s economic development projects.

After all four defendants in the Buffalo Billion bid-rigging trial were convicted on all counts, Walter said it’s obvious to him that lucrative projects have been up for sale to the highest bidder. He believes Gov. Andrew Cuomo must answer for that, even though the governor was not and has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

“Top aides to our governor have been convicted and justice has been delivered,” Walter said. “The corruption has been blatant and the economic development policies have been wrought with failure and fraud. The Cuomo administration has betrayed the trust of New York’s hard-working taxpayers.”

Walter has been a consistent critic of Cuomo’s economic policies, despite the fact much of them have been targeted toward helping his area of the state. His testy back-and-forths with Empire State Development CEO Howard Zemsky during the annual budget hearings have become commonplace.

“As the ranking member of the Economic Development Committee, I have been at the forefront of calling this administration out on its failed and fraudulent economic development policies and I won’t stop now,” Walter said.

Meanwhile, Erie County Republican Committee Chairman Nick Langworthy said the $750 million RiverBend complex, the signature Buffalo Billion project, will “now forever be a monument to corruption.”

NY-23: Former LG Endorses Mitrano

The campaign for the Democratic congressional candidate in New York’s 23rd District should get a boost in the form of an endorsement from a Southern Tier heavy hitter.

Former Congressman and Lieutenant Governor Stan Lundine will endorse Tracy Mitrano in Bemus Point Friday evening. Lundine, also the former mayor of Jamestown, served as former Governor Mario Cuomo’s second-in-command for two terms.

He is currently the board chair of the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown.

“As a native Western New Yorker, I know that Tracy has the commitment and competence to provide effective leadership for our region and the nation. She knows the importance of education and how education is the pathway to improving people’s lives. She knows that working and middle-class families are the backbone of this district, and she will work diligently to make sure that we create an economy that works for all of us,” Lundine said.

Mitrano said she was humbled by his support and inspired by the former lieutenant governor’s leadership.

“I will continue to honor Congressman Lundine’s legacy by continuing the fight to bring economic opportunity and better paying jobs to working and middle class families in Western and Southern Tier New York,” she said. “I will fight to put people first.”

Mitrano recently won a five-way Democratic primary and is also endorsed by the Working Families Part and the Women’s Equality Party. She is challenging incumbent Republican Tom Reed this fall.

Molinaro Unveils State Government Reform Proposal Package

Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro unveiled his 2019 Albany Accountability Act during a Thursday morning press conference in Buffalo.

The proposal includes roughly twenty pages of reforms directed at a variety of issues including government transparency, campaign finance and economic development. Many of the policy ideas, Molinaro admits, are not new, but are reforms he has identified as ways to root out corruption in state government and return power to the people of the state of New York.

He said they are “perhaps the most sweeping and fundamental ethics reforms” in the state’s history. The candidate has already discussed some of them of the course of his campaign, including a call to limit statewide elected officials to two terms and members of the state Legislature to six terms, plans to convene a new Moreland Commission to investigate public corruption, and a ban on political contributions from individuals and entities pursuing government contracts.

“This triple A action plan is organized around five simple and clear goals: creating a government of, by and for the people, opening the doors of government and providing true transparency to the media and the public, taking big money out of politics, holding politicians accountable, providing for independent oversight, and rethinking and right-sizing New York State’s economic development programs,” Molinaro said.

Another proposal would give voters the power of initiative and referendum in New York which would allow them to petition to put specific legislation before the legislature or directly on the ballot. Molinaro also wants to “return power to the people” by impaneling a commission to revisit independent redistricting ahead of the 2020 census.

Regarding increasing transparency, the Republican proposes creating a Unified Economic Development Budget, a searchable “database of deals,” and empowering an independent auditor to review all state government contracts. he would like to expand the state’s Open Meetings and Freedom of Information laws and give the state Committee on Open Government, which right now serves in an advisory capacity, the power to enforce those laws.

Molinaro calls for a strengthening of the state code of ethics, the addition of sexual harassment as an ethics violation, and a new “truly independent” five member oversight committee which would assume the duties of the Joint Commission of Public Ethics and the Legislative Ethics Committee. Finally, regarding “rightsizing economic development,” he said he would end the practice of direct grant funding to private corporations.

“Those projects that are contracted for, we’re not going to disrupt that system, but no new direct grants, no new direct checks, no new direct payments to corporate interests, period. It’s corrupted,” Molinaro said.

The state Legislature would have to approve a majority of these plans and Molinaro said, if elected, he would like to see the package taken up as a single piece of legislation. However, he noted if legislators do not seem receptive to the idea, the governor has broad authority during the budget process to push forward legislation and he has no qualms with including the reforms in a budget bill.

“On Day One, everyone who serves with me will be asked, ‘Do you stand with the people of the state of New York or do you stand with those who believe that government is about the powerful and those who have influence?'” he said.

Molinaro said he’s not concerned if members of his own party are unhappy with some of the proposals.

 

Albany Accountability Act of 2019 by Ryan Whalen on Scribd