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

Rep. Slaughter Joins House Democrats Boycotting Trump Inauguration

Veteran Democratic Congresswoman Louise Slaughter will not attend Friday’s presidential inauguration of Donald Trump, joining more than 50 House Democrats who have already vowed to skip the ceremony.

The boycott comes after Georgia Rep. John Lewis last week said he did not see Trump as a legitimate president, pointing to alleged Russian interference in the election. More of his colleagues joined the movement after Trump fired back at the congressman on Twitter, saying he should spend more time fixing his “crime-infested district” than “falsely complaining” about the election results.

Lewis, a civil rights leader, was beaten by the Ku Klux Klan during a peaceful march in the sixties, and later in life received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor. He and Slaughter both entered Congress in 1987 and she said she considers him “like a brother.”

“John Lewis did things for everybody that were so outstanding and gave up his life, almost, for it. (He) went to jail, I don’t know how many times, because of what he believed in and I’m going to stand with John tomorrow,” Slaughter said.

Lewis even helped campaign for the congresswoman in Rochester this past fall. Despite the close connection, Slaughter said she did not come to her decision lightly.

“I take my job very seriously. I’m so proud to be a member of Congress of the United States and the chances that I even get to go to an inauguration and sit there and watch the transition of power,” she said.

Slaughter said, as a ranking member of the House Rules Committee, she is still supposed to attend an inaugural luncheon and plans to do so. She said her boycott of Trump’s speech won’t affect her working relationship with the new president moving forward.

Paladino Protests Continue In Buffalo

From the Morning Memo:

After Artvoice published Carl Paladino’s disparaging and racially-charged remarks about the Obamas last month, opponents of the brash Buffalo businessman said they were fed up with his repeated controversies and vowed to continue to speaking out until he was removed from the Buffalo Board of Education.

So far, they’ve kept their promise.

Paladino’s critics have voiced their concerns at Common Council meetings and at school board meetings. They’ve filed appeals seeking his removal from elected office to the state education commissioner, and have protested often in front of City Hall and even in front of Paladino’s own home.

The trick is keeping those demonstrations in the news now that more than three weeks have passed without any significant developments since Paladino’s initial comments were published. Yesterday, the Dr. Martin Luther King Day holiday served as a handy news hook.

Democratic Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant said Paladino’s remarks served as a reminder there’s still work left to do on the civil rights front, adding: “It sends a message that we have a got long way to go, we’re not there yet.”

“For Mr. Paladino, I’m going to call his name, to use such hateful language against anyone is a detriment to our community and as an elected official he should know better,” Grant said.

Democratic Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and state Sen. Tim Kennedy, both Democrats, were also among the dozens who rallied in the city’s MLK Park.

Paladino has said he will not heed calls to step down from the school board, and while the state education commissioner does have the authority to remove him, to do so would be a precedent-setting move and she has not yet issued a decision.

Since he’s no stranger to making waves, it should come as no surprise that Paladino appears unbothered by the ongoing protests. Yesterday, he maintained his critics are entitled to their First Amendment right, but noted – as he has all along – that he is, too.

(He has apologized for his comments about the Obamas, but insisted that they have noting to do with race, and should not require his resignation or removal from a duly elected public post).

Meanwhile, Paladino said he is preparing for a trip to Washington, D.C. to see his candidate be sworn in as president.

The Trump Transition Team condemned the remarks of the president-elect’s New York campaign’s honorary co-chair, but Paladino has maintained he is still in Trump’s good graces and will attend Friday’s festivities, as planned.

Source: Buffalo Mayor Brown Plans To Seek Fourth Term

From the Morning Memo:

Say what you will about Buffalo voters, they like consistency. In fact the city’s had just three mayors since 1978.

For the last 11 years Democrat Byron Brown has occupied the second floor of Buffalo City Hall. In the heavily Democratic city, Brown has faced a primary challenger each election, and has gotten a higher percentage of the vote each time.

This year, assuming he runs, Brown is all but certain to face yet another challenge from a fellow Democrat, this time from Buffalo Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder, an ex-assemblyman, who has said he will plans to formally announce his intentions in early March.

Despite his popularity, there has been some speculation that Brown might consider stepping away from the office after he finishes his third term this year. He was recently tapped by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to lead the state Democratic party, adding to his official responsibilities.

Observers are also concerned about pay-to-play allegations that have dogged Brown, and the fact that sources say his former deputy mayor, Steve Casey, is talking to the feds.

That’s not to say Brown would be implicated for any wrongdoing, but for a man who is already the first African-American mayor elected in Buffalo and has been one of the faces of a downtown rebirth, he has a lot to protect on the legacy front.

A source with knowledge of the mayor’s plans put all that speculation to bed, insisting that Brown is definitely planning to run for re-election this fall, although the mayor’s team would only say – officially speaking – that his focus right now is on continued progress in the city.

SUNY Prof. Says Free Tuition Concerns Unfounded

From the Morning Memo:

As a professor of finance and economics at SUNY Buffalo State, Fred Floss naturally has an opinion on the governor’s proposal to offer free public college tuition to New York families who earn $125,000 per year or less.

In short, he doesn’t believe there should be many real concerns about plan, which has been widely criticized in some corners for focusing mainly on the middle class and failing to assist low-income students.

Floss, also a senior fellow for the non-profit Fiscal Policy Institute, said most families in New York who make less than $60,000 each year can already send their children to college for free. The only problem is many don’t know they can afford it.

From that perspective, Floss said, the governor’s free tuition plan is in many ways a public relations campaign.

“To the extent that this free tuition program pushes those students to actually apply to college and get in, that’s going to be a great thing for Western New York where we have a bunch of poor families,” he said.

If that works, Floss said, it should alleviate concerns some people have expressed about the negative impact the plan would have on private institutions. He said the point is to “expand the pie” by getting more students who would traditionally not go to college to apply.

That would mean more students for everybody, Floss maintained. Furthermore, he said, at least in Western New York, a strong parochial and charter system has normalized small class sizes for many students and families.

Floss believes those students will probably still opt to go to a private school – even if it’s a little more expensive.

“Will some of these private schools lose a few students? Probably,” Floss said. “Will some of these private schools in trouble already? Yes, but a lot of that is because college has become more expensive and poor families either haven’t understood how to fund it or haven’t been able to fund it.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Floss believes people who think Cuomo’s plan doesn’t address the costs of room and board are essentially double-counting. He said those are expenses people have regardless of whether they go to college.

“You have to eat anyway, so to the extent that maybe your food plan is five or six thousand dollars of that a year, that’s money that these students would’ve spent anyway on food whether they were going to college or not,” Floss said.

Zemsky: Photonics Still On Track

From the Morning Memo:

There’s been good news and bad news over the last week when it comes to Rochester’s role in the emerging photonics industry, and state and local leaders are working to reassure the community that the future for the industry still looks bright.

Friday, Empire State Development announced California-based Photonica and the 400 jobs it promised would not be coming to Rochester. The company, with subsidies from the state, was supposed to be one of the anchor tenants of an industry hub.

The project was originally under the supervision of the SUNY Polytechnic Institute, but was transferred to Empire State Development following allegations that former SUNY Poly President Alain Kaloyeros was involved in a bid-rigging scandal. The photonics project was not directly connected to those claims.

“ESD from the time it got involved with some of these SUNY Poly projects has had to do its own independent review and analysis,” said ESD President Howard Zemsky. “Not everyone of those companies is going to make it through that process. That’s all I’ll say about Photonica. We will designate those dollars for other photonics companies.”

ESD found that Photonica was too small to move forward with a project of this scale at this point, Zemsky said. But he insisted that losing the company at this early juncture shouldn’t have any long-term impact on the larger goal.

“Rochester is a significant sized economy and it leads in photonics,” Zemsky said. “We’ve got this national manufacturing institute literally hundreds of millions of dollars of federal money and state money. You’ve got tremendous research assets and a plethora of private sector employers who really deploy photonics as part of their technology.”

One of the governor’s State of the State proposals doubles down on that theory. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the state will establish a new Photonics Venture Challenge in Rochester.

It’s based on Buffalo’s 43North competition, but is aimed specifically at identifying and awarding start-ups in the photonics industry. The idea came from the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council.

Greater Rochester Enterprise President and CEO Mark Peterson said this program was the council’s top priority for state funding. Peterson said it makes sense to base the competition in the region.

“We have a great strength; we have a historic strength,” he said. “Fifty percent of all the degrees ever given in optics and photonics were given through the University of Rochester.”

Peterson said despite the peaks and valleys, he’s pleased with how things are developing. He said 2017 will likely be a building year, but soon after the area will begin to see companies moving in and jobs created.


Did The Governor Snub Rochester During State Of The State?

It’s Day 2 of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s tour across New York as he delivers his State of the State message in six different regions, but the road show has members of the Rochester community feeling a bit snubbed.

The Finger Lakes region didn’t make the final cut when Cuomo officially announced the tour over the Christmas break.

There’s an old debate about whether Rochester should even be considered part of Western New York. At least when it came to the SoS tour, maybe the governor fell in the camp that tends to lump the state’s second and third largest cities together.

That theory seemed to be supported by the fact that many leaders from the Greater Rochester area were invited to the University at Buffalo for Cuomo’s second State of the State speech. But over the course of Cuomo’s roughly 40 minute address, there was virtually no mention of the Flower City or any of its suburbs.

Last night, the governor’s office sent out a rush transcript of his speech. A quick search turned up zero results for “Rochester” or “Finger Lakes.” By comparison, the word “Buffalo” appeared no fewer than 50 times.

Cuomo did mention Rochester at least once, acknowledging that the city’s mayor, Lovely Warren, had made the trip to be in attendance. Warren, a Democrat who Cuomo endorsed in 2013, released a statement with no complaints, despite the fact that her city was overlooked in his speech.

“I would like to thank Governor Cuomo for his continued investment in Upstate New York,” Warren said. “Once again he has delivered for our region, with initiatives to improve our drinking water, educate our workforce and finally bring ride-sharing to Upstate New York.”

“These important efforts will help us create more jobs, safer and more vibrant neighborhoods and better educational opportunities for all of our citizens, and I look forward to working with the Governor and his administration to achieve these goals.”

Republican Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo was also diplomatic, but did draw attention to the apparent slight. Dinolfo said she was “disappointed” neither Rochester nor the Finger Lakes were part of the governor’s WNY speech.

The county executive did say she was pleased with Cuomo’s support of ridesharing, which she believes would have a major effect on the Rochester area if it’s legalized outside the five boroughs of NYC.

The governor’s office did put out a press release hours after the speech was over, announcing $10 million for a “multi-year Photonics Venture Challenge” that appears tailor made for Rochester. The money will be used to award start-up companies in the photonics industry, similar to Buffalo’s 43North competition.

Rochester is the future home of the American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics (AIM Photonics).

The Target For Ride-Hailing In WNY: March Madness

State legislators from Western New York appear to have a soft deadline to legalize ride-hailing upstate: March, which is when Buffalo will host the first and second round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

Two years ago, the last time the tournament was in the area, about 18,000 people visited. Expecting a similar turnout this year, local leaders hope those visitors will be able to travel to the arena, bars and restaurants, using ride-hailing services.

“Those folks travel to other destinations that have Uber and Lyft and expect these rideshare opportunities in our destinations,” Visit Buffalo Niagara President Patrick Kaler said. “So there’s no time to lose in making sure that Buffalo is no longer left behind on the curb.”

Last month, the Erie County Legislature earmarked $100,000 for the tourism agency to organize a public relations campaign for the initiative. Part of that campaign was unveiled yesterday.

Visit Buffalo Niagara has launched a website, RideSharingBuffalo.com, to streamline the process of contacting state representatives to express support for the legalization of ride hailing upstate.

It has also hung posters in more than 30 Buffalo cultural institutions, made more available to local restaurants and hotels, and printed thousands of business cars, all directing people to the website.

While the agency hopes to have legislation passed and signed into law by March, it is preparing for the possibility that won’t occur. (After all, this is Albany we’re talking about, and the likelihood is that ride hailing would either be part of a big budget deal, agreed on by April 1, or the end-of-session “big ugly,” passed sometime in June).

The new website also appeals to visitors from out-of-state to contact the state Legislature, and VBN is urging hotels to leave cards where the room keys go to make sure everyone is as informed as possible.

“It’s critical that we have this type of communication and this interaction with our visitors.” Kaler said.

Democratic Assemblyman Mickey Kearns and Republican Sen. Chris Jacobs both attended the press conference, and are promising to advocate for ride-hailing in Albany this session.

Estimate: Up To $1 Million Raised At Buffalo Fundraiser For Trump Transition

Kellyanne Conway, adviser to President-elect Donald Trump, spent about an hour speaking Thursday in Buffalo. Her appearance at the new Westin Hotel, downtown, may have raised as much as $1 million according to the Erie County Republican Committee.

GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy said roughly 150 people attended the luncheon which cost $5,000 per head. The money raised goes to the Trump transition effort.

“The president-elect didn’t make himself available for dates, albeit that we tried to get some dates. We were eager to do fundraising for him for his campaign, but it didn’t come together,” Langworthy said. “But this was an opportunity to get people to support the president-elect’s agenda going forward.”

The chairman noted the fundraiser brought in some members of the local party who had not been closely involved in the campaign effort. That included former ambassador Anthony Gioia, a prominent Buffalo fundraiser, who told TWC News in May he was not getting involved, in part, because he was “not enamored” with Trump.

Gioia was listed as a vice-chair for the event and has come around to supporting the president-elect for a number of reasons. He said Trump has a compelling message, the stock market has reacted well to his election, and he’s impressed by Trump’s cabinet appointments.

Gioia said he was particularly impressed with Conway who he said talked candidly about the campaign, how pollsters got the election wrong and mainstream media bias. Langworthy said she was very well-received.

“What we saw today is a preview of what we’ll see going forward,” he said. “I’m sure she will be someone that’s no stranger to television and going out giving speeches on the president’s behalf.”

The event was not without controversy though. A few dozen demonstrators braved the cold weather, protesting a number of different issues.

“We’re frustrated that all this money is being funneled outside of Buffalo and these people are literally funding somebody who’s xenophobic, racist, misogynistic,” protester Cai Blue said.

Erie County Executive Disappointed In Indigent Legal Services Veto

From the Morning Memo:

So much for New Year’s wishes.

Democratic Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz went into the final holiday weekend of 2016 with a faint hope the governor would sign the Indigent Legal Services bill.

The legislation, which transferred legal costs for the poor from counties to the state, would’ve taken a massive burden off Erie County. Poloncarz said, last year alone, the county paid about $12.5 million that was not reimbursed by the state.

It wasn’t in the cards, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed the bill, citing the $800 million dollar price tag. His office said 3/4 of the cost associated with it were unnecessary.

While that maybe fiscally sound reasoning for the state, Poloncarz said it leaves his constituents in a bad spot. Under new rules this year, the county may be required to cover the costs of an even larger pool of individuals who qualify for government-funded defense.

“I’m hopeful they’ll be able to work on a compromise that still ensures that the counties are not covering any future cost increases,” Poloncarz said.

The county executive pointed to the bills passage in both houses of the state legislature and the governor’s office expressing a willingness to negotiate this year. He believes there’s a chance legislation removing the “unfunded mandate” from the county could be signed in the near future.

“This was not a political issue. This was not a Democratic/Republican issue. This was an issue that was embraced by everybody on all sides,” Poloncarz said. “So I’m hopeful it will be part of the budget talks.”

New Website Calls For Boycott Of Anything Paladino

From the Morning Memo:

A new website, boycottpaladino.com, is now live and calling for the public to avoid any businesses connected to controversial Buffalo developer Carl Paladino.

The website features a nearly 3.5 minute video, with news clippings about many of the former gubernatorial candidate and current Buffalo Public School Board member’s controversial and racially-charged comments and actions over the years.

With the help of watchdog websites like Littlesis and the Public Accountability Initiative, this new site also lists more than 100 buildings and businesses with which Paladino or his company, Ellicott Development, is associated.

“I think most people think he owns some buildings, has the ear of other hard right politicians, sits on the school board, and has some of Buffalo’s power players in his pocket,” said the website’s creator, who agreed to speak about it under the condition that his or her identity be kept a secret

“I don’t think most people realize just how entrenched he is in our community. The team at Little Sis and PAI have done great worko But the average person is getting their news in tiny sound bites on Facebook, so non-profits seem to have a hard time connecting to anyone who is not already an active community member seeking out information.”

The Boycott Paladino website was registered privately and is not owned or operated by any organization.

“Since this came together over the holiday break I have not yet had a chance to discuss this project with my employer,” the creator said. “Additionally, my web developer and I are both pretty well recognized community members who work outside of politics and the non-profit sector. We felt that making the story about us was a bad move given how much of the information came from outside sources who deserve all the credit.”

The website creator said no New Yorker who has paid even a passing amount of attention to politics in recent years should be surprised by derogatory comments Paladino made about President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, but most people don’t realize how much power he actually has.

This project seeks to streamline that information.

“It’s a shareable and easy way to make the point,” the creator said. “That point can be that we as a community have the ability to stand tall and demand better, that we won’t tolerate racism. But it can also be that Carl Paladino is bad for our community and we as a community need to let him and his ilk know they aren’t welcome in New Buffalo.”

Paladino’s son William, the CEO of Ellicott Development, has criticized his father’s comments and tried to distance the chairman from day-to-day operations of the company. 

But the Boycott Paladino site’s creators believe and point out that the two still work closely together, and don’t think William Paladino – or Ellicott – should be let off the hook.

“We hope to make it as easy as possible for people to boycott his businesses and any business directly or indirectly putting money in his pocket,” the creator said. “Sadly, our impact will be limited due to the sheer number of government contracts he holds – that’s our next battle.”

Boycottpaladino.com also noted the developer has made significant contributions to elected officials including Republican Rep. Chris Collins, a close Trump ally and prominent surrogate for the incoming administration; Democratic Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, (who has actually stopped accepting contributions), and Democratic Assemblyman Mickey Kearns.

Paladino himself was not impressed by the website when we reached out to him for comment, dismissing its creators as “a few sick activists making more noise than they are entitled to because the press eats it up.”