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

Caputo Kicked Out Of Court During Stone Verdict

Western New York political operative Michael Caputo was kicked out of federal court today as a jury found fellow operative Roger Stone guilty of witness tampering and lying to Congress.

The Washington Post reported Caputo was removed from the courtroom for refusing to stand for the jury after the verdict and – when ordered to do so – turning his back to the panel. Friday afternoon, Caputo confirmed on Twitter he was indeed kicked out.

The political strategist and former Donald Trump campaign staffer also insinuated a U.S. Marshal threatened him as he was escorted out. Caputo, in a text Friday, said he was not ready to do any interviews about the verdict yet and was still “processing.”

He and Stone are long-time friends. When Stone visited Buffalo in September for an event raising money for his legal fund, Caputo referred to him as a “big brother.”

The two men said they had not had contact with each other during the duration of the trial because of a court order.

NY-27: SuperPAC Targets Special Election Influencers With ‘Enormous’ Anti-Jacobs Mailers

From the Morning Memo:

Conservative super PAC Club for Growth is continuing its assault on the congressional campaign for Republican candidate Chris Jacobs.

The organization, which has already spent tens of thousands of dollars on anti-Jacobs radio and television advertisements, has now launched a direct mail campaign as well. Club for Growth Action, the SuperPAC arm of the group, said it has sent out four separate mailers.

It said the targets are Republican County Chairs, GOP “influencers” and members of the Conservative Party Executive Committee. All of those targets will likely have a say on the candidate designation process when the governor calls a special election in New York’s 27th District.

The messaging is in line with the earlier media buys. They portray the current state Senator Jacobs as a Republican In Name Only (RINO), someone who is pro-Democrat, against President Donald Trump and wastes taxpayer money.

The Jacobs campaign deferred to its past statement which pointed out Club for Growth helped lead an anti-Trump push before the 2016 election, while the candidate has since said he voted for the Republican nominee.

“This false attack has already been disproven, but it is rich that the very same special interest group of career politicians and D.C. lobbyists who led the never-Trump movement is now attacking me for being insufficiently supportive of our president. Another sad example of why the swamp must be drained, but D.C. insiders won’t choose the next member of Congress from Western New York, that decision will be made by Western New Yorkers,” campaign spokesperson Cam Savage said.

However, what stands out about the mailers is their size. Each one is 12 inches by 15 inches, front and back with full color.

People who received the mail have called them “enormous” and “very graphic.” Copies obtained by Spectrum News show $1 postage stamps for each individual piece.

“It’s going to be a difficult process,” one source said of the coming weeks and months after seeing the direct mail.

Club for Growth also said “more is coming” although it did not indicate whether that meant mail, broadcast and digital ads, or all of the above. The organization has interviewed candidate Beth Parlato and prospective candidate Stefan Mychajliw but has not issued an endorsement yet.

CFGA-01-Jacobs CFGA-02-Jacobs CFGA-03-Jacobs CFGA-04-Jacobs

Monroe County GOP Legislators Propose Limiting Authority Of New Democratic County Executive

A week after electing Monroe County voters elected their first Democratic county executive in nearly three decades, the Republican-controlled County Legislature proposed rule changes to reduce the power of the office.

The Checks and Balances for Legislative Equality (C.A.B.L.E.) Act would amend the county charter and administrative code to limit how much the county executive could spend without legislature approval and who he could appoint to key county positions.

The proposal would lower the spending threshold from $20,000 to $5,000. County lawmakers would also oversee any new positions which would be created, as well as salary adjustments.

All 17 current GOP legislators signed off on the legislation.  Their majority decrease to a 15-14 split come January when new Democratic County Executive Adam Bello also starts his term.

None of them were available for comment Wednesday but the spokesperson for outgoing Republican County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo weighed in.

“The CABLE Act of 2019 ensures a co-equal branch of government providing residents across Monroe County greater transparency and oversight on how their tax dollars are spent,” spokesperson Jesse Sleezer said. “The County Executive respects and supports this legislation.”

The minority conference is crying foul though. They said Republicans are more interested in “protecting their friends” than serving county interests and called the proposal an insult to voters.

Bello agreed.

“Well, I think the change that’s most troubling to me is that they’re attempting to change the county charter after the fact to remove powers from the county executive to build a team to implement the policies and proposals the voters asked for last week,” he said. “The voters asked for us to start to roll up our sleeves, put politics aside and start to impact the challenges facing this community.”

Because the amendments were introduced as matters of urgency, they skip the usual legislature committee process.  A public hearing and likely vote will come at a December meeting, the final full legislature meeting before Bello takes office.

Erie County Clerk’s Green Light Battle Wages On

The legal battle between the Erie County Clerk’s office and New York state over granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants will continue.

Last week, a federal judge determined Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns, D, did not have standing to challenge the state’s Green Light Law. Kearns had previously predicted this suit could go all the way to the Supreme Court but was not prepared the day of the decision to talk about the appeals process.

After consulting with county attorneys, He said he filed a notice of appeal Wednesday.

“It’s a high standard,” Kearns said. “We know that, so you’re right, the second circuit, it’s a high standard. They would have to reverse the Western District circuit.”

But Kearns said he has a few things that are going for him. He said another pending federal court case could influence whether he does, in fact, have standing.

He also believes the case deserves to be judged on its constitutionality rather than who brought the lawsuit. Although Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz issued a statement suggesting it was time to move on, Kearns said the County Attorney’s office represents him too and continues to cooperate.

In the meantime, the clerk is preparing for Green Light to go into effect on December 14. He said clerks across the state have received little guidance from the Department of Motor Vehicles about implementation.

As a result, he expects to need to hire 11 new part-time positions. He said the office needs experts to interpret foreign documents and asked the county Legislature Wednesday for roughly $670,000 more in next year’s budget.

The request seems a bit odd as Kearns has maintained he won’t allow his staff to implement the new law, regardless of how litigation plays out.

“If we don’t have to process those licenses (then) we don’t need that money but I wanted, as they’re budgeting overall, I want them to at least have a number in their mind on what the impacts could be of this law,” he said.

Kearns pointed out the governor still has the power to remove him from office. There’s been no indication that will happen, but Kearns said it’s his responsibility to prepare for all possibilities and the request is essentially a contingency if the office is forced to process licenses.

At the same time, the clerk said he doesn’t expect the County Legislature to approve the request. Members of the Democratic majority were not available for comment Wednesday.

As for proponents of Green Light who suggest the law will actually bring in more revenue to counties because there will be a new customer base, Kearns admitted theoretically that might be the case. However, he said there is not enough information about how many undocumented immigrants there are in the state to plan.

“All we know is obviously people who are here illegally, they’re not letting themselves (be) known and they’re anticipating, the state of New York, there’s between 750,000 and 1 million people here illegally,” he said.

December 14 is a Saturday and Kearns is expecting a showdown between immigration advocates and his office. He said he believes Erie County is the only county upstate with Saturday auto bureau hours.

Legislation Introduced To Fix Erie and Nassau AIM Issues

From the Morning Memo:

Republican state Sen. Pat Gallivan has introduced legislation meant to eliminate issues with Aid and Incentive to Municipality related payments for Erie and Nassau counties moving forward.

During last year’s budget, the Legislature agreed to get rid of AIM. It did restore funding levels from a new source – a portion of state sales tax which was expected to increase because of new rules related to internet sales tax.

The new rules worked out fine for the vast majority of the New York’s 62 counties with the money disbursed through the Office of the State Comptroller. However, OSC recently indicated the statute change did not allow it to disburse sales tax funds to towns and villages in the two counties with fiscal control boards; Erie and Nassau.

While not everybody seems to agree with the comptroller’s interpretation of the law and finding a resolution has turned out to be a bit difficult. OSC, the State Budget Office and county leaders have been working together and one proposed plan would front the money owed to towns and villages from a different funding source.

The state could then reconcile the budget next year without ruining municipality budgets for next year. It would not solve the underlying issue with the tax law. Gallivan’s bill would amend the language to solve the conflict in the future and ensure they receive payments at the promised levels.

“Without this statutory change it is unclear whether and when these municipalities will receive these payments thus creating the potential for an unexpected and unplanned for loss of operating revenue,” the bill’s memo reads.

The legislation does not currently have an Assembly sponsor. Buffalo-area Democrat Sean Ryan has said he would support a bill that corrects the issue.

UPDATE: A spokesperson for Assemblyman Edward Ra, R-Franklin Square, said their office has introduced a companion bill which has not been indexed yet.

NY-27: McMurray Secures Endorsement From Niagara County Dem Chair

As the Western New York political world turns its attention to the state’s 27th congressional district, Democratic candidate Nate McMurray has secured his first major endorsement.

McMurray’s campaign announced he has the support of Niagara County Democratic Committee Chairman Jason Zona. The seat has been vacant since late-September when Republican Chris Collins resigned shortly before pleading guilty to federal insider trading charges.

The governor is required by law to call a special election and has indicated he prefer it happen in April, at the same time as the already-scheduled Democratic presidential primary. Once called, the party chairs for the eight counties in the district will designate candidates.

“Nate did well in Niagara County last year against a strong political machine and has a lot of grassroots support throughout much of the county. As county chair, I support him in a special election run, and I anticipate the members of our county committee will do so as well when we convene in the near future,” Zona said.

Zona is the first county chair to publicly endorse McMurray this cycle, although the candidate did have the support of the local committees when he ran in 2018. McMurray narrowly lost to the already-indicted Collins in New York’s reddest district.

“I am proud to have the support of Jay Zona as I run to finish the job we started in 2018. For too long, this district that has been without real representation in Washington. I am running to restore honor and integrity to this position, and will continue to fight for the resources our working families need – good healthcare, well-paying jobs, and better infrastructure. While we wait for the special election to be called, it is empowering to know I have Jay on my side,” McMurray said.

Even before Collins resigned, a handful of Republicans had already announced their intentions to run in a June primary. Others may still enter the race.

McMurray is the only announced Democrat so far.


District Attorneys Call For Increased Funding From State Budget

From the Morning Memo:

District attorneys across New York again called on the governor to increase state funding to counties in order to support criminal justice reforms.

The District Attorneys Association of the State of New York (DAASNY) submitted its annual budget letter to the governor this week.

“Change is happening at a rapid pace,” DAASNY President David Hoovler wrote. “New York is leading the way when it comes to achieving new heights in the criminal justice system. We must continue to make sure that the changes are responsible and adequately funded. This is critical to making sure the criminal justice system works for all New Yorkers.”

Among the most significant concerns the association has are with new evidence discovery and bail reforms. Many voiced those funding concerns during state Senate hearings last week.

DAASNY asked the 2020-2021 budget include money for computer systems to facilitate electronic discovery, extra staff and funding for pretrial services to encourage attendance at court dates.

“In addition, such an agency could provide referrals for services ranging from housing and vocational training to mental health and substance abuse treatment,” Hoovler wrote.

It also said a $2.75 million appropriation to maintain the New York State Prosecutor’s Training Institute is key. The institute includes high-level training, ethics instruction, and other resources used by prosecutors and judges across the state and has not received a funding increase in nearly a decade according to the letter.

Other requests include:

  • $375,000 for NYPTI’s witness protection program which the association believes will see increased need as a result of the new discovery rules
  • $750,000 for police departments to help maintain and develop locations for videotaping interrogations
  • Additional funding for crime laboratories totaling $10 million to support additional and expedited testing and exchange of information required with the new discovery law
  • “Unfortunately, many District Attorneys’ offices are underfunded and understaffed. Adequate resources must be provided so that prosecutors can serve the residents and visitors of our state at the highest professional level possible,” Hoovler wrote.

    The new discovery law, which goes into effect January 1, requires prosecutors to turn over evidence, with few exceptions, to the defense within 15 days of arraignment.

AG James ‘Confident’ In Defense Of Green Light Law

Attorney General Tish James says she’s confident her office will be successful in defending New York State’s new Green Light law.

Erie, Niagara and Rensselaer counties have all brought similar challenges to the law which grants driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. Litigation for the Erie County case is already underway.

Earlier this month, a federal judge heard oral arguments in Buffalo.

“Given the fact that there are 12 states plus the District of Columbia that have similar laws and because we are a sovereign state and we have responsibility over the safety of our laws and the rules of the road, we believe we will be victorious in the end,” James said.

Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns argued the law puts him in a situation in which he either faces the threat of federal prosecution for harboring “illegal immigrants” or the governor removing him from office if he chooses not to process the licenses. Kearns has been clear, regardless of the outcome of this case, he will not follow the Green Light law.

James, in Buffalo for an unrelated press conference, seemed unimpressed.

“I’ve read his papers and I cannot sympathize with his position and I look forward to having that case dismissed,” James said.

The judge said she planned to issue a decision around mid-November. She could rule on whether to throw out the case as the AG’s office has asked and whether to grant an injunction, halting implementation of the law until it’s fully litigated. The law is supposed to go into effect next month.

NY-57: Morgan Secures Influential Endorsements

From the Morning Memo:

The Democratic candidate for New York’s 57th State Senate District secured two major endorsements Thursday.

Austin Morgan reported he has the support of state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Senate Transportation Chairman Tim Kennedy, both Democrats.

“As a New York State Senator, Austin will be a tireless advocate for the residents of Western New York, putting families and the local community first,” DiNapoli said.

Morgan is running for the seat vacated by influential Republican Cathy Young. Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello is the GOP candidate.

Borrello has made the state of the Thruway through the Seneca Nation’s Cattaraugus territory a major part of his candidacy.

The county executive stood with Congressman Reed during several press conferences calling for the governor to fix the road. Morgan said he has an influential friend when it comes to that issue too though.

“I am honored to have Senator Kennedy’s endorsement in this race. As a man who came from humble roots and worked tirelessly to advocate on behalf of his community, he knows well the struggles and triumphs of being an everyday man representing everyday Western New Yorkers,” Morgan said.

“In the new Democratic Majority, Senator Kennedy is the only representative West of Syracuse, and often says it would be nice to have some other voices at the table who know what Western New Yorkers need. He knows that Austin Morgan is someone who will advocate for our region, be a strong voice for our families, and deliver the legislation and funding that will help us build a brighter future.”

The special election to fill Young’s seat is Tuesday.

Zellner Believes Hearings Aren’t Accurate Portrayal Of Public’s Fusion Feelings

From the Morning Memo:

Opposing fusion voting at New York Public Campaign Financing Commission hearings has often been a lonely stance to take.

Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Jeremy Zellner found himself a bit outnumbered at Tuesday’s hearing in Buffalo. The majority of people who spoke to the commission about fusion – the process by which candidates can run on multiple party lines and aggregate votes – urged them to protect it.

Zellner, who has a been a vocal critic for some time, was even shouted at by a member of the audience near the end of his testimony. He brushed the opposition off as minor party activists.

“I think you had a lot of people here who were trying to protect their little corner of the world,” he said.

From a political standpoint, the chairman said he opposes the undue influence given to minor parties through fusion. He said while some parties do things the “right way” others do not even have a procedure to make their endorsements.

As the Erie Democratic Elections Commissioner as well, he said fusion is expensive, creates extensive litigation and makes elections confusing.

“People want a choice and fusion voting takes away that choice. By cross-endorsing candidates, it clutters up our ballots,” Zellner said. “It is just a mess.”

While he wouldn’t concede he was in the minority on fusion at the hearing Tuesday, he said he believes many more people in the general public agree with his opinion.

“Just because somebody can get here at 11 o’clock on a Tuesday morning doesn’t mean that they’re the majority voice,” Zellner said. “I think there’s a lot of people if this thing was polled that are against this.”

The commission is required to make its recommendations by December 1 and they become binding if the Legislature doesn’t reconvene to reject them before the end of the year.