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

Cuomo Signs Bill Extending Statute Of Limitations For Rape Victims

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-NY, signed legislation Wednesday extending the amount of time for victims of rape and incest to report those crimes.

The bill extends the statute of limitations for second degree rape or a criminal sexual act in the second degree to 20 years and 3rd degree rape or criminal sexual acts to ten years. The previous law only allowed for five years to report.

The new legislation also provides for ten years for incest in the second degree and eliminates the statute of limitations entirely for first degree incest. Finally, it increases the time limit to 20 years for victims in these cases to take civil action.

“There has been an ongoing and pervasive culture of sexual harassment and abuse in our society, and it is made worse by the fact that victims of second and third degree rape only have five years to bring a legal claim against their attacker. Five years is an insult to these survivors and today we’re providing them more time to come to terms with the trauma they experienced and to seek justice,” Cuomo said. “This new law recognizes the injustice that has gone on for far too long and honors all the women who have suffered this pain and all the advocates who had the courage to come forward and tell their story so that other women may be spared the pain.”

The governor joined leaders of the TIME’S UP movement in NYC-NOW to sign the bill. His office said many victims have broken their silence over the last year about abuse they have dealt with for decades.

Cuomo proposed the legislation as part of his 2019 Women’s Justice Agenda and included it in his Executive Budget. His office said after the Legislature did not adopt it in the final budget, he made another push to include it in the final days of session.

“Thank you so much to Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature for passing this very important bill. I am proud to be a New Yorker and grateful that so many survivors will be able to seek the justice they deserve,” actress Julieanne Moore, who co-authored an Op-Ed with Cuomo on the issue and helped launch TIME’S UP, said.

The legislation is effective immediately however unlike the Child Victims Act it does not create a look back window. That means people who have already seen the statute of limitations expire cannot take action but victims moving forward will have more time.

Buffalo School Board At Odds With Some Parents Over Election Date Change Legislation

A battle over whether to move Buffalo’s Board of Education elections from May to November continues wage on, despite the fact the state Legislature has already approved the bill.

The state Senate and Assembly both passed the legislation right before the end of session in June. A coalition of parents, business leaders and clergy celebrated the vote after pushing for the board election to coincide with the regular general election for years.

However, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-NY, has yet to sign the bill and current board members are asking him not to do so. The board unanimously passed a resolution last week, requesting the governor not sign the date change legislation and asking the state delegation to consult with a broader cross section of the community.

The Change the Date Coalition that led the push, had harsh words for those members during a Wednesday press conference.

“To vote for a resolution to tell the governor not to sign legislation that we’ve worked years to get passed, for whatever excuse those eight board members want to use, it’s not just irresponsible, it’s got to be the dumbest thing I’ve seen an elected official in Western New York do in a long time,” Pastor Kinzer Pointer, Agape Fellowship Baptist Church, said.

The coalition said it already has broad support that included Assembly Democratic Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Democratic State Senator sponsoring the bill. The Buffalo Common Council also unanimously passed its own resolution last year in support of changing the date.

“I don’t even know if its possible to get any more support for a piece of legislation like this. We’ve got the maximum amount of support that you can get,” parent and activist Sam Radford said.

However, the board actually argues the opposite in its resolution. It pointed out all Western New York Assembly members but one voted against the bill – including Buffalo Democrat Sean Ryan who preferred a compromise.

It also argued the basic premise that moving the election to November would increase voter turnout. The resolution said the 7 percent turnout for the BOE’s May 2019 election was better than many surrounding suburban districts and comparable to recent mayoral and common council primaries.

Among other arguments, the resolution also said a November date would bring partisan politics into a non-partisan election and give new members a more limited amount of time to understand the complexities of the school district and develop a budget. The coalition responded Wednesday, it believes the members, all of whom were endorsed by the Buffalo Teachers Federation, is carrying water for the union which wields more influence when there is lower turnout.

The governor has until the end of December to sign the bill but it’s proponents are asking him to take action as soon as possible.

NYPIRG Makes Public Campaign Finance Recommendations To Commission

The New York Public Interest Research Group delivered its second testimony before the state Public Campaign Financing Commission on Tuesday.

This time the good government group focused on recommendations limiting the role of lobbyists is a reformed system. NYPIRG made a number of recommendations including asking the commission toend the practice of making campaign contributions during the state legislative session.

“There is nothing more unsettling for those of us who believe in democracy and representative government than lobbyist forking over campaign dollars to elected officials at night while they ask for favors during the day,” Executive Director Blair Horner said.

The organization also recommended lobbyist be treated differently than others under a new public finance system. Horner said, like in New York City’s system, contributions from anyone doing business with the state should not be matched by public funds.

NYPIRG also believes those individuals and entities should be subject to lower contributions. It recommended those contributions only allowed to be made within the district where the lobbyist lives.

Another recommendations suggested the commission address the practice of “bundling.” Horner said some lobbying firms magnify their influence by aggregating checks from clients, family and others.

“New Yorkers deserve to know which interests have bought access to their elected officials; complete disclosure of bundling is the only way for them to do so,” Horner said.

The group called for an additional campaign finance reporting period from January 1 through March 31, as well. NYPIRG reiterated it believes the commission should use New York City’s program, which matches small dollar donations 6-1 with public funds, as a roadmap for its own system and avoid getting “distracted by other, unrelated election law issues.”

The commission report is due in December.

DNC Chair Perez In Buffalo

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez is back in his hometown of Buffalo.

Perez has several events scheduled Wednesday in the Queen City. According to a press release, he will join General Motors factory workers at 5 p.m. at the United Auto Workers hall to deliver a message of solitary.

The union members are currently on strike against GM as they negotiate a new national agreement.

Shortly afterward, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, D-NY, and a number of other local Democrats will host a fundraiser for the DNC. The location was not included in the initial invitation but is scheduled for 6 p.m..

“With the presidency up next year, governorships and Senate seats to pick up and protect, and a newly won majority in the House to maintain, we’ll have a lot to discuss,” Hochul said.

The ticket prices range between $250 dollars for “guests” and $35,500 for “National Finance Committee Members.”

NY Public Health Council Officially Implements E-Cigarette Ban

The state Public Health and Health Planning Council voted Tuesday to move forward with a ban on flavored e-cigarette products in New York.

The ban is effective immediately but there will be a two week grace period on enforcement. However the governor’s office said that doesn’t mean stores are allowed to sell the rest of their inventory during that time.

The new restrictions will apply to vendors selling the products but not people who already have them in their possessions. This weekend the governor announced he was taking the emergency executive action in response to a series of deaths linked to vaping across the country.

Those who opposed the measure argued evidence shows the deaths seemed to be connected to the use of illicit and black market products, not the e-cigarettes many use and sell. However, in a statement following the council’s vote, Cuomo maintained a hard line – pointing to adolescent use as the key issues.

“It is undeniable that vaping companies are deliberately using flavors like bubblegum, Captain Crunch and cotton candy to get young people hooked on e-cigarettes – it’s a public health crisis and it ends today,” he said. “New York is not waiting for the federal government to act, and by banning flavored e-cigarettes we are safeguarding the public health and helping prevent countless young people from forming costly, unhealthy and potentially deadly life -long habits.”

Last week, President Donald Trump said he would be in favor of a ban but the federal government has not taken action yet. The state said flavors are largely responsible for the increase in young people using e-cigarettes.

Cuomo also promised to advance legislation preventing deceptive and misleading advertising to youths.

“The alarmingly high numbers of young people in New York State who are using vape products is nothing short of a public health crisis,” Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said. “These regulations are a part of many critical steps we are taking to combat this disturbing trend. We will continue to be aggressive in our efforts to prevent nicotine addiction and bad marketing practices under Governor Cuomo’s leadership.”

Critics said in banning flavored vaping, the administration could be pushing thousands of people who had used the product as a “reduced risk” tobacco alternative, back to smoking. Members of the industry said they are considering legal action.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Zucker will also evaluate over the next two weeks, whether the state should add menthol flavors to the ban. Some members of the panel and groups like the American Heart Association felt the executive order should have been amended to include menthol.

Local health departments will enforce the new rule with state guidance. Retailers who violate it will face fines of up to $2,000 per violation.

Flavored E-Cigarette Proponents Protest Governor

Proponents of flavored e-cigarettes brought their protest directly to the governor Tuesday morning.

The governor issued an executive order banning the products after a series of deaths linked to vaping. However, protesters said Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s emergency action ignored the fact many of the deaths appear to be linked to black market substances and THC.

“We were shocked to see that the governor completely ignored the recommendations of the CDC and the FDA and instead of advising the public to avoid illicit products that are making people sick, he’s instead recommending that people stop using reduced harm vapor products that they need to maintain a smoke free lifestyle,” New York State Vapor Association Vice President Andrew Osborne said.

Osborne also owns a small store called Vapor Trail in Buffalo. He said he and dozens of others closed down their businesses Tuesday to take part in the demonstration.

“We’re closing our businesses to fight for flavors because if they ban flavors, we will all have to close our businesses,” he said. “We’re talking about 700 businesses across the state. We’re talking about thousands of jobs and these are small independently-owned business that help people quit smoking.”

Protestors said they would move the demonstration from in front of Seneca One tower, where Cuomo visited Tuesday, to Delaware Avenue where the state Health Council is holding an emergency meeting on the topic. Similar meetings are also taking place Tuesday in Rochester, Albany and New York City, with Commissioner Howard Zucker expected to take steps to enforce the executive order sometime in the coming weeks.

Osborne said if the ban continues to progress, they may look at other options besides protest.

“It’s become clear to the industry that legal action may be necessary but we are hoping to prevent the governor from making this decision in the first place,” he said. “We’re hoping that we can get the truth out there before it’s too late and stop him from destroying our industry based on a public health scare that’s not even related to the product that we sell.”

President Donald Trump endorsed a ban on flavored e-cigarette ban last week, but Cuomo said the federal government needs to do more.

Cuomo’s Office Says License Plate Plan Isn’t Going Forward

A spokesperson for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office said Tuesday a controversial license plate plan is not moving forward.

Earlier this summer, the administration announced anyone with plates ten years or older would have to replace them for a $25 fee. The plan immediately received backlash from Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

Siena College also released a new poll Tuesday which showed 60 percent of respondents opposed the measure. A larger majority, 75-23 percent, think the $25 license replacement fee is unfair.

“As the DMV commissioner said weeks ago, this proposal isn’t going forward as we have committed to working with the legislature to create a plan that ensures plates are readable by law enforcement and cashless tolling systems and creates a process where plates older than 10 years are inspected and, if still readable, can be kept. Why Siena would spend its time polling outdated information is beyond me,” Cuomo Senior Advisor Rich Azzopardi said.

Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Mark Schroeder did release a statement at the end of August indicating a willingness to work with the Legislature to reduce costs and allow people to keep their license plates so long as they were in good condition. He said the governor invited legislators back for a special session to lower the fee – although many have pointed out the law only mandates the state not exceed $25 so new legislation is not needed.

Schroeder also made the governor’s argument many plates needed to be replaced in order to work with new cashless tolling technology.

Here’s what he said in August:

“If the legislature can agree to a cost effective and practical plate inspection mechanism to determine what plates are still in good operating condition after the 10 year life and thus do not need to be replaced we would welcome the opportunity to be cooperative,” Schroeder said. “The 10 year life replacement program does not go into effect until next April so we have time to work with the legislature to explore alternatives. We support reducing costs wherever possible.”

Lawmakers themselves seem to have been confused about whether the plan was going forward but the statement from Azzopardi is the clearest to date. The governor was in Buffalo Tuesday but did not take off-topic questions from reporters.

Local Electeds Send Letter To Public Financing Commission

A coalition of local elected leaders and candidates from across New York are calling on the state Public Campaign Financing Commission to enact the “strongest possible small donor matching system for state campaign.”

Local Progress, a national network of progressive local elected officials, and 40 NY officials co-signed a letter to the governor, the commission and state Legislature leaders. The commission meets again on Wednesday in Albany and has less than 80 days to issue potentially binding recommendations to the Legislature.

The coalition said publicly financed campaigns will help ensure government responds to the needs of the community over those of large donors.
“Many elected officials are not influenced by money, but it’s also true that many lobbyist wouldn’t likely continue to give big campaign checks to state elected officials if money didn’t influence the legislative process,” they wrote. “A system that would enable candidates to run viable campaigns on small donations — instead of candidates having to rely on funding from Albany lobbyists — would be good for all of our localities.”
At minimum they said the commission’s final report should include a 6-1 match on small donations, lower contribution limits, an independent oversight unit and coverage of district attorneys’ races. They also urged the Legislature to be prepared to return to Albany in December should changes need to be made to the recommendations which are set to become law if there is not a vote.

NY-23: Democrat Mitrano To Challenge Reed Again

Democrat Tracy Mitrano is officially launching another bid for New York’s 23rd Congressional District.

Mitrano formally announced her intentions Thursday night in Corning. The cyber security expert who lives in Penn Yann said she’s running again to represent all the economic classes, not just a small group of rich and powerful people.

“In their pursuit of profit they do not care about our environment, all-consuming debt, separating children from their parents at the border, polluting the beautiful resources of our planet, predatory interest rates, failing infrastructure, the farmers in this district under water, literally and figuratively, the onerous tax burden on the middle class or the working poor who can’t make ends meet,” she said.

In 2018, Mitrano won a five-way primary for the Democratic nomination. However, she lost to the incumbent Republican Tom Reed by roughly 8 points in the general election.

Reed was first elected to Congress in 2010.

Federal Grand Jury Empaneled In Western Regional OTB Probe

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of New York has empaneled a federal grand jury to look into the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation.

Sources familiar with the situation said at least one person has been subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury in October. The attorney representing OTB confirmed knowledge of the probe Thursday.

“Western Regional Off Track Betting has received grand jury subpoenas requesting documents. My instructions from the company are to cooperate and produce the records that have been requested.” attorney Terry Connors said.

One source said the subject of the investigation appears to be multi-pronged with a focus on the use of OTB perks and resources, potential retaliation against an employee who was cooperating with federal investigators and a contract with Growth Marketing Group, a company headed by Rochester-based businessman Arnie Rothschild.

In April, Spectrum News reported the Federal Bureau Investigations had interviewed multiple people connected to OTB with questions pertaining to contracts with several vendors including Growth Marketing Group. Sources said Rothschild has close ties to OTB Board Chairman Richard Bianchi, a member of the Monroe County Conservative Party Executive Committee.

However, a separate source said it is unclear at this point if there will be any indictment and does not believe the federal government has notified any individuals they are a target of the investigation. OTB President Henry Wojtaszek did not issue a statement this week but has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and called any allegations against the corporation or him “baseless.”

In February, former state Senator George Maziarz, a Wojtaszek ally-turned-foe, released discovery materials from his own corruption trial which he said suggested the OTB president previously conspired to rig the bid for a Niagara County contract. He said he believed similar things may be happening at OTB.

As for the potential misuse of things like event tickets and hotel rooms, OTB actually announced it was expanding it’s “high-rollers” program earlier this summer – noting State Gaming Commission inspectors had reviewed it and had not raised any issues.

Western Regional Off-Track Betting is a public benefit corporation that is owned by 15 counties and the cities of Buffalo and Rochester.