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

Erie County Dem Chair Believes NYGOP Is Misguided In Langworthy Choice

From the Morning Memo:

In a series of tweets Tuesday evening, Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Jeremy Zellner characterized the state Republican Party as out of touch, for choosing his county counterpart to become the new state chairman. Nick Langworthy will become the new GOP boss in July, following the party’s reorganization meeting.

“This is obviously good news for Nick Langworthy, but it’s another sign that the New York State Republican Party is moving closer to President Trump and away from the mainstream,” Zellner tweeted.

Zellner first took his post with ECDC more than six years ago and has competed with Langworthy in Erie County since. He pointed out the Republican Chair has been one of President Donald Trump’s staunchest supporters in the state.

“Nick was one of the very 1st to endorse Trump, and he has supported him and his extremist agenda at every turn, whether it’s a trade war guaranteed to hurt WNY, tax cuts that burdened taxpayers, or the attempt to strip healthcare insurance from millions of Americans and NY’ers,” he wrote.

Zellner suggested bringing the party closer to Trump might be the wrong move for NYGOP. He pointed out in 2018, the first state Legislature election following the president’s win, Democrats took full control of both the Assembly and the Senate.

“Trump may be from NY, but he does not represent or stand up for NY or this community,” he wrote.

Zellner said Republicans will be reminded again next year, sidling up to Trump won’t help them win state elections.

Fmr. Trump Campaign Staffer Joins Stable Of Republicans Considering Run For NY-27

Western New York Republican strategist Michael Caputo has made his living working behind the scenes.

He signed on as a writer for Rep. Jack Kemp’s presidential primary campaign in the late 80s, served as Carl Paladino’s gubernatorial campaign manager more than two decades later, and most recently worked for the Trump presidential bid three years ago.  He said, all the while, he was never interested in running for office himself.

That might be changing with Caputo confirming he is in the preliminary stages of considering a run for New York’s 27th Congressional District next year. The seat is currently held by Republican Chris Collins, who has not yet decided whether he’ll seek re-election.

“It’s different now,” he said.

Caputo’s profile has increased in the last few years, for some reasons he’d likely appreciate and others not as much. He has become a regular contributor on national cable news stations, most regularly CNN as a conservative pundit, and also host his own podcast and fills in on local talk radio.

He also has made his own headlines, testifying before Congress in connection to the Russian collusion investigation and interviewing with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team. Caputo has complained often the investigation has caused his family serious financial stress and even led to death threats.

He said the process that led to that is the primary reason he’s considering public office.

“I want to do something to reform the processes violated during the Russia hoax. I’ve been trying to find a way to do that,” Caputo said.

The strategist runs in a tight circle of friends including in WBEN radio host David Bellavia, Assemblyman David DiPietro (R-East Aurora), and Paladino. He said he’s currently “tapping their advice.”

All three have expressed interest in NY-27 in the past and Caputo said he would never want them to run against each other. Tea Party organizer Rus Thompson, who also worked on the Paladino campaign, has expressed interest on social media as well.

“He can add to the discussion,” Caputo said. “He’s a smart guy with energy.”

Others Republicans who have expressed interest include Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, state Senator Rob Ortt and state Senator Chris Jacobs who became the first to officially announce his candidacy last week.

NY-27: Chris Jacobs Responds To Criticism – ‘I Voted For The President’

In the midst of his 2016 campaign for state Senate, Republican Chris Jacobs appeared on Capital Tonight to discuss the race.

Before ending the interview, host Liz Benjamin slipped in one more question.

“We have talked about the Donald Trump factor in this race. Are you supportive of his candidacy?” she asked.

Jacobs quickly deflected, offering a similar answer as he had to other reporters who pushed the same issue.

“I am 100 percent focused on my campaign. I’m running for state office and that’s what all my efforts are going on right now and I just finished the primary and, as you said, this is going to be a steep hill to run this year and that’s all I’m focused on,” he replied.

The Republican’s stance throughout that campaign was his preference for president shouldn’t factor in to a state race. However, his reluctance to answer the question could be coming back to haunt him as he sets his sight on New York’s 27th Congressional District.

Since Jacobs announced his campaign for what’s widely considered the state’s reddest seat, the playbook of his potential rivals has been clear. They’ve called him a moderate and a “Never Trumper” and have already referenced that September 2016 interview with Benjamin several times.

The latest was a fundraising email from incumbent Rep. Chris Collins, R, who has not yet decided whether he’ll seek re-election but does not support Jacobs.

“With the radical Left laser-focused on resistance and obstruction, President Trump needs allies in Congress now more than ever,” Collins wrote. “Chris Jacobs may act like he’s that type of ally – but in reality, he’s a Never-Trumper who will say and do anything to get elected to his next office. We may not know who Jacobs voted for in 2016, but we do know he refused to support President Trump in 2016 when he was running for office in a Democrat district.”

On Tuesday, Jacobs was far more forthcoming about 2016 than he has in the past, perhaps trying to nip the criticism in the bud early.

“I voted for the president, I support his agenda and I’m running for Congress because the president needs somebody in the 27th congressional district who can win this seat in 2020 and help move his agenda in Congress,” he said.

He argued it is Collins, in fact, who is unable to support the Trump agenda because he is facing federal charges and his scope in office has been limited as a result.

Western New Yorkers Praise Incoming State GOP Chair

From the Morning Memo:

Erie County Conservative Party Chairman Ralph Lorigo has worked with several Republican leaders over his 25-year tenure. He says Nick Langworthy, who has been the county GOP boss for almost a decade, compares favorably to all of them.

“I’ve had a good working relationship with a number of chairman,” Lorigo said. “Nick is a very aggressive, hardworking chairman who really knows how to get people involved and he knows how to get people elected.”

Langworthy appears to have successfully challenged state Chair Ed Cox, and will become the new head of the state party later this year, as Cox take a job with the Trump campaign. He’ll become the first chair from the Buffalo area in decades, and the youngest person ever to hold the post.

“Nick knows the people in Western New York,” Lorigo said. “He knows the candidates in Western New York. He will not forget Western New York. In fact, he told me he will continue to live here in Western New York. His home is here, his wife and child are here.”

“So Western New York will be a big part of what happens across the state. This gives Western New  Yorkers…people from upstate and the Western part of the state, the ability to move into statewide offices, the ability to know the chairman and have a close relationship with him, and to be able to bring our values throughout the state.”

As a young county chair, Langworthy made a name for himself in part by helping then-relatively unknown Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino get the GOP nomination for governor in 2010. Paladino was not the party’s choice, but he beat out former Long Island Rep. Rick Lazio in the September primary.

Paladino, a long-time Cox critic, praised Langworthy for challenging the establishment again.

“I think it took a lot of courage to go around the state and lobby each county chair for support,” he said. “It’s time we had a someone who represented the whole party.  This is the party of the working man. Ed Cox took us in the wrong direction. He wanted to hang out with high highfalutin types and stuffed shirts.  He was so far  out of touch it was high time for a change.”

Cox and Langworthy are planning to meet in Albany today, and will hold a joint press conference after their discussion.

Jacobs on NY-27 Campaign: ‘We Need Someone That’s Able To Be Fully Effective’

There is still 18 months until the 2020 congressional elections, but state Senator Chris Jacobs, R-Buffalo, is getting an early start on his campaign for New York’s 27th District.

Jacobs said he is currently putting together an organizational structure, has hired a consultant and opened a campaign account.

“We want to make sure that this seat is held in Republican hands for the next term and the foreseeable future,” he said.

Jacobs said he expressed interest in the position last fall when incumbent Rep. Chris Collins briefly suspended his campaign after being indicted on federal insider trading charges. Collins ultimately decided to run and won a narrow contest against Democrat Nate McMurray, but Jacobs said the position has been on his mind since.

“I always had hoped there was an opportunity to serve in the Congress,” he said. “My first job out of college was working for former Congressman Jack Kemp down in Washington D.C. and the thought of representing this area in Washington would be just such a great honor.”

Collins has not decided yet whether he’ll run for re-election again in 2020. His trial is scheduled for February.

Regardless, he was critical of Jacobs on Friday.

“While I haven’t made a final decision on running for re-election, the last thing we need in this seat is a never-Trump Republican who supports abortion rights and has supported savings plans and taxpayers funded legal aid for illegal immigrants,” he said in a statement. “That would be the same as electing a Democrat.  I ran for re-election to assure that President Trump had an ally in this seat.  The President can count on me to assure he has an ally in 2020.”

Jacobs said he is prepared to face the incumbent in a primary, if necessary.

“I am not trying to be disrespectful to Chris Collins. I just believe that we need someone that’s able to be fully effective in that seat and unfortunately, due to the legal problems he is dealing with right now and will be dealing with through next year, he’s not able to serve in committees right now, he’s done good things for the district in the past but I don’t think he can moving forward.”

Even if Collins decides not to run, Jacobs said he’s fully expecting a primary against other Republicans for the seat.

“This is a congressional seat. There’s not many of them in the area. I think there will be others interested and I believe campaigns are good. I believe primaries are good.”

That could be Collins ally and current Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, who also put his name in the ring last summer and has been canvassing the district since. Mychajliw said Friday, he would make his decision on his own timeline but echoed the congressman’s criticisms of Jacobs.

“Chris Jacobs is an Albany moderate, pro-abortion, pro-illegal immigrant moderate whose values are the exact opposite of President Trump’s and the voters of NY-27,” he said.

Jacobs pointed out he voted against the “abortion expansion” bill and the DREAM Act in the state legislature. He has been reluctant in the past to discuss who he voted for president in 2016.

He said he is willing to have the debate with any takers but believes his voting record will resonate in the district.

“It’s understandable that some would see an opportunity in Collins’ legal predicament, but let’s not pretend that Collins was an effective leader prior to that. Our grassroots network has been fighting for the people of the 27th congressional district well before his indictment last August, and never stopped. When others were silent, we were fearless,” McMurray said in a statement. “I think it’s unfortunate that anyone would evaluate running in this district based on personal political gain, or in order to keep it in Republican hands. Hyper partisanship is the last thing the people of Western New York need right now; and the voters here confirmed that last November by re-electing Collins by a mere .37%. The district went purple and people crossed party lines. It shows that business as usual will no longer fly. We will continue to prepare for whatever comes next, and look for opportunities to bring people together.”

State Senator Chris Jacobs Is Running For New York’s 27th Congressional Seat

Republican state Senator Chris Jacobs is running for New York’s 27th Congressional District in 2020.

His congressional campaign manager confirmed a Buffalo News report Thursday morning. The seat is currently held by Republican Chris Collins, who is facing federal insider trading charges.

“It’s very important to put someone in that seat who is a strong advocate for the district,” Jacobs told the News. “Currently, I don’t believe he has the capacity to be effective because of the situation.”

Jacobs indicated he would primary Collins if necessary. The incumbent, whose trial is scheduled for February 2020, has said he has not decided yet whether he’ll run again.

In 2018, following the indictment, he briefly suspended his campaign and Republicans in the district were scouting a replacement. Jacobs was one of a stable of potential Republicans in consideration.

Ultimately, Collins unsuspended his campaign, at the advice of his attorneys and the disappointment of GOP leadership. He beat Democrat Nate McMurray by less than half a percentage point in the fall.

McMurray has not officially announced he will run again either, although he vowed a rematch of Collins is the candidate and is already fundraising.

Senate Transportation Chair Won’t Move ‘Distracted Walking’ Bill Forward

From the Morning Memo:

A proposed “distracted walking bill” is gaining attention across the state, but its chance of becoming law appears very slim.

State Senator John Liu, D-Queens, is sponsoring legislation that would ban people from using electronic devices, like cell phones, while crossing the street.

The bill is currently in the Senate Transportation Committee and the committee’s chair said it is not going anywhere.

“It will stay there,” state Senator Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, said. “As the chair of Transportation, this is under the auspices of my committee and I control what comes to the floor of my committee for a vote. This is something that will not be seeing the light of day.”

Kennedy called the proposal, which would institute fines for those who text while crossing, an overreach. While it’s his first year as committee chair, he said during his tenure in the Legislature, he has never heard of the issue as a major problem that needed to be addressed.

“I think it goes to far,” he said. “I think it gets right into someone’s rights and freedoms as a person and a pedestrian. I think it infringes on many different rights and I would not be supportive of it.”

The Western New York Democrat acknowledged “distracted walking” may be a bigger issue in New York City than his area, but he said without a major push from the voting public, he has no plans to change his mind about stopping the bill.

U.S. Senate Confirms New IJC Commissioners

The U.S. Senate has finally confirmed three new members of the International Joint Commission, which regulates water levels for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.

Lawmakers in New York have been pushing for the positions to be filled for roughly two years. Canada still has three vacancies and needs to appoint at least one commissioner before there is a quorum and the body can meet.

However, with Lake Ontario water levels at record highs and local leaders concerned about a repeat of 2017 flooding, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer applauded the confirmations.

“The filling of all three U.S. seats on the IJC is a major step in the right direction and will help prepare New York State for the absolute worst,” he said. “I was proud to support the confirmation of these nominees to the IJC and look forward to working in lockstep with them to shield Lake Ontario communities from more devastating flooding.”

Former New York State Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, R-Clarence, will be the new chair of the commission. Rep. Chris Collins, R-NY-27, recommended Corwin.

“President Trump could not have made a better choice than Jane L. Corwin to be the next U.S. Chair of the IJC,” he said. ” Thanks to his leadership, we now have a voice for Lake Erie and Lake Ontario shoreline residents.  Jane’s experience as an Assemblywoman for the Ontario Lakeshore properties and her understanding of the issues with Plan 2014 will make her an exceptional leader of the Commission. I know Jane, as well as Commissioners Robert Sission and Lance Yohe, will protect the homeowners and small businesses along our shorelines.”

The IJC would have the authority to move away from the controversial Plan 2014, which currently regulates outflows for the various bodies of water. Many homeowners and elected officials in Lake Ontario communities believe the plan is at least partially responsible for the 2017 damage and potential damage this year.

The state has already started sending resources to communities this year in anticipation of flooding.

Lawmakers Push FAA To Implement Long-Stalled Safety Standard

From the Morning Memo:

The Western New York Congressional Delegation is again pushing the Federal Aviation Administration to implement a key component of safety reforms passed at the urging of family members of those who died on the Flight 3407 crash in Clarence Center.

An Electronic Pilot Training Database was supposed to be in effect no later than April 2017. However, has been stalled in the beta testing phase for more than two years.

The database would give airlines full access to training records of commercial pilots. In February,around the tenth anniversary of the tragedy, lawmakers individually wrote letters to FAA Secretary Elaine Chao.

This week, in another effort, they sent a unified letter led by the delegation with signatures from 20 other members of Congress as well.

“The Captain of Flight 3407 was hired with only 600 hours of flight experience at his first regional airline job and had previously failed three Federal Aviation Administration check rides, only having disclosed one to the regional airline that hired him.

“This is one of several reasons the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) Accident Report concluded the incident was entirely avoidable and attributable to pilot error. Based on recommendations from the NTSB, the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-216), enacted major legislative reforms including the establishment of a Pilot Records Database to prevent such a circumstance from occurring in the future,” the bipartisan letter reads.

Many of the 3407 families, again, returned to Washington this week to discuss the importance of the safety standards.


Slaughter Family Donates Congressional Collection To University of Rochester

The University of Rochester will be the new home of late Congresswoman Louise Slaughter’s congressional papers and collection.

Slaughter’s family is donating the document which will be archived and made available at the River Campus Libraries’ Department of Rare Books, Special Collection and Preservation in the coming years. The congresswoman passed away in March of last year at the age of 88.

“Rochester was the heart of Louise’s district and she tirelessly represented the people here,” University President Richard Feldman said. “Her legacy in Congress, throughout the state, in Rochester, and across this University was profound and will never be forgotten—it is a distinctive honor for the University to curate and steward her collection. I want to thank the Slaughter family for entrusting us with this wonderful opportunity.”

The papers include legislative research, introduced and passed bills, speeches, manuscripts, awards and visual media documenting her years of service. The university said it will help students gain a greater understanding of the cultural movement that happened over Slaughter’s 30-year tenure.

“There’s incredible scholarship potential here,” University vice provost Mary Ann Mavrinac said. “Students, faculty, community members, authors, artists, visiting scholars and others across far-ranging areas such as education, political science, public health, and women in government and leadership can draw from her papers to inform their work.”

The congresswoman, among other things, was considered a champion for women’s rights and scientific research. She was also the first female chair of the influential House Rules committee.

UR anticipates the collection will be fully searchable and include a retrospective exhibition about Slaughter’s contributions.