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

State Lawmakers Meet With Seneca Leaders

From the Morning Memo:

With a number of issues between the Seneca Nation of Indians and New York State recently making headlines, a small group of state lawmakers quietly met with tribal leaders last week.

The contingent included state Sen. Tim Kennedy, the chair of the State-Native American Relations Committee, committee member Joseph Addabbo, Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Assemblyman Sean Ryan.

Participants said the visit was not to discuss one specific topic, for instance the ongoing disputes over casino revenue or needed Thruway repairs through Seneca territory, but more of a relationship building exercise that covered a wide gamut.

“This was more of an introduction to some of the folks about the impact that the Seneca Nation has had on our community, not just over the course of the last several decades but over the course of the last 243 years of New York State’s existence,” Kennedy said.

The state senator acknowledged that relations between the state and the Senecas are not on particularly good footing. He said helping the two sides reconcile their differences will be a focus of his.

“We’re going to be working closely with the leadership of the Seneca Nation and the governor’s office to bring everyone together to hopefully, once and for all, put all of the past just there – in the past – move on, create that peace, that prosperity that we all not only desire but the our community rightfully deserves,” he said.

Things aren’t all bad between the tribe and the state right now. The Senecas spoke with lawmakers about permanently housing a historic artifact at the Nation’s cultural center in Salamanca.

The New York State Museum currently is loaning a peace pipe tomahawk to the center. It was originally gifted by George Washington to Seneca leader and diplomat Cornplanter in 1792.

Kennedy said he believes the tomahawk, which was the symbol of a treaty between governments, should be turned back over to the Nation.

Schumer Reluctant To Weigh In On Buffalo Diocese Scandal

From the Morning Memo:

Some state and federal leaders in Western New York are calling for the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo to resign amid controversy over how the church has handled accusations of sexual abuse by its clergy.

Bishop Richard Malone, during a press conference earlier this week said he has no intention of stepping down. Reporters asked Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer during a Thursday event, what he believes should happen.

Schumer, who doesn’t live in the region, admitted to not knowing all the details of the situation.

“What I’ve read about this is just terrible,” he said. “It’s awful, very disturbing. You know we always have to be mindful to do everything we can to be responsive to and protective of survivors of any form of harassment or abuse.”

Schumer himself is Jewish, not Catholic. He said his religious affiliation also makes it difficult for him to weigh in.

“I am not a member of this faith community and I’m very respectful of its separation of church and state so I’m reluctant to specifically say what this faith community should do,” he said.

However, the Democratic Leader urged the church, its lay community and its leadership to handle the issue quickly, effectively and decisively.

Immigrant Organizations Ask To Join State As Defendants In Green Light Lawsuit

A coalition of immigrant organizations and individuals has filed a motion to intervene as a defendant in a lawsuit challenging New York’s new Green Light Law.

The law, which is set to go into effect in December, will allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. The challenge was filed by Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns who argued the state law conflicts with federal statute.

Kearns named Governor Andrew Cuomo, State Attorney General Letitia James and Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Mark Schroeder as defendants. However, the coalition said immigrants would be impacted directly and differently than the state and therefore should be allowed to participate in the litigation.

“They are uniquely situated to provide factual information that would significantly contribute to a full understanding of the impact an adverse determination could have on beneficiaries of the law. They are intimately familiar with the need to protect individuals who seek to engage in an everyday activity — here, driving — without fear of deportation,” attorney Jorge Luis Vasquez, Jr. wrote. “Collectively, Intervenors can describe the interests of immigrants in securing a license so that necessities of daily living, such as driving to the grocery store to shop for food or the pharmacy to pick up prescriptions, doctor’s offices for examinations and treatments, the ease of which many others take for granted, can be accomplished without fear and trepidation. The State is simply ill-suited to provide that perspective.”

The prospective intervenors include the Rural and Migrant Ministry, the New York Immigration Coalition and the Hispanic Federation, as well as a migrant farm worker in Niagara County, a Westchester County mother who is caring for two children with disabilities, a domestic violence survivor in Dutchess County and another young mother in Nassau County. They say they do not seek a delay of proceedings and, in fact, request they move quickly.

Kearns is seeking a preliminary injunction to to prevent the law from going into effect prior to a final decision from the courts. A hearing on that motion is scheduled for later this month.

Reed Criticizes Governor For Death In Salamanca

From the Morning Memo:

Rep. Tom Reed is connecting the recent death in Salamanca to the state’s failure to deliver funding to the city.

In a press release, Reed shared the story from Fire Chief Nick Bocharski. The chief said last week there was only one firefighter available to respond to a person suffering from cardiac arrest.

He said the emergency responder performed what life-saving measures he could by himself but without enough staff to immediately transport, the “person passed away, even after being revived, due to a 29-minute delay.”

“Governor, this falls directly in your lap,” Bocharski was quoted in Reed’s release.

The congressman noted the city had been planning on hiring two more firefighter but was unable to because of a budget shortfall. The state typically shares casino revenue from the Seneca Nation with the three cities where the Seneca Casino’s operate: Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca.

However, the Nation stopped making those payments since 2017 and the funding to the cities subsequently stopped.

“It is clear the Governor has taken this political spat with the Seneca Nation too far,” Reed said. “It is time for the Governor to end this dispute. Deliver the funds before someone else dies and resolve the unrelated Seneca dispute in the appropriate forum. We are happy to mediate if needed.”

A arbitration panel did rule the Senecas still owe the state for the payments but the Senecas have continued to refuse as they pursue legal options. This summer the state did front Niagara Falls $5 million to help cover its shortfall.

Reed said the Salamanca mayor has said the state owes the city $15 million. However, the governor’s office said the it last spoke with Salamanca leaders in April and nobody has asked for any assistance.

“Once again the Seneca’s favorite lackey has shown he will say anything and do anything to give cover to his friends and deflect from the fact that they reneged on their obligations under the compact and under the agreed upon arbitration. The only good news is that the more time Reed commits to these craven stunts, the less time he has to attempt to shred our Medicaid system – just like he tried to do with his partner in crime, indicted Wall Street fraudster Chris Collins,” Governor Cuomo’s Senior Advisor Rich Azzopardi said.

Reed’s office and the governor’s office have publicly feuded for about a month now over the condition of a portion of the Thruway running through Seneca Territory.

Larkin’s Senate Neighbor Says He Was ‘Cut From A Different Cloth’

From the Morning Memo:

Former state Legislator Bill Larkin spent four decades splitting time between his district and the Capitol in Albany.

For most of that last decade, his neighbor in the Senate chambers was Republican Pat Gallivan. The lawmaker said he considered Larkin a mentor and a friend – someone he began learning from as soon as he was sworn in.

“I was very saddened to learn of Senator Larkin’s passing,” Gallivan said. “I was very lucky to be assigned a seat right next to him in the Senate chamber and I sat next to him for eight years before he retired, learned a tremendous amount and he really had an incredible life.”

Larkin passed away this weekend at the age of 91. Gallivan said he was “cut from the cloth” and really had three separate careers – first as a veteran of two wars, then as supervisor for the Town of New Windsor and finally his long tenure with the Legislature.

He said for Larkin, it was all about service.

“He didn’t hesitate with all his experience to ask for advice if he had a problem with a constituent that he wasn’t quite sure how to handle,” Gallivan said.

Larkin was a champion for veterans causes, a member of the Genesis Club which founded the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in New Windsor and the founder of the campaign to create the Purple Heart Forever Stamp.

Gallivan said it was a symbol that meant a lot to him and he didn’t let his neighbor forget it.

“Every day he shared with me a Purple Heart pin so I’ve got a collection of about 500 Purple Heart pins,” he said.

Larkin retired last year but Gallivan believed he would have continued to serve if his health had allowed it.

Erie County Executive Candidate Launches Television Ad

The political season is shifting into another gear post Labor Day with county races at the top of the ballot this year.

Independent Erie County Executive Candidate Lynne Dixon has released her first television advertisement. The commercial portrays the current county legislator as a “different kind of leader.”

“I’m a single working mom with four kids,” Dixon said. “I’m not a Republican. I’m not a Democrat. I’m an Independent who does not care about partisan politics. I only care about the right ideas and doing the right things.”

While Dixon is registered to the minor Independence Party, she is endorsed by the Erie County Republican Committee, which circulated the campaign email Tuesday. She is running against incumbent Democrat Mark Poloncarz.

“The campaign for CE offers a clear choice – an independent in Lynne Dixon who’s running to take politics out of government or a partisan bully in Mark Poloncarz who brags about being Erie County’s progressive version of Bill DeBlasio. The more voters hear from Lynne the easier that choice is for them,” campaign consultant Chris Grant said.

According to Federal Communications Commission files, the campaign spent more than $13,000 to air the ad on local broadcast networks through September 8. Dixon’s campaign said there are also additional cable and digital buys which are not yet noted in the FCC reports.

In July, the candidate reported having more than $216,000 in campaign funds available. Poloncarz had north of $637,000.

We’ve reached out to the county executive’s campaign for a statement.

Reilich Added To IJC’s International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board

Greece Town Supervisor and former Monroe County Republican Party chairman Bill Reilich is the newest member of the International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board.

The board was established by the International Joint Commission in 2016 to ensure outflows from the two bodies of water meet the requirements in the Plan 2014 regulatory order. In July, the IJC, which oversees all shared bodies of water between the United States and Canada, announced it would expand the membership of the board to include two local members – one from each country – that represent waterfront communities.

The town of Greece was hit particularly hard by flooding both this year and in 2017. Reilich has been an outspoken critic of Plan 2014 which he believes contributed to the floods.

“Commissioners agreed that appointment of these additional local members would be helpful to complement the existing membership of the ILOSLR board and, in particular, assist in their efforts to document the human and social impacts of recent flooding at the local and municipal levels in order to enrich the board’s discussions and decisions,” the IJC said in a press release.

The board’s appointment of a new Canadian member is “expected in the near future.” With Reilich’s addition there are currently 18 members.

The IJC has six commissioners – three from each country – including Western New Yorker Jane Corwin, who is the American chairperson.

Cuomo Seeks Compromise In License Plate Plan, Lawmakers Are Skeptical

From the Morning Memo:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is trying to find a way out of the license plate replacement controversy, but state lawmakers are not buying into the compromise his administration proposed just yet.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers over the last week have shared similar questions about the administration’s plan to require motorists with license plates ten years or older to purchase new ones for $25.

Cuomo’s office on Thursday released a statement from Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Mark Schroeder that floated a potential end to the controversy: Motorists with plates 10 years old or older could keep their plates pending an inspection to determine their condition.

Schroeder said the Cuomo administration was willing to work with lawmakers to develop the inspection plan before the replacement program begins next April.

But lawmakers were skeptical.

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, a Democrat who represents Schenectady, knocked the proposal.

“It seems to me that NYS DMV Commissioner Schroeder missed the point. Drivers are not taking issue with replacing damaged plates but the governor’s program FORCES drivers to replace plates, regardless of condition,” he said.

The license plate plan over the several days has led to lawmakers criticizing the proposal as a “cash grab” that could net the state up to $75 million in the coming years.

GOP state Sen. Chris Jacobs said there is no reason anybody should have to pay to replace a plate that is in reasonable condition.

“We get buckled and dimed so much in this state and this is going to generate a lot of money for this state,” he said. “That’s why they’re doing this.”

The governor has stated the reason for the replacement plates is that the older generation does not register correctly with new cashless tolling technology, soon to be instituted across the Thruway system.

However, Democratic Assemblyman Sean Ryan said he has been doing his own research and found the technology already in place on the Grand Island bridges and the new Mario Cuomo Bridge seem to be functioning fine.

“I’m trying to figure that one out, but I haven’t heard any real research or information from the current people who run those cashless tolling programs if there’s an actual problem,” he said.

Jacobs is on the Senate Transportation Committee and called on its chair, fellow western New Yorker Tim Kennedy, to hold hearings about the issue. Republican Sen. Jim Tedisco of the Capital Region also wants hearings on the issue.

Kennedy said, in essence, that’s already planned.

“As always, the Senate and Assembly will hold joint hearings during the state budget process, which will allow for further examination of this proposal,” he said.

Kennedy said his committee will also review any legislation that seeks to address the issue.

Cuomo, meanwhile, has also lashed out at lawmakers, blaming them for the $25 fee set 10 years ago before he was governor. He’s challenged lawmakers to return to Albany for a special session and lower it themselves.

The measure approved in 2009 allows the DMV to set the fee that is “not to exceed” $25 — suggesting the DMV could simply lower the fee now without lawmaker input.

Vanity Fair Report Sparks Renewed Interest In OSC Audit

A Vanity Fair article about Tesla’s solar operation in Buffalo has again sparked interest in an Office of the State Comptroller audit into New York State’s high tech projects.

OSC confirmed the audit which several media outlets, including WIVB and the Times Union, have previously reported is ongoing and has been for several months.

“Because the audit is underway, we cannot provide any further details on the scope of the audit or our findings so far,” spokesperson Jennifer Freeman said.
The Comptroller’s Office did not specifically name Tesla but it would appear the review would touch several Buffalo Billion projects including the state’s $750 million investment in the RiverBend technology hub where the Tesla factory is located.
Thursday, in response to the Vanity Fair piece, Erie County Legislator and County Executive candidate Lynne Dixon asked the comptroller for a full audit of the program and plans to introduce a formal resolution. She said while the audit has been “rumored,” no details have been widely released.
“Taxpayers spent $750 million on SolarCity, helping build the plant and paying for the equipment, it was one of the largest ever commitments to a single project in the history of Western New York. We were given the promise and expectation of thousands of jobs and a generational boost to our local economy. To date we haven’t seen that, and we have seen no transparency or accountability from Tesla. They deflect, they blame and they continue to partake in a level of secrecy they don’t deserve considering the commitment from taxpayers to this project.  It’s time we start to get answers about what our money was spent on,” Dixon said.
The Republican-endorsed candidate also suggested Tesla open its doors to media, which it has only done once before and with many restrictions.

Stewart-Cousins And Langworthy Both Believe 2020 Holds Good News For Respective Parties

From the Morning Memo:

Not surprisingly Democrats and Republicans in New York have opposite opinions about their outlooks for the state Senate in 2020.

The Dems are making their case for growing the majority with several GOP incumbents exploring new opportunities. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins took it a step further Wednesday, with a forecast for the next election.

“We will begin next year with 40 members. My prediction is a minimum of 43,” she said.

However, new State Republican Party Chair Nick Langworthy noted earlier this week, his party lost the Senate in just one election. Even though they currently have an 18 seat deficit, he said he believes they could make it up in the same amount of time – one election.

Stewart-Cousin quickly dismissed the premise.

“He should say that,” she said. “He’s the chair.”

Langworthy has already started the campaign, pinpointing a number of 2020 campaign issues. That includes the passage of a law granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and most recently, the governor’s plan to mandate motorists with license plates ten years or older purchase new ones for $25.

“Coming out of that last session, there’s no way they should be re-elected as a majority,” Langworthy said Wednesday. “What they accomplished was completely irresponsible, shoved down the throats of New Yorkers at the expense of taxpayers.”

The Senate majority hasn’t officially weighed in on the license plate issue, but Langworthy said Cuomo is the leader of the party.