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

Tesla Makes Official Report To NY: Ahead Of Job Goals, Diversifying Product Line

Tesla submitted a jobs report and investment numbers to New York on Wednesday as part of its agreement to work out of the state-funded South Buffalo Gigafactory.

The company, which has been producing “solar roof” technology at the Riverbend facility, said it has 632 full-time employees and 4 part-time jobs, roughly 25 percent ahead of its obligation to employ 500 people in New York State by April 30, 2019.Of those jobs, 329 of those full-time jobs are at the Buffalo factory and  the rest are elsewhere in the state.

Tesla said it has also nearly tripled the state’s financial requirement buy spending and investing more the $381 million cumulatively. Nearly $180 million has come over the last year, which includes costs like capital spending, inventory, labor and benefits and other expenses.

The company said, in the letter to the heads of Empire State Development and Fort Schuyler Management Company, the jobs reported do not include any headcount from co-located business partners at the facility. Panasonic is also manufacturing solar cells at Riverbend, and Tesla said the partner employs roughly another 400 full-time employees. The are 43 more contingent workers, contractors and vendors.

The company said it’s also manufacturing more products at the factory as it scales back the solar roof production.

“We’re pleased to have exceeded our first year job commitments by more than 25 percent and nearly tripled our investment requirement in New York State,” a Tesla spokesperson said in a statement. “In addition to scaling production of Solar Roof, Tesla is also diversifying its presence in Buffalo by manufacturing and assembling Supercharger and energy storage components at Gigafactory 2. We’re committed to investing in Buffalo and the State, and the new power electronic lines will deliver more high tech jobs while supporting Tesla’s energy storage products and global Supercharging infrastructure.”

Tesla said a “V3 Supercharger electric vehicle charging cabinet” manufacturing line is installed and operational and additional lines are slated to being production later this year. It said the facility also now houses several other manufacturing lines supporting the “Tesla Energy Industrial Storage business portfolio.”

The company said there are electric vehicle chargers and superchargers already deployed across the state with more under development. According to the letter, it will also be opening new vehicle centers in Buffalo, Rochester, in Albany.

“Empire State Development is in receipt of Tesla’s Employment and Investment Report for RiverBend,” an ESD spokesperson said. “We are pleased that Tesla is reporting that it has exceeded its job and investment commitments, invested $381 million over the course of the project, and become host to nearly 800 full-time employees working at the manufacturing facility. In the coming weeks, ESD will perform the necessary due diligence to verify the data provided by Tesla.”

Tesla has until next April to create 1,460 jobs in Buffalo, although they do not all have to be in the factory. Currently, it is only reporting one full-time job in Buffalo outside of RiverBend.

Rep. Reed Supports Trump On China, Calls For Mexico-Canada Vote

From the Morning Memo:

Republican NY-23 Rep. Tom Reed said the escalation of a war over tariffs between the United States and China is something that can be easily resolved.

He said the president has expressed willingness to continue to negotiate with China in good faith, and if the two countries reach a deal, a potential trade war would be an afterthought.

“I think what you’re seeing is potentially the final stages of a negotiation that either will produce an agreement, or we will have to walk away from the table and come back to the table in the future once both sides recognize that it’s in no one’s interest to pursue this tariff escalation long term,” Reed said.

At the same time, the Republican said the U.S. is missing an opportunity to codify the updated trade deal the administration has negotiated with Mexico and Canada. He believes the Democrat-controlled House would approve the agreement, however House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has refused to bring it to the floor.

“She has been adamant not to give the president a win in regards to this Mexico-Canada deal, and for the sake of our farmers, I think it’s incumbent on Nancy Pelosi to give us a vote,” the congressman said.

Reed said approval of the deal is particularly important to the dairy farmers in his district, who he insists will be able to sell more products as a result. He also believes it gives the U.S. a stronger position in negotiating with China.

“These are all related to each other, so the sooner we can get Mexico-Canada on the floor of the house and get a successful vote behind us, I think that would also help us in negotiation with China because it would send a message that we are serious,” Reed said.

He also said Congress needs to be open to potential assistance to the farming community as trade talks continue.

Morelle Supports Subpoenas Of Trump’s Financial Records

From the Morning Memo:

President Donald Trump’s legal team is scheduled to be in federal court today in Washington to argue against congressional subpoenas issued for some of Trump’s financial records.

The hearing involves information that Congress wants from the accounting firm Mazars USA. The House has also subpoenaed records regarding Trump’s business dealings from a number of lenders, including Deutsche Bank and Capital One.

Yesterday in Rochester, Democratic Rep. Joe Morelle said he believes his colleagues who are investigating are well within their right in their efforts to obtain the president’s financial records.

“It was established back in the 18th century that Congress has the right to oversight over the White House and over the Executive Branch,” the congressman said. :”Article I of the Constitution is clear in that regard, and I think the founders wanted to make sure that we didn’t have an untethered executive.”

Morelle argued that Congress not only has a right, but also an obligation to exercise its powers in this instance. He said he believes the American people deserve to know what is going on with their president.

“The subpoenas that are going on and the investigations that are going on are legitimate questions that have been raised about the president and his administration,” Morelle said. I think he should comply with the subpoenas. I think he should coordinate and cooperate with those various committees that are doing their investigations.”

The investigations began after former Trump attorney Michael Cohen told Congress that Trump inflated his personal wealth in an attempt to buy the Buffalo Bills.

Schumer Backs NY Democrats Effort To Get Trump Tax Returns

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he is not opposed to proposed New York state legislation which would allow the state tax commissioner to release NY tax returns to congressional investigators.

The bill, though broadly applicable to anybody who files taxes in New York, is seen as an attempt to allow Congress to see President Donald Trump’s financials. Schumer said Trump should have released his tax returns on his own.

“I think every major figure should make their tax returns public,” he said. “I’ve made mine public for years and that makes sense. So I would hope that the president would give those taxes. I would hope the courts would say he’d have to but New York’s pursuing another route and that’s fine with me.”

Trump has refused to release his tax information dating back to his 2016 candidacy. He has pointed to a federal audit, as the reason for his unwillingness to make the returns public, but also tweeted Saturday he won the 2016 election “partially based on no Tax Returns.”

“When you’re a public official, you’re not just a private citizen and you want to see what the taxes are to see if there are conflicts of interests or anything else for everybody, not just one person,” Schumer said.

Last week, the New York Times reported it had obtained tax forms from 1985 to 1994 showing Trump lost more than $1 billion over the decade and was able to avoid paying income tax for eight of ten years as a result.

NY State Officially Launches Buffalo Skyway Redesign Competition

New York State has officially launched a competition to generate ideas for a new vision for Buffalo’s Skyway.

The four-lane, four-mile, elevated expressway connecting I-190 in downtown Buffalo to Route 5 along Lake Erie was originally completed in 1953. As the state has redeveloped the city’s waterfront over the past decade, critics have argued it has created an access barrier.

The state has already selected a panel of experts to judge the competition. The winner will receive $100,000 and first and second runner-ups will get $50,000 and $25,000, respectively.

“I’m excited. It’s another big idea. It’s out of the box and I think it’s exactly what we need, another big, visionary, creative idea to excite Western New York and let the rest of the country know that Buffalo’s back,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-NY, said.

Cuomo said Western New York has a history of “protracted deliberation” on major capital projects and touted a tight timeline for the competition. There will be two phases with submissions for the first phase due June 28.

Phase I will allow respondents to provide an overview of their idea and how it addresses the main objectives and restraints of the competition. The state will announce the Top 20 submissions on July 15.

That first group of finalist will be required to submit a more comprehensive plan, including a full technical proposal and graphics, by August 17. Public information meetings will be scheduled to discuss those proposals between August 26 and September 2.

The winners will be announced the week of September 9.

“We will have whittled it down to eight. We will really award the first, second and third place winners during that week,” Empire State Development President Howard Zemsky said.

The competition will focus on affordability, feasibility, and quality of submissions. Zemsky said the website includes information for applicants to make sure the submissions fit those criteria, including the current infrastructure and transportation needs in the area.

“My guess is that’s going to be a point of discussion in the various proposals,” Cuomo said. “One of the questions will be, if you propose taking the Skyway down, what would the traffic alternatives be? Do you need additional infrastructure? Are there traffic routing devices that would mitigate any need for additional roadways?”

The governor said he spoke to one who designer who didn’t believe the city needed additional roads. He also pointed out the competition will not necessarily lead to the expressway being demolished.

Zemsky said if it is removed though, it would open up roughly 75 acres of waterfront along the “Skyway Corridor.” Realistically, the governor said, it could be years before the project actually happens, due to the need for funding and environmental impact studies.

The ESD president said it’s difficult to project a timeline until the state knows what the proposals are.

Hochul Discusses Contribution To Gillibrand 2020 Campaign

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, D-NY, has not revealed which Democratic candidate she’s supporting in the horse-race for the 2020 presidential nomination.

“I’m not making any endorsements at this time,” she maintained Friday.

However, the LG is letting her money talk. Specifically, she made a $2,700 contribution to the campaign of one of the state’s other most influential women, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

Hochul said the two of them go way back.

“Senator Gillibrand has been a friend of mine for a long time. In fact, when I ran for Congress in 2011, I think she gave me my first check. So we’ve been good friends. We’ve played softball together. We’ve worked together in Washington,” Hochul said. “So I just wanted to let her know I support her financially and she’s been a great spokeswoman for women in New York State and all across the country and that’s something I care deeply about.”

Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-NY, meanwhile is backing and assisting the campaign of former Vice President Joe Biden.

Erie County Clerk Pens Op-Ed Against ‘Green Light Bill’

From the Morning Memo:

A public opinion battle is underway as proponents and opponents of drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants make their cases to the general public.

Democrats in the state Legislature would likely have the votes to pass the long-debated progressive policy, but with polling showing a majority of voters still oppose it, leaders have discussed the need to educate people before moving forward. Proponents, among other things, say the measure will make the roads safer, bring in money for the state and help immigrants, who are already here, get to work.

However, vocal critic and Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns, D, has penned his own op-ed piece arguing against the “Green Light Bill.” He said a lack of public education about it is a problem.

“As a former State Assemblyman, I agree,” Kearns said. “The Legislators supporting this bill failed to educate the public on its adverse impacts.”

The county clerk focuses on a handful of arguments.

Federal rules

Kearns said the argument, drivers licenses will help undocumented immigrants get to work, ignores federal regulations that make it a crime to employ them in the first place. He believes it actually encourages violation of the federal law.

Voter registration

The clerk said other states with similar drivers license laws, specifically note the document does not establish eligibility for voter registration. He said the New York bill does not address the important issue.

Law enforcement restrictions

While proponents argue restrictions on law enforcement to search records of immigrants avoids police from “fishing” during routine traffic stops, Kearns believes those limitations are detrimental, particularly in his home county. He points out Western New York has an international border and has been the target of transnational terrorism in the past.


The clerk said, while other New Yorkers can have their licenses revoked for committing certain crimes, the act of coming into the state without documentation is a crime in itself. He also said it’s hypocritical the bill protects records of undocumented immigrants, while the DMV makes $65 million a years sharing driver data with third parties.


Kearns believes fraud is a very real consequence of this bill and said it’s passage would put undue stress on DMV staff which would have to be trained to identify documents from 195 different countries around the world.

43North Competition Launches Year 6

From the Morning Memo:

The sixth year of the state-sponsored 43North business competition is underway.

The competition is now accepting applications from start-ups across the world, which can win cash, incubator space, and support to grow their respective companies – provided they locate them largely in Buffalo, (more on this in a moment). Winners could receive as much as $1 million from a $5 million pot.

“Over the last five years, the 43North competition has successfully driven high-quality startups to Buffalo where they can grow their businesses,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “Through this unique competition, we will continue to bring world-class talent and cutting edge businesses to this region to contribute and collaborate with the growing entrepreneurial economy.”

Winners are also allowed to operate tax-free for 10 years in the state under the Start-Up NY program. However, companies are only required to locate their CEO and half of their employees in Buffalo for a year, and the competition has faced criticism as some participants have decided to leave once that commitment was fulfilled.

The state said that over the first five years, the competition has created more than 400 jobs in Buffalo, and many companies have partnered with local institutions for continued growth. They also agree to give 43North a 5 percent equity stake.

“43North continues to be an important piece of the puzzle in attracting new businesses and talent to the region to help boost our local economy,” Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat said.

“The $5 million startup competition supported by the governor and Empire State Development has also been key to giving minority and women entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their ideas and get the critical funding they need to get their businesses off the ground. I can’t wait to hear what new and innovative businesses and talent this latest round will bring the region.”

The competition said 27 percent of its winners have had female founders, and 20 percent have been founders of color. Startups have until July 8 to submit their applications.

Republican Monroe County Executive Also Calls For Trump To Withdraw U.S. Marshal Nomination

Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo, R, joined Rep. Joe Morelle, D-NY-25, in calling for the president to withdraw his recent nomination for U.S. Marshal in the Western District of New York.

Last week, President Donald Trump nominated former Erie County Central Police Commissioner Peter Vito for the job. Morelle objected this week, pointing out a longstanding tradition the U.S. Marshal come from the Rochester region while the U.S. Attorney for the district hails from Buffalo.

Dinolfo agreed with the assessment.

Years of experience proves that our region is well-served by a U.S. Attorney from Buffalo working in partnership with a U.S. Marshal from Rochester to uphold the rule of law,” she said. “Our community does not lack for experienced law enforcement leaders who are eminently qualified to fill this position. I will always stand up for what’s right for our residents – even if it means standing up against my own party – and in this case that means the President should nominate a new U.S. Marshal from Rochester.”

The county executive did not reference Morelle’s other reason for calling for Trump to rescind the nomination. The congressman said his GOP colleague Chris Collins should not be making law enforcement recommendations while he is awaiting trial on felony insider trading charges.

Morelle did acknowledge the U.S. Marshal would likely be a Republican because its the administrations right to appoint its own officials, however he said it would be a disservice to Monroe County residents if that person came from the other side of the region.

Morelle-Collins Arguments Has Shades Of Slaughter-Collins Feud

From the Morning Memo:

New York’s 25th and 27th Congressional Districts may neighbor each other geographically, but its representatives have not always been neighborly to each other.

The late Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter regularly went after Republican Rep. Chris Collins on various matters of policy, and also led the calls for investigation into his insider trading, for which he is currently facing federal charges.

The Republican, never afraid to return fire, once called his colleague “a despicable human being.” The rivalry never really cooled before Slaughter passed away in March 2018.

Roughly five months later, Collins was indicted. As he continues to fight the charges lodged against him, his appearances on both national and local news have become far less prevalent, and his political future remains an open question.

However, Tuesday, there were shades of the old relations between NY-25 and NY-27 after Slaughter’s successor, former Assemblyman Joe Morelle, called for the Trump administration to withdraw a U.S. Marshal nominee recommended by Collins, though the Democrat did appear to try to tread more lightly than his predecessor likely would have.

“I say this advisedly, but this nomination was advanced by Congressman Collins, who was under indictment on federal felony charges, and I think while he’s going through his legal challenges he ought to stand down and not make recommendations about law enforcement personnel while he’s under federal indictment. I’m not trying to be… I’m just trying to basically call the balls and strikes here,” Morelle said.

Collins’ office was not amused, defending the nomination and calling Morelle’s opinion “simply irrelevant.”

“No one should take legal and ethics advice from Rep. Joe Morelle – who defended Sheldon Silver after his corruption arrest and ignored the story of a rape victim in order to advance his political career,” Collins spokesperson Jennifer Brown said.

Brown is talking about rape allegations made by former Democratic staffer Elizabeth Crothers in 2001 against the state Assembly Democrats chief counsel at the time, Michael Boxley.

Morelle then said he didn’t believe Crothers, but Boxley eventually pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct with a different staffer two years later.

Morelle has since apologized for the comments and even invited Crothers to be his State of the Union guest this year.