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

MLB Player Joins Movement To Keep New Era In WNY

From the Morning Memo:

Local labor and elected leaders have been trying to get the ball cap manufacturer New Era to remain in the WNY community of Derby, since the company announced in November it planned to close the factory, taking more than 200 jobs with it.

So far, however, all the letters and rallies have not worked, as the hat company has continued to take steps toward its ultimate goal of shutting down next month – including recently negotiating a severance package for employees.

The effort to keep New Era gained a high-profile ally yesterday. Washington Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle posted a series of tweets criticizing the company and expressing his support of the New Era workers who are poised to lose their jobs. New Era has an exclusive deal with Major League Baseball to manufacture its caps.

“As one of the most prominent unions in the US, we want to elevate the voices of the laborers whose work makes our game possible,” Doolittle wrote. The Derby, NY factory workers have been a part of our game, making the iconic on-field hats for over 50 years. They deserve better.”

Doolittle is an active member of the MLB Players Association and often uses Twitter to voice his opinion on a variety of topics. He pointed out that in 2017, MLB was able to step in and broker a deal to keep 600 jobs in Pennsylvania when uniform manufacturer Magestic planned to move them out of the country.

Houston Astros pitcher Collin McHugh, who played minor league ball both in Buffalo and Binghamton, also said he supports the workers in Derby. He wrote that when he was in the minor leagues, his wife and he lived with a woman who worked at the factory since its inception.

Reed Praises Schumer, Promises To Move National Comedy Center Bill

From the Morning Memo:

Earlier this week the U.S. Senate passed legislation designating Jamestown’s National Comedy Center as the national comedy center of the United States.

The bill was part of the 2019 Lands Package, and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer sponsored it. Rep. Tom Reed, a Corning Republican, is sponsoring the legislation in the House.

“Senator Schumer deserves rightfully the credit that he was able to put behind it to get it through the Senate, and make its way now through the House and to the president’s desk,” Reed said, praising the state’s Democratic senior senator.

The congressman said he will work to make sure the bill makes it through his chamber. It was referred to the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, last week.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Reed said. “We’re the home of Lucille Ball. We all had a good laugh looking at those ‘I Love Lucy’ shows, and to have it in Jamestown as the national designated comedy center of America, it’s just something were very proud of.”

He said the legislation is more than just symbolic, giving credibility to the facility that was built with a mix of funding from state, federal and private sources and opens up international opportunities and more federal funds.

“Now we’ve expressed as a country that this is aware, we want our comedic legacy to be housed, right there in Jamestown, NY,” he said.

Erie County Water Authority Director Resigning Less Than Two Weeks After Taking Post

The Erie County Water Authority confirmed Wednesday, new Executive Director John Mye III is resigning effective Friday.

Mye officially began working for the authority less than two weeks ago on February 4. ECWA said the reason for the resignation was personal and could not give any further information because of HIPAA laws.

“After my very brief time at the ECWA discovering the full magnitude of the responsibilities of the position, and after close consultation with my family, I have determined that due to this personal matter it is in the best interests of myself and the ECWA to resign,” Mye said in a statement. “The ECWA and its ratepayers deserve to have an executive director that can fully meet the rigorous daily demands of leading the largest public water utility in the region.”

A spokesperson said it will begin a search immediately to replace the executive director within 60 days. The authority has long been known as a hotbed for political patronage, but the selection of Mye was viewed as a change in direction.

Much was made of the fact the professional engineer and financial executive did not have a history of political involvement or campaign contributions. His hire came following a tumultuous several months for ECWA.

“In the short time I was at the ECWA, I came away very impressed with its operations,” Mye said. “The organization is well managed, and I am confident that the leadership at ECWA will select a highly qualified individual that will continue to lead the organization in a positive direction.”

In June 2018, the authority fired previous Executive Director Earl Jann. That move came days after the New York State Authorities Budget Office issued a scathing report recommending all water authority commissioners who served between 2016 and 2017 be replaced due to lack of transparency.

The report was particularly critical of the board for approving a guaranteed severance payout of $300,000 to $400,000 if Jann were forced out of his position for political reasons before his contract expired in 2020. The practice is known as a “golden parachute.”

Members of the Erie County Legislature also passed a resolution over the summer calling for the resignation of Authority Board of Commissioners Chair Jerry Schad, but he has stayed on. Schad is expected to discuss Mye’s resignation later today.

Lawmakers Urge FAA To Implement Pilot Database

From the Morning Memo:

Federal lawmakers in New York used the 10th anniversary of the crash of Flight 3407 to urge the Federal Aviation Administration to establish an Electronic Pilot Training Database.

The reference tool, which would give airlines full access to the training records of commercial pilots, was included in safety reforms approved by Congress in 2010. However, to this point it has been stuck in the testing phase.

The 2010 legislation was championed by the family members of those who died when Flight 3407 crashed in Clarence Center, killing 50 people, including a 7-month pregnant woman. Members of the WNY delegation and both U.S. Senators wrote to the FAA secretary this week and urged action.

“On the ten year anniversary of Flight 3407 tragedy, we launch a new push to finally establish a new pilot training database – after years of delay and foot-dragging – that will give specific information on the training of all commercial airline pilots,” U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

“Our skies are safer today than ever before because the Flight 3407 families united as one and spearheaded a movement to pass life-saving commercial airline regulations just like this one. I will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the 3407 Families until we pass every element of their life-saving agenda.”

Lawmakers said the database was actually required to be in effect no later than April 2017 – a deadline that has obviously already passed. An audit by the Department of Transportations Office of the Inspector General found the FAA has actually missed several deadlines mandated by the legislation.

“Ten years later, the crash of Flight 3407 still weighs heavily on our community,” Republican NY-27 Rep. Chris Collins said. “The families have worked tirelessly to make our skies safe. The Pilot Record Database is one of the last pieces of the puzzle and it is time for it to be fully implemented.”

The database provision was included in the legislation after an investigation revealed that Colgan Air hired the captain of Flight 3407, without full knowledge of his complete training record, which showed that he failed three FAA practical tests prior to operating the plane.

Gallivan Elaborates on Constitutional Amendment Proposal

Last week state Senator Pat Gallivan, R-Elma, introduced a constitutional amendment which would block the governor from including non-fiscal policy proposals in his budget.

The Republican cited the increased use of the budget as a tool for Governor Andrew Cuomo over the years, but acknowledged the practice has been utilized by Republicans and Democrats over the year. In fact, it was GOP Governor George Pataki who was challenged in court, and the landmark decision served to essentially broaden executive power.

The ruling was reinforced when Governor David Paterson was challenged years later.

“Their ability to insert policy was upheld and so the end result is something that the framers of our Constitution I don’t think had in mind,” Gallivan said. “Our Constitution and court decisions give the governor the upper hand when it comes to budgeting. It’s not a legitimate check and balance and we all know that our three branches of government, they’re in place to provide a check on each other and it’s not a level playing field and that ultimately is a disservice to citizens.

The state senator said his proposal simply correct the issue so there is a “legitimate check and balance.” The constitutional amendment process in New York is a difficult one which requires passage in two consecutive legislative sessions and then approval from the general public via a statewide referendum vote.

As for whether Gallivan truly believes he can navigate the amendment through that path, he said it’s his job to make the case. He said he’s not bringing it up because Democrats control the Capitol right now.

However, he said Governor Cuomo has “perfected” the practice. Gallivan pointed specifically to reforms to teacher evaluations and marijuana as issues that were included and the budget and he believed should’ve been discussed separately and on their own merits.

He said it also takes away from the budget process, because instead of focusing strictly on numbers and funding, lawmakers are distracted by policy agendas. Finally, he said it essentially forces the legislature to pass a budget even if it disagrees because if the April 1st deadline passes, Cuomo can send them a take-it-or-leave-it budget that could include policy matters.

Gallivan said because of the court rulings, a constitutional amendment is the only viable option for change.

A spokesperson for the governor’s office said this amendment has already been tried and “wholeheartedly rejected by New Yorkers.” He pointed out, in 2005 the measure went to a referendum vote and lost by a nearly 2-1 margin.

Former Assemblywoman Says JCOPE Won’t Investigate Complaint Against Her

From the Morning Memo:

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics will not investigate a complaint that claimed former North County state Assemblywoman Addie Jenne tried to steer state funding to a friend in 2014.

Jenne’s Republican opponent in the 2018 election, Mark Walczyk, asked JCOPE to investigate the matter in October at the height of the campaign. Walczyk, who was a Waterotown council member at the time, won the hotly contested race in the fall, defeating the Democratic incumbent.

JCOPE made the decision on Jan. 29, but typically these decisions remain confidential. Jenne herself announced the decision in a press release, saying she felt it was important since Walczyk had publicized and continually “incorrectly” stated she was being investigated.

According to the press release, JCOPE followed up with an initial inquiry consisting of an interview with a relevant party and statements the Democrat provided. It concluded no further action would be taken.

“Mr. Walczyk used lies to create allegations in order to attack my integrity. Many people following his deceptive attacks could see how he created a smear campaign not based on any facts,” Jenne said.  “JCOPE also could see through his scheme and that there was no basis to investigate me.”

Jenne said Walczyk did not follow the basic legal principles of “guilty until proven innocent” and respect due process.

“I’d like to thank Ms. Jenne for her years of work to better the North County. Holding Albany politicians accountable is very important to me,” Walczyk said in a statement.  “I’m happy that JCOPE determined no wrong doing occurred.  However, when there’s any possible appearance of corruption, the public has a right to know.”

Schumer Highlights Shutdown Impact On NY Breweries

With another federal government shutdown looming, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is highlighting one of the many consequence he says people don’t consider.

Schumer held press conferences Monday in Buffalo and Rochester to discuss the impact to New York’s brewery industry. The Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade  Bureau (TTB) regulates the industry for many things including changes to bottle sizes, mixes and new labels.

Schumer said during the five week shutdown which ended last month, applications to the bureau doubled to 10,000. Now there is a backlog.

The minority leader said if TTB is forced to close again, coupled with approvals need at the state level and factoring in time to market new products, breweries are in danger of missing out on significant revenues during the important summer selling season.
“We cannot have another shutdown because it will make the problems even worse.,” he said. “Even without a shutdown, TTB should be putting people on overtime and making them work fast so that they can get these approvals out.”

Schumer said there are 420 breweries in New York that produce about $4 billion annually for the economy. Labatt said it has roughly 40 approvals pending on its own.

The senate minority leader said negotiations to avoid a shutdown are still ongoing with members of the Appropriations Committee meeting at 3:30 p.m. Monday.

“Everybody should bend and make sure there’s no shutdown, plain and simple,” he said.

The latest Siena Poll shows Cuomo with his lowest favorability rating ever, perhaps suggesting the shutdown has had an impact on his popularity. The senator said he continues to work hard and doesn’t  look over his shoulder at any of the numbers.

Collins Reintroduces Legislation To Roll Back SAFE Act

From the Morning Memo:

While the New York State Legislature continues to tighten gun laws, Rep. Chris Collins, R-NY-27, is trying again to role back the state’s Secure Ammunition’s and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act Of 2013 at the federal level.

Collins reintroduced his Second Amendment Guarantee Act this week. SAGA would limit a state’s authority to regulate rifles and shotguns.

States would not be allowed to impose regulations more restrictive than those already imposed by Congress. The legislation, first introduced by Collins in July 2017, is in direct response to New York’s wide-reaching package of gun laws.

“Governor Cuomo unjustly took away the Second Amendment rights from law abiding New Yorkers with his so-called SAFE Act,” Collins said. “I have and always will be a  strong supporter of the Second Amendment and my legislation will guarantee that New Yorkers have the rights guaranteed to them in the Constitution.”

The congressman said in stipulating rifles and shotguns have (or don’t have) certain features the SAFE Act violates federal regulations. If passed, SAGA would void state laws in violation and allow courts to award plaintiffs damages from those states.

However, even with a Republican-controlled House, the bill stalled last session after being referred to a subcommittee. Collins faces more obstacles this year.

Democrats have since won back Congress. Even the lawmakers GOP colleagues could potentially be squeamish about passing a bill of which he’s the primary sponsor while he awaits trial on federal insider trading charges.

WNY Congressional Caucus On SOTU

From the Morning Memo:

The responses came in quickly from members of Congress in Western New York following President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address.

Although the speech was billed as a call for unity, the reactions were unsurprisingly divided by party.

Republican Congressman Chris Collins, NY-27, who no longer serves on any committees due to a federal indictment, released the shortest statement. In it, he praised the president for his leadership.

“We have passed monumental tax and criminal justice reforms. Our economy is flourishing and American families have more money in their pockets, but we still have work to do. While President Trump is fighting for fair trade and the American worker, it is time for Congress to come together to strengthen our borders and fix our broken immigration system. Together, we can accomplish a greater America,” he said.

Rep. Joe Morelle, attending the speech for the first time as the Democratic representative for the 25th congressional district, said he appreciated the call for cooperation. He did not however, think Trump’s agenda or speech were in the spirit of bipartisanship.

“Ultimately, the President’s address only served to further showcase his disturbing world that is divorced from the realities that are confronting everyday, hard-working Americans,” Morelle said. “That is why in the President’s absence, my colleagues and I in the House will continue to provide the leadership the American people need and deserve.”

The Democrat did not respond to Trump’s criticism of New York’s recently passed Reproductive Health Act, even though he co-sponsored the bill while in the state Legislature. He did discuss the need for a new infrastructure plan and new ideas about healthcare.

Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Reed, R-NY-23, who has tried to lead a bipartisan movement with his Problem Solvers Caucus, gave the president credit for a “soaring economy and a restored leadership around the globe.” He challenged his colleagues in Congress to work together to support many of the priorities Trump laid out like (once again) health care, infrastructure and immigration.

“Now extremists on both sides of the aisle have a choice to make: Will they adopt a willingness to compromise and ensure a legacy of greatness for our children and grandchildren, or instead, choose to play ‘gotcha politics,’ and guarantee the American people lose out on future opportunities? We sincerely hope they choose to put the I American people first,” Reed said.

Democrat Brian Higgins, NY-26, was perhaps the most critical of Trump. He said the president’s tenure has “been mired by a haphazard agenda driven by hurtful rhetoric and policies that divide America.” Higgins called on Trump to lead by example, including specifically support for a $1 trillion infrastructure investment and border security based on facts, “not fueled by fear.”

State Senator Jacobs Will Not Run For Erie County Executive

State Senator Chris Jacobs, R-Buffalo, confirmed Tuesday he will not run for Erie County Executive.

Many Republicans in Western New York believed Jacobs would be the front runner to challenge incumbent Democrat Mark Poloncarz. The legislator contemplated his options for several weeks but ultimately said the decision was not too difficult to make.

“We’re just celebrating the one month birthday of my new daughter Anna and really decided it’s just not the right time for myself and my family,” he said.

Jacobs said his position in the state Senate didn’t really factor into the choice. He just began his second term in the 60th district but now is in the minority conference.

If anything, he said that shift is a reason to return to Albany. The lawmaker pointed out he’s already run two countywide campaigns and it’s not easy.

“I know it’s a time consuming and all-consuming task and right now I just didn’t think it was the right time,” he said. “So I’m very much enjoying my role as senator representing the 60th district and I also think it’s a very important time to be up here to make sure Western New York’s voice is heard.”

Jacobs has developed a number of buildings in the Buffalo-area but he said impending limits on outside income in the Legislature were not a factor either. He said it is his understanding, with “soft income,” he will not be impacted by the new rules.

Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw was once considered the defacto candidate to challenge Poloncarz. However, after Republican Rep. Chris Collins was indicted on federal insider trading charges, Mychajliw appeared to severe from the local party a bit. He now appears to have turned his attention to the 27th Congressional District, whenever the incumbent’s tenure is up.

Erie County GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy said the candidates currently in consideration for county executive are County Legislators Lynne Dixon, Joe Lorigo, and Ed Rath, as well as County Clerk Mickey Kearns. He said there are no “rankings” as to which candidate might be preferred.

Republican analyst Vic Martucci said any of the four would be good choices his gut feeling is Dixon will be the favorite.

“I would think that the Republican party will want to try and run a female candidate if they can,” Martucci said. “Again, just looking at the political landscape, Republicans lost a lot of races last year because they couldn’t appeal to middle class suburban women and that’s going to be a key voting block in this county executive’s race.”

Of the four candidates in consideration, only Rath is a registered Republican. Kearns is a Democrat, Lorigo a Conservative, and Dixon is registered to the Independence Party.

Martucci said the GOP has always needed candidates that can appeal to more than just party members because there is a heavy Democratic enrollment edge in Erie County. He said he believes voters care less about affiliation than they have in the past and there’s not necessarily a problem recruiting candidates.

He said regardless of who Reopublicans choose, the incumbent, Poloncarz, is formidable and will be difficult to beat.