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

Roger Stone To Visit Buffalo – Proceeds Will Go Toward Legal Fees

Political consultant Roger Stone will visit Buffalo, less than two months before his scheduled federal trial for charges connected to the Russia special investigation.

According to an email, former New York state gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino will host “Roger Stone Uncensored” on September 13. The controversial consultant with close ties to President Donald Trump, will “discuss the current political climate and his past experiences as a political strategist.”

“He is a good man and forward thinker for America and doesn’t fear the press,” Paladino said. “He is a victim of progressive politics.

Tickets cost $35 and there will be a book signing after the speech. Paladino said the funds raised will go toward Stone’s legal fees.

A grand jury indicted Stone at the beginning of this year. The federal government charged him with seven crimes including obstructing justice, lying to Congress and witness tampering.

His trial is currently slated for November 5.

Roger Stone

Cuomo Announces Nomination Of New ESD Head

New York State’s lead economic development agency will have a new frontman starting September 3.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-NY, announced his nomination of U.S. News & World Report Executive Chairman Eric Gertler to serve as president and CEO of Empire State Development. Gertler will replace outgoing president Howard Zemsky who announced in May he was stepping down.

On top of leading the news, rankings and consumer advice media company, Gertler has also been the head of several technology companies and has written and spoken extensively about economic development policy. He has served on the board of ESD since June 2018.

I have boundless faith in the economic potential of New York State, and I look forward to supporting Governor Cuomo in further strengthening our dynamic economy for this and future generations,” Gertler said. “As we continue to attract business investment, stimulate new industry, reinforce our existing infrastructure and invest in workforce development, we will build on New York State’s legacy as one of the nation’s most decisive economic engines.”

Zemsky will remain the chairman of the ESD board. He said he has “complete confidence” in Gertler to lead the “critical work” of the agency and looks forward to working with him.

The governor, Monday, thanked Zemsky for his service again.

“Eric is an innovative leader who spent decades at the intersection of business, media and government – making him uniquely suited to run our chief economic development and tourism agency,” he said. “I’m grateful to Howard for continuing to serve as chairman of the board after a successful term overseeing this administration’s locally-driven economic development strategy and in particular helping turn around Buffalo’s economy and bringing young people back to Upstate cities.”

The appointment represents a geographic shift at the top for ESD. Zemsky lives in Buffalo and has helped move forward the one of the governor’s main economic development initiatives, the Buffalo Billion, during his tenure.

Gertler is based out of New York City.

Source: Ortt To Announce NY-27 Candidacy

A source says Republican state Senator Rob Ortt will announce his candidacy Saturday for New York’s 27th Congressional District.

A press advisory, sent Friday afternoon, said he would hold two press conferences for a “special announcement” regarding the district – the first in Niagara County and the second in Genesee County. Ortt will be the third Republican to officially enter the 2020 race.

His state Senate colleague Chris Jacobs announced earlier this year, as did attorney and Fox News contributor Beth Parlato. Incumbent Congressman Chris Collins, who faces federal insider trading charges, is fundraising but said he doesn’t plan to make a final decision until later this year.

Prominently in the advisory, Ortt is identified as a Bronze Star recipient – a military decoration awarded for heroic or meritorious service. That is likely a reminder, as many have pushed for recent Medal of Honor recipient David Bellavia to enter the race, that Ortt is a decorated veteran as well.

Last weekend, Democrat Nate McMurray, who narrowly lost to Collins in 2018, also entered the race.

Rep. Stefanik Helping GOP-Endorsed Candidate For Erie County Executive

North Country Republican Elise Stefanik will travel to the western side of the state next month as she lends a hand in the Erie County executive race.

The congresswoman will be the guest of honor at a September 4 luncheon fundraiser for GOP-endorsed county executive candidate Lynne Dixon who is running against the Democratic incumbent Mark Poloncarz.

Dixon said it was very humbling to get the endorsement from a “rising star” in the party. In 2014, at the age of 30, Stefanik became the youngest Republican woman ever elected to Congress.

The tickets for the luncheon are $125 per person and $1000 for the VIP reception. It’s being held at Templeton Landing in Buffalo.

State To Ask For Rensselaer ‘Green Light’ Challenge Be Put On Hold

From the Morning Memo:

There are several new developments involving lawsuits challenging New York’s Green Light Law which allows undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

The state plans to file a motion asking for Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola’s federal suit to be transferred to the Western District court or be put on hold until a judge makes a decision on a similar action in Erie County.

Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns filed his challenge before Merola and is asking for an injunction on implementation of the law.

The state has also asked for dismissal of the Kearns suit and suggested it wouldn’t make sense for the courts to pursue any other litigation until a judge makes a decision on those matters. That motion will be made September 19 with the oral arguments for the Erie County suit scheduled for Sept. 25.

At the same time, the state of Connecticut said it intends to file court documents in support of New York in the Kearns case.

“In an amicus brief, Connecticut will offer the perspective of a neighboring state with more than four years of experience granting driver’s licenses to undocumented residents,” Joshua Perry, Special Counsel for Civil Rights wrote.

“Our example – along with those of 11 other states and the District of Columbia – shows that granting these licenses is not only well within each state’s prerogative but is also a wise policy decision that improves public health and safety.”

Perry said New York’s decision is an “appropriate and well-considered exercise of police power.” He asked for the court’s permission to file the brief no later than August 23.

JCOPE Settles Cases Connected To Two WNY Political Scandals

State ethics investigators have settled cases involving two Western New York political figures embroiled in scandals.

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics announced Thursday it reached a settlement with a man who previously worked for former State Senator Marc  Panepinto. The Democrat served two months in federal prison for trying to cover up unwanted sexual advances he made toward a female staffer.

Another staffer Christopher Savage admitted he tried to dissuade her from cooperating with the Commission. He also admitted to offering her a job set up by Panepinto in exchange for her non-cooperation.

Savage chose to work with ethics investigators, leading to  Panepinto’s conviction last year. JCOPE’s investigation had been deferred pending the federal criminal investigation into Panepinto’s conduct.

JCOPE also reached a settlement Thursday with former  Cheektowaga Assemblywoman Angela Wozniak. She was admonished by the Assembly Speaker back in 2016 for retaliating against a former staffer she admitted to having an affair with.

Wozniak chose not to seek re-election– and said at the time she wanted to focus on her family.

Cuomo Proposes Hate Crimes Domestic Terrorism Act

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-NY, proposed a new law Thursday which would define “hate-fueled murder with the intent to cause mass casualties” as an act of domestic terrorism.

The Hate Crimes Domestic Terrorism Act would allow for the same penalties in New York as currently defined terrorist acts: up to life in prison without parole. Cuomo made the announcement Thursday afternoon in New York City.

“American citizens who are radicalized – not by a foreign ideology – but rather radicalized by hate for other Americans – are still terrorists,” the governor said. “Today, our people are three times more likely to suffer a terrorist attack launched by an American than one launched by a foreigner.”

Cuomo referenced a number of mass shootings, including the most recent in El Paso, Texas that left 22 dead. He criticized the federal government for being “politically paralyzed.”

“The President said after El Paso that mental illness pulls the trigger,” Cuomo said. “The President says a lot of things.But, the President knows the obvious truth. If there is no gun, there is no trigger. His partisan political self-interest has trumped his responsibility to protect the public.”

The governor also called on the federal government to enact its own domestic terrorism law which includes a ban on the types of weapons used to perpetrate these crimes. However, he said where Congress will not act, the state will.

LG Hochul Says It Would Be Troubling If Buffalo Diocese Files Bankruptcy

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, D-NY, said when the governor signed the Child Victims Act on February 14, which created a one-year look-back window for civil litigation, the legislation was about more than just money for victims.

She said the act give victims a chance to have their day in court. However, when it comes to the Buffalo Catholic Diocese which has had nearly 100 suits filed against it already since the window opened Wednesday morning, could potentially derail that opportunity for many people.

“Bankruptcy would basically put a stop to that,” she said. “We’re hoping that that is not the outcome. It has happened in some of the diocese throughout the country.”

Courts across the state, including in Western New York, have prepared for the new caseload, designating judges and liaisons. Attorneys have said they’re preparing to take each case to a jury, even though many will likely reach settlements first.

However, if the diocese files Chapter 11 for instance, a bankruptcy court would then take oversight of the cases – potentially stopping cases from going to trial.

“I think it would be very troubling,” Hochul said. “It would certainly slow down the process and what would be most hurtful to the people who waited for decades to finally have their day in court and face their accusers is that they’d be denied the full opportunity to have discovery and to go through the normal process that the current system would allow.”

Although there has been quite a bit of speculation, the church hasn’t said whether it plans on filing bankruptcy.

43North Moving To Buffalo’s Tallest Building

Buffalo-based 43North is moving its headquarters to the city’s tallest building.

The state funded start-up competition also provides incubator space to winners year round. It is receiving a $1.5 million grant to move to Seneca One Tower as part of the new tech hub developer Doug Jemal is building there.

43North said the move will give its companies the opportunity to scale their businesses in a “vibrant, active environment” where there is significant tech talent thanks to M&T banks plans to move more than 1,000 jobs to the hub. Those companies include Z80 Labs and Techstars Buffalo as well as 43North staff.

“Each new class of 43North portfolio companies has raised the bar, whether you consider the caliber of their teams, the volume of capital they’ve raised, or the amount of traction they’ve achieved. It’s 43North’s responsibility to continually up our game, as well, to ensure that we provide out companies with every opportunity to scale their businesses and establish long-term roots in Buffalo,” 43North President Alex Gress said. “43North’s new headquarters in Seneca One will be an important asset in attracting additional world-class startups to Western New York. It will also serve as a strong selling point for our companies, as they recruit talent to grow their businesses.”

The competition awards up to $5 million total to companies every year, with stipulations about locating the CEO and more than half of the staff in Buffalo for a year. 43North said it will release more details about the move in the coming weeks.

Two WNY Congressional Districts Among ‘Worst For Black Americans’

A new report names two Western New York congressional districts among the top ten worst for black Americans.

New York’s 25th District which includes the city of Rochester and the 26th District which includes the city of Buffalo place second and ninth, respectively. Financial news and opinion website 247wallst.com conducted the study which created an index to measure socioeconomic disparities between black and white Americans based on U.S. Census data. It looked at seven factors including poverty rate, home ownership rate and unemployment.

Only Minnesota’s 5th District did worse in the study than NY-25. The website said segregation leads to disparate outcomes, and Rochester schools are highly segregated with only 10% white students in the district.

“Currently, over 94% of white adults in the congressional district have a high school diploma, compared to just 78.4% of black adults,” the report continues. “Education is closely linked to income, and more than one in every three black district residents live below the poverty line, compared to 8.2% of white residents”

Democrat Rep. Joe Morelle represents NY-25. He is currently serving his first full term.

24/7 Wall St editor Douglas McIntyre said there are a lot of contributing factors and the point of the study is not to place blame on a single person.

“One of the things we don’t want to do is put our fingers on the scales about that for two reasons. The first one is I don’t think anybody knows the answer to that but the second one is we in particularly don’t know the answer to that,” he said.

NY-26 also had a nearly 24 point chasm in poverty rates between white and black people who live in the district. Democratic Congressman Brian Higgins’s office said he is well-aware of the data as there have been numerous reports over the years.

“Congressman Higgins has a clear understanding of the challenges Western New York faces and his work in Washington is centrally focused on fighting for opportunities to help our communities thrive and put people to work,” spokesperson Theresa Kennedy said.

She said there is no singular solution to the issue but Higgins has helped bring in significant federal dollars for workforce training in Buffalo and voted in favor of issues like raising the minimum wage and increased education funding.