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

Rep. Collins: No Committee Assignment ‘Doesn’t Mean Much Now’

Congressman Chris Collins, R-NY-27, will not serve on the influential Energy and Commerce Committee when the new session starts next year.

House Speaker Paul Ryan stripped Collins of the committee assignment after federal prosecutors charged him with crimes related to insider trading. The congressman won reelection this fall but is still scheduled to stand trial in February 2020.

He had held out hope new Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, a friend of Collins, would allow him to return to Energy and Commerce. However, last month House Republicans voted to approve new rules barring members from facing federal charges from serving on committees.

In the past, Collins has said he hoped his work on the committee would be his legacy in Congress.

“While I would have preferred to stay on the committee, the fact that it’s now Republicans in the minority, it doesn’t mean much now,” he said Monday.

Collins said the legislation coming out of Energy and Commerce will be Democratic, regardless of whether he was participating in the process. He pointed out he still has his vote on the floor and will pay close attention to the bills coming from all 21 committees.

“Frankly, what I’m going to do is get more involved in the caucuses that I’m involved in and that I chair, especially relative to the Great Lakes, Energy Storage, the Toy Caucus with Mattel – there’s a lot of issues there with China – and certainly the Scout Caucus,” he said.

The congressman said he is still in good standing with his party and has actually gained significant seniority in the House thanks to turnover this year. Collins said he’s recruiting new members from the freshman class to join the bipartisan caucuses.

Reed’s Problem Solvers Caucus Strikes Deal With Pelosi

From the Morning Memo:

As Rep. Nancy Pelosi continues her efforts to solidify her bid to be the next Speaker of the House, another Upstate New York member of Congress is reaping the benefits.

Rep. Tom Reed, R-NY-23, announced Pelosi struck a deal with the Problem Solvers Caucus, agreeing to change several rules he said should help break gridlock. Reed co-chairs the bipartisan caucus.

It was, in fact the Democrats in the group, whose votes for Speaker, Pelosi was seeking. The nine members were threatening not to vote for her if she didn’t support reforms.

Reed said everybody benefits though.

“These rule changes represent a hopeful and substantial breakthrough to empower the people we represent, enable rank-and-file Members to truly govern and make it easier for bipartisan bills to pass,” he said. 

Among the changes, it will now be harder to keep legislation with 290 or more sponsors stalled in committee. If a bill meets the requirements to go on a “Consensus Calendar” leadership will be required to bring at least one of those stalled bills per week to the floor for a vote, during the final months of session.

Another change gives preference to amendments with at least 20 sponsors from each party. 

Also, a process allowing members to bring legislation to the floor with 218 signatures would be opened up even further. They would be allowed to be considered under a 3-day notice process rather than only on certain Mondays, as it exists now.

“We look forward to continuing to work across the aisle to find common ground in order to get things done for the American people,” Reed said.

The congressman is the second representative from the region to take advantage of Pelosi’s push for the leadership position. Last week, Democrat Brian Higgins, D-NY-26, decided to support her after she promised to bring two priority bills, one regarding health care and major infrastructure legislation, to the floor.

Morelle Supports Pelosi For Speaker

From the Morning Memo:

On the same day Nancy Pelosi held a closed door meeting with incoming freshman Democrats to solidify support for her Speaker of the House, a new member from Upstate New York announced he would vote for the party’s longtime leader.

Rep. Joe Morelle, D-NY-25, said it is more important than ever the new majority have a leader with experience to make the party’s “shared priorities a reality.”

“Like me, Leader Pelosi knows that we must work to lower healthcare costs, create more economic opportunities for working families, enact common-sense solutions to prevent the devastating gun violence that plagues our nation, and take action to protect our environment for future generations. With Leader Pelosi at the helm, we will take important steps towards achieving meaningful reforms and putting government back in the hands of the people,” he said.

As recently as last week, Morelle said he had not made a decision yet. He said he has consistently said he would support the person best for his district in the country.

Morelle won a special election in November to replace the late Louise Slaughter and has already been sworn in. Both he and Pelosi spoke at Slaughter’s funeral earlier this year.

McMurray Still Deciding Next Step In NY-27

Erie County Board of Elections officials said it’s virtually impossible for Democrat Nate McMurray to win the election for New York’s 27th Congressional District, but the candidate has yet to concede.

In a press release Wednesday, McMurray said he is conferring with attorneys to determine the next course of action. He said he will announce those plans on Monday, following the Thanksgiving holiday.

His statements seem to indicate he is strongly considering continuing the battle.

“Right now, it appears that the difference is less than 0.5%, a margin that would, in many counties and states, trigger an automatic recount,” McMurray said.

There is no automatic recount provision in New York State election law. A judge may call for a recount, essentially if there are significant issues with the election process. BOE commissioners said there is an extremely high threshold in order for that to happen though.

“We have seen extensive irregularities in the voting process, especially pertaining to absentee ballots, and there are issues that need to be addressed not only for this election but for all elections in the future to ensure voters are not disenfranchised and that every voice is heard,” McMurray said. “With this election, we are setting the stage for years to come.”

Erie County was the last of the district’s eight counties to tally absentee votes Wednesday. The Democrat actually made up 857 votes on incumbent Republican Chris Collins but remains 1,384 behind.

The board began counting what will likely be a little more than 900 affidavits Wednesday and there may be a small amount of absentees still being received by other counties.

Collins has claimed victory.

Rep. Higgins Will Support Pelosi For Speaker After All

Western New York Democrat Brian Higgins changed course Wednesday, indicating he will support California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House next year.

Higgins has consistently endorsed a change in leadership since this summer, telling the Buffalo News in June Pelosi was “aloof, frenetic and misguided.” As recently as last week the congressman reiterated he would not support the current Democratic leader’s bid.

He said too much power has been consolidated under both his and the Republican party’s leadership for too long and was looking for a change. In a press release, he explained his change of heart.

Higgins said he had identified another representative from California, Karen Bass, as the right person to bring the caucus together. However, late last week Bass indicated to him she would not seek the position.

“At the urging of several friends and colleagues – in particular incoming Ways & Means Chairman Richard Neal – I spoke with Leader Pelosi. After several productive discussions, I am confident that Nancy and the entire leadership team will work with me on making Medicare an option for Americans at age 50, helping to lower health care costs for the 25 million Americans between the ages of 50 and 64 who have pre-existing conditions and are struggling to manage health care costs. I am also pleased that Nancy remains committed to bringing a $1.5 trillion comprehensive infrastructure bill to the floor next year that will provide millions of good paying jobs to hardworking Americans. And Nancy reiterated a commitment to finally, after 20 years of increases, push changes that would reverse the trend of skyrocketing prescription drug prices by harnessing the purchasing power of the federal government in Medicare and Medicaid to help consumers manage costs,” he said.

Higgins said he took a “principled stand” earlier in the year, but oftentimes a principled stand “requires a pragmatic outlook in order to meet with success.” With Democrats taking a relatively slim majority, his reversal potentially could be a deciding vote toward Pelosi’s leadership bid.

Cuomo Wants Child Victims Act Passed In 2019

From the Morning Memo:

With Democrats poised to control both houses of the state Legislature in 2019, passage of the Child Victims’ Act is expected to be an early priority.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo indicated during a visit to Buffalo yesterday that this is a top priority of his, too. Reporters asked Cuomo for his thoughts on the widely reported issues regarding former priests within the Buffalo Catholic Diocese who have been accused of sexual impropriety.

“I am aware of it,” he responded. “I wouldn’t say I’m a student of it, but the revelations are disturbing. And look, this is not just Buffalo. It’s been all across the country.”

The governor said he believes the church procrastinated when it came to acting on accusations and, as a result, the revelations continue to get worse. He said that’s one reason why it’s important to pass the CVA in the coming year – although he would like to see it done in a manner that doesn’t result in bankruptcy.

“I am a Catholic,” Cuomo said. “I’m a former altar boy. I have great respect for the church, but the premise of Catholicism is respect for all individuals and justice for all individuals, and that’s what the Child Victim’s Act is, in my opinion.”

Critics of the proposed legislation have argued a brief lookback window could open up the church to so many lawsuits it could potentially bankrupt the institution.

“Obviously, nobody wants to see a diocese or the Catholic Church bankrupt,” the governor said. “So how it is done is very important. But nor do I think you can say: Well, this may cost the church money so we shouldn’t do it. There’s a long step between acknowledgment and justice and financial catastrophe.”

Cuomo also said he understands there are valid reasons for the existence of statutes of limitations, but the circumstances with child victims, especially with the church, is so unique, he believes they should be altered.

Cuomo: “I’m Upstate’s Voice”

With Democrats taking control of the state Senate in January, geographical power in New York has been centralized downstate.

Upstate Republicans have long warned it could mean the marginalization of those outside of the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s reach. The significantly fewer Democrats in Upstate have promised to promote the interests of the entire state and Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo echoed those sentiments during a trip to Buffalo.

“I’m Upstate’s voice,” he said. “They have a very loud voice in the room. It’s my voice.”‘

Cuomo repeated his oft-made claim that no governor has paid more time, attention and resources to the region. He said the administration has directed $32 billion in assistance to create jobs, attract business, and other economic development efforts.

“It’s not because I’m from Upstate,” he said. “It’s because I love Upstate and it’s because by right and by fairness, Upstate New York had been neglected for many, many years by state government and my administration is committed to compensating for the lack of attention that Upstate New Yorkers received.”

The governor’s trips to Western New York, however, have dwindled over the last year with the campaign focusing much of its energy on Democratic vote-rich New York City.

NY-27 Update: Multiple Ballot Issue Explained

The Erie County Board of Elections has explained why roughly 600 voters received multiple absentee ballots in New York’s 27th Congressional District.

The BOE said federal rules required overseas military absentees be sent out 45 days prior to election. At the time, the New York State slate of candidates was not yet finalized because of judicial conventions so voters were essentially sent two half ballots.

To further confuse matters, there was a late change to the gubernatorial ballot when the Working Families Party dropped Cynthia Nixon as its designee and Governor Andrew Cuomo accepted the line. That meant a third, full, corrected ballot was sent out.

The BOE said in some cases, voters sent back multiple ballots, however, they were presorted so they were only counted once today. If voters did not send in the final ballot they received their votes will still be counted.

Elections officials said the exception is if they voted for someone who ultimately was not on the ballot line chosen, for instance Nixon on WFP. It would not affect other votes on the ballot like the congressional race which remained consistent throughout.

The board said it sent out letters to voters who received multiples, explaining the confusing situation.

Concerns About Some Absentee Ballots In NY-27

From the Morning Memo:

As the Erie County Board of Elections prepares to count absentees for New York’s 27th Congressional District, a controversy is surfacing over a number of those ballots.

Multiple sources said the BOE sent two to three ballots to up to 500 people. It’s not clear how many were sent to voters in NY-27 as opposed to NY-26, which is also covers parts of Erie County.

Democrat Nate McMurray continues to trail incumbent Republican Chris Collins but has not conceded the race. As several of the eight counties within the district have already counted their paper ballots, which also include affidavits and emergency ballots, the lead has narrowed to roughly 2,400 votes. Erie County represents by far the most votes yet to be counted.

Democratic Elections Commissioner Jeremy Zellner tweeted around noon Monday there were 5,588 absentees returned, 1,454 affidavits received and 423 emergency ballots. If those numbers hold up McMurray will likely have to do exceptionally well, collecting much more than 60 percent of those votes to make up the difference.

The candidate has remained confident, given the fact he has done better with absentees than he did during the general so far, and won Erie County outright on election night. If the final count falls within a percentage point some believe the ballots could potentially be the subject of litigation.

However, a source familiar with the situation did not believe there is a danger of the votes being invalidated. That person believes the issue arose because of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s late acceptance of the Working Families Party line after Cynthia Nixon was moved off the ballot.

In that situation, anybody who was sent an absentee before Cuomo gained the extra line needed a revised ballot. The source said as long as the final ballot was the one that was marked, there should be no issue.

Even if the wrong ballot was submitted, the source said it should only affect votes in the gubernatorial race, not the congressional race in which the ballot has remained consistent.

We will be following the Board of Election proceedings throughout the day. Stay with us for updates.

Sent from my iPhone

Peoples-Stokes Plans To Meet With Heastie Prior To Assembly Reorganization Meeting

From the Morning Memo:

There’s a job opening in the state Assembly and veteran Democrat Crystal Peoples-Stokes appears to be an obvious candidate.

The assembly woman potentially could take over the majority leader seat vacated by now-Congressman Joe Morelle. However, Peoples-Stokes is taking a diplomatic approach rather than overtly campaigning for the role.

“It’s important to me to support the leadership of the speaker,” she said. “I think he’s done a fabulous job and whoever he decides to be the majority leader, I will support that decision.”

Asked who she thinks her competition is, Peoples-Stokes said it could be any member of the Assembly. She did admit her resume fits the mold.

“I do know from a historical perspective that it generally tends to be somebody Upstate and it generally tends to be someone who has significant seniority, both of which I fit,” she said.

Ultimately the decision does come down to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie who Peoples-Stokes has worked closely with over the years. She said she has not had any extended conversations with him yet.

“I did receive a text from him that we would talk in a meeting prior to our reorganization meeting in our December,” she said.

Peoples-Stokes district includes a large portion of the city of Buffalo and she has been in the Assembly since 2003.