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

Cuomo Announces Plans For Lake Ontario ‘Resiliency And Economic Development’ Investments

For the second time in three years, New York State is sending resources to Lake Ontario communities dealing with significant flooding along the shoreline.

As it continues to do so though, the state is also looking at more long-term solutions. On a conference call Thursday afternoon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-NY, announced the Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative (REDI).

He said high water levels on the lake are the “new normal” and people should expect it to continue.

“Once you accept that premise, then it’s a fools errand to continually rebuild to the same standard only to have another flood that does the same damage.”

The initiative’s goal is to redesign the shoreline to make it more resilient but also do so in a way that spurs economic growth for the communities. He said a council, co-chaired by Empire State Development President Howard Zemskey and Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos, will work with local governments to come up with projects.

“I think we can actually improve the economic advantage for the communities along Lake Ontario. It is a great asset. It is a great place to visit. Its a great place to fish. It is a great place to live and the floods are a problem today but I think we can actually find a silver lining in the storm cloud,” Cuomo said.

The governor pointed out in 2017, the state spent roughly $100 million in relief funding to the affected communities. It’s not clear how much damage there will be this year as the flooding has just started in earnest and the state has taken steps to try to mitigate the impact.

Cuomo did not say exactly how much Lake Ontario REDI would cost but he said he would rather spend a larger sum all at once. He said it would be significant and will require Legislature approval to fund.

As for when it will start, he said the state will begin meeting with local governments in the next couple of weeks about their visions.

“We can move as fast as the local governments can move but the long-term project requires thought and consultation,” Cuomo said.

The International Joint Commission which governs Great Lakes outflows, during a Tuesday visit to Western New York, said it doesn’t have enough evidence yet to say the high water levels are the “new normal” and not a multi-year anomaly. However, commissioners pointed out if it does decide to make changes to the plan which regulates Lake Ontario and Saint Lawrence River water levels, it would likely mean new regulations regarding where structures can be built.

The state said it has no plans to wait for the IJC to finish another study and is ready to act now. The Lake Ontario initiative will also apply to Niagara River and Saint Lawrence River shorelines.

Lawmaker Wants NY AG To Sue Federal Government Over Flooding

From the Morning Memo:

State Sen. Rob Ortt, a North Tonawanda Republican, has asked the state attorney general to file a lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of people who own property along the Lake Ontario shoreline.

Ortt said that following widespread flooding in 2017, the state appropriated $90 million for recovery efforts while assistance from federal emergency agencies has been nearly non-existent. He said the federal government also signed off on the controversial Plan 2014, which he blames both for the flooding two years ago and the expected repeat this year.

“The federal government must take the blame for the damage the IJC has caused and assist the State of New York in recovery efforts,” the senator said. “The IJC is responsible for Plan 2014, so the onus of assisting New York residents impacted by the flooding shouldn’t fall solely on the State of New York, but the federal government as well.”

The Republican, seemingly derisively, pointed out that Democratic Attorney General Tish James has a “demonstrated interest” in suing the federal government, and certainly hasn’t shied away from doing so since she took office in January.

Following the lead of other state attorneys general, James has focused her efforts on the president and his administration, recently, for example, suing over PCB cleanup in the Hudson River.

While it’s safe to assume Ortt questioned the validity of many of those lawsuits, he said that in the case of Lake Ontario homeowners, he believes litigation is necessary.

The IJC yesterday said Plan 2014, which sets benchmarks for when water in Lake Ontario can be released into the Saint Lawrence River, is not the primary problem for the current situation. But Ortt isn’t buying that.

“By the IJC’s own admission, flooding would worsen under the plan,” he said. “Despite substantial outcry from lakeshore communities and officials, the plan was implemented, and the effects were felt shortly thereafter.”

Ortt said the financial impact goes beyond physical damages to structures, as many communities have again been forced to close down roads, businesses and tourist destinations this season.

New IJC Commissioners Visit Western New York

As water begins to spill over the shores of Lake Ontario, causing damage to many waterfront communities, the international body that regulates lake levels said its doing all it can to mitigate the issues.
Newly-appointed members of the International Joint Commission were in the Buffalo and Rochester areas Tuesday, speaking with experts and elected officials on the ground. Despite regular criticism of Plan 2014, which outlines outflows for Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, the commissioners said it is not the problem right now.

“In situations of very high supply from above, from Lake Erie, from Lake Superior, no plan would be able to produce a situation where nobody is getting flooded so we are trying to balance all the interests and make sure that we give the maximum relief to everybody,” IJC Canadian Chair Pierre Béland said.
As for calls to repeal the plan they said it won’t happen anytime soon. U.S. Chair Jane Corwin said Plan 2014 is complex and pointed out it currently does not constrain the IJC board from releasing the maximum amount of water because levels are so high.

“It took a long time to do it. It would take a long time to undo it, quite frankly, and I think more importantly, undoing Plan 2014 at this moment  isn’t going to fix the problem that were facing with right now,” Corwin said.

The commission is now filled with all six members – three from the U.S. and three from Canada – officially getting appointed earlier this month. There had been vacancies for several years.

“The process was a little frustrating to be quite frank,” Corwin said. “It was a long way coming. I’m happy that they came to the conclusion to confirm us and we’re happy to go and moving forward work as hard as we can for the behalf of the people of the U.S. and Canada.”

The commission did say it will be reviewing Plan 2014 moving forward and no regulation plan is permanent. However, members said they need to conclude if high water levels for two of the last three years is a new normal or part of an extended abnormal weather event.

WNY GOP Legislators Unhappy With Farm Labor Decision

From the Morning Memo:

Republicans representing some of Western New York’s more rural districts are disappointed with a state Appellate Court ruling backing the rights of farmworkers to organize and collectively bargain.

Assemblyman Steve Hawley, a Batavia Republican, said he was “deeply disappointed” with the decision, both in substance and what he calls judicial overreach that is keeping the New York Farm Bureau from litigating the case in trial court.

“Make no mistake, if the Court of Appeals doesn’t overturn this decision, it will mark the end of family farms in New York state, wiping out hundreds of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in economic impact and generations of time-honored tradition older than New York state itself. It’s imperative that the New York Farm Bureau’s appeal is successful,” said Hawley.

The bureau has already signaled it will appeal.

The state Legislature is considering a bill called the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act that codifies labor rights like the ones in the ruling.

Republicans, including state Sen. Rob Ortt, of North Tonawanda, have made it a priority to try to stop the bill from passing in the final weeks of the session, which supporters believe is now more likely as a result of this court decision.

“After (Thursday’s) ruling, the last thing we need to do is pass the Farmworkers Fair Labor Act, which goes far beyond today’s ruling, and adds even more regulations on the backs of those responsible for growing our food,” Ortt said.

The legislation is currently in both the Senate and Assembly Labor committees.

Erie County Dem Chair Believes NYGOP Is Misguided In Langworthy Choice

From the Morning Memo:

In a series of tweets Tuesday evening, Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Jeremy Zellner characterized the state Republican Party as out of touch, for choosing his county counterpart to become the new state chairman. Nick Langworthy will become the new GOP boss in July, following the party’s reorganization meeting.

“This is obviously good news for Nick Langworthy, but it’s another sign that the New York State Republican Party is moving closer to President Trump and away from the mainstream,” Zellner tweeted.

Zellner first took his post with ECDC more than six years ago and has competed with Langworthy in Erie County since. He pointed out the Republican Chair has been one of President Donald Trump’s staunchest supporters in the state.

“Nick was one of the very 1st to endorse Trump, and he has supported him and his extremist agenda at every turn, whether it’s a trade war guaranteed to hurt WNY, tax cuts that burdened taxpayers, or the attempt to strip healthcare insurance from millions of Americans and NY’ers,” he wrote.

Zellner suggested bringing the party closer to Trump might be the wrong move for NYGOP. He pointed out in 2018, the first state Legislature election following the president’s win, Democrats took full control of both the Assembly and the Senate.

“Trump may be from NY, but he does not represent or stand up for NY or this community,” he wrote.

Zellner said Republicans will be reminded again next year, sidling up to Trump won’t help them win state elections.

Fmr. Trump Campaign Staffer Joins Stable Of Republicans Considering Run For NY-27

Western New York Republican strategist Michael Caputo has made his living working behind the scenes.

He signed on as a writer for Rep. Jack Kemp’s presidential primary campaign in the late 80s, served as Carl Paladino’s gubernatorial campaign manager more than two decades later, and most recently worked for the Trump presidential bid three years ago.  He said, all the while, he was never interested in running for office himself.

That might be changing with Caputo confirming he is in the preliminary stages of considering a run for New York’s 27th Congressional District next year. The seat is currently held by Republican Chris Collins, who has not yet decided whether he’ll seek re-election.

“It’s different now,” he said.

Caputo’s profile has increased in the last few years, for some reasons he’d likely appreciate and others not as much. He has become a regular contributor on national cable news stations, most regularly CNN as a conservative pundit, and also host his own podcast and fills in on local talk radio.

He also has made his own headlines, testifying before Congress in connection to the Russian collusion investigation and interviewing with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team. Caputo has complained often the investigation has caused his family serious financial stress and even led to death threats.

He said the process that led to that is the primary reason he’s considering public office.

“I want to do something to reform the processes violated during the Russia hoax. I’ve been trying to find a way to do that,” Caputo said.

The strategist runs in a tight circle of friends including in WBEN radio host David Bellavia, Assemblyman David DiPietro (R-East Aurora), and Paladino. He said he’s currently “tapping their advice.”

All three have expressed interest in NY-27 in the past and Caputo said he would never want them to run against each other. Tea Party organizer Rus Thompson, who also worked on the Paladino campaign, has expressed interest on social media as well.

“He can add to the discussion,” Caputo said. “He’s a smart guy with energy.”

Others Republicans who have expressed interest include Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, state Senator Rob Ortt and state Senator Chris Jacobs who became the first to officially announce his candidacy last week.

NY-27: Chris Jacobs Responds To Criticism – ‘I Voted For The President’

In the midst of his 2016 campaign for state Senate, Republican Chris Jacobs appeared on Capital Tonight to discuss the race.

Before ending the interview, host Liz Benjamin slipped in one more question.

“We have talked about the Donald Trump factor in this race. Are you supportive of his candidacy?” she asked.

Jacobs quickly deflected, offering a similar answer as he had to other reporters who pushed the same issue.

“I am 100 percent focused on my campaign. I’m running for state office and that’s what all my efforts are going on right now and I just finished the primary and, as you said, this is going to be a steep hill to run this year and that’s all I’m focused on,” he replied.

The Republican’s stance throughout that campaign was his preference for president shouldn’t factor in to a state race. However, his reluctance to answer the question could be coming back to haunt him as he sets his sight on New York’s 27th Congressional District.

Since Jacobs announced his campaign for what’s widely considered the state’s reddest seat, the playbook of his potential rivals has been clear. They’ve called him a moderate and a “Never Trumper” and have already referenced that September 2016 interview with Benjamin several times.

The latest was a fundraising email from incumbent Rep. Chris Collins, R, who has not yet decided whether he’ll seek re-election but does not support Jacobs.

“With the radical Left laser-focused on resistance and obstruction, President Trump needs allies in Congress now more than ever,” Collins wrote. “Chris Jacobs may act like he’s that type of ally – but in reality, he’s a Never-Trumper who will say and do anything to get elected to his next office. We may not know who Jacobs voted for in 2016, but we do know he refused to support President Trump in 2016 when he was running for office in a Democrat district.”

On Tuesday, Jacobs was far more forthcoming about 2016 than he has in the past, perhaps trying to nip the criticism in the bud early.

“I voted for the president, I support his agenda and I’m running for Congress because the president needs somebody in the 27th congressional district who can win this seat in 2020 and help move his agenda in Congress,” he said.

He argued it is Collins, in fact, who is unable to support the Trump agenda because he is facing federal charges and his scope in office has been limited as a result.

Western New Yorkers Praise Incoming State GOP Chair

From the Morning Memo:

Erie County Conservative Party Chairman Ralph Lorigo has worked with several Republican leaders over his 25-year tenure. He says Nick Langworthy, who has been the county GOP boss for almost a decade, compares favorably to all of them.

“I’ve had a good working relationship with a number of chairman,” Lorigo said. “Nick is a very aggressive, hardworking chairman who really knows how to get people involved and he knows how to get people elected.”

Langworthy appears to have successfully challenged state Chair Ed Cox, and will become the new head of the state party later this year, as Cox take a job with the Trump campaign. He’ll become the first chair from the Buffalo area in decades, and the youngest person ever to hold the post.

“Nick knows the people in Western New York,” Lorigo said. “He knows the candidates in Western New York. He will not forget Western New York. In fact, he told me he will continue to live here in Western New York. His home is here, his wife and child are here.”

“So Western New York will be a big part of what happens across the state. This gives Western New  Yorkers…people from upstate and the Western part of the state, the ability to move into statewide offices, the ability to know the chairman and have a close relationship with him, and to be able to bring our values throughout the state.”

As a young county chair, Langworthy made a name for himself in part by helping then-relatively unknown Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino get the GOP nomination for governor in 2010. Paladino was not the party’s choice, but he beat out former Long Island Rep. Rick Lazio in the September primary.

Paladino, a long-time Cox critic, praised Langworthy for challenging the establishment again.

“I think it took a lot of courage to go around the state and lobby each county chair for support,” he said. “It’s time we had a someone who represented the whole party.  This is the party of the working man. Ed Cox took us in the wrong direction. He wanted to hang out with high highfalutin types and stuffed shirts.  He was so far  out of touch it was high time for a change.”

Cox and Langworthy are planning to meet in Albany today, and will hold a joint press conference after their discussion.

Jacobs on NY-27 Campaign: ‘We Need Someone That’s Able To Be Fully Effective’

There is still 18 months until the 2020 congressional elections, but state Senator Chris Jacobs, R-Buffalo, is getting an early start on his campaign for New York’s 27th District.

Jacobs said he is currently putting together an organizational structure, has hired a consultant and opened a campaign account.

“We want to make sure that this seat is held in Republican hands for the next term and the foreseeable future,” he said.

Jacobs said he expressed interest in the position last fall when incumbent Rep. Chris Collins briefly suspended his campaign after being indicted on federal insider trading charges. Collins ultimately decided to run and won a narrow contest against Democrat Nate McMurray, but Jacobs said the position has been on his mind since.

“I always had hoped there was an opportunity to serve in the Congress,” he said. “My first job out of college was working for former Congressman Jack Kemp down in Washington D.C. and the thought of representing this area in Washington would be just such a great honor.”

Collins has not decided yet whether he’ll run for re-election again in 2020. His trial is scheduled for February.

Regardless, he was critical of Jacobs on Friday.

“While I haven’t made a final decision on running for re-election, the last thing we need in this seat is a never-Trump Republican who supports abortion rights and has supported savings plans and taxpayers funded legal aid for illegal immigrants,” he said in a statement. “That would be the same as electing a Democrat.  I ran for re-election to assure that President Trump had an ally in this seat.  The President can count on me to assure he has an ally in 2020.”

Jacobs said he is prepared to face the incumbent in a primary, if necessary.

“I am not trying to be disrespectful to Chris Collins. I just believe that we need someone that’s able to be fully effective in that seat and unfortunately, due to the legal problems he is dealing with right now and will be dealing with through next year, he’s not able to serve in committees right now, he’s done good things for the district in the past but I don’t think he can moving forward.”

Even if Collins decides not to run, Jacobs said he’s fully expecting a primary against other Republicans for the seat.

“This is a congressional seat. There’s not many of them in the area. I think there will be others interested and I believe campaigns are good. I believe primaries are good.”

That could be Collins ally and current Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, who also put his name in the ring last summer and has been canvassing the district since. Mychajliw said Friday, he would make his decision on his own timeline but echoed the congressman’s criticisms of Jacobs.

“Chris Jacobs is an Albany moderate, pro-abortion, pro-illegal immigrant moderate whose values are the exact opposite of President Trump’s and the voters of NY-27,” he said.

Jacobs pointed out he voted against the “abortion expansion” bill and the DREAM Act in the state legislature. He has been reluctant in the past to discuss who he voted for president in 2016.

He said he is willing to have the debate with any takers but believes his voting record will resonate in the district.

“It’s understandable that some would see an opportunity in Collins’ legal predicament, but let’s not pretend that Collins was an effective leader prior to that. Our grassroots network has been fighting for the people of the 27th congressional district well before his indictment last August, and never stopped. When others were silent, we were fearless,” McMurray said in a statement. “I think it’s unfortunate that anyone would evaluate running in this district based on personal political gain, or in order to keep it in Republican hands. Hyper partisanship is the last thing the people of Western New York need right now; and the voters here confirmed that last November by re-electing Collins by a mere .37%. The district went purple and people crossed party lines. It shows that business as usual will no longer fly. We will continue to prepare for whatever comes next, and look for opportunities to bring people together.”

State Senator Chris Jacobs Is Running For New York’s 27th Congressional Seat

Republican state Senator Chris Jacobs is running for New York’s 27th Congressional District in 2020.

His congressional campaign manager confirmed a Buffalo News report Thursday morning. The seat is currently held by Republican Chris Collins, who is facing federal insider trading charges.

“It’s very important to put someone in that seat who is a strong advocate for the district,” Jacobs told the News. “Currently, I don’t believe he has the capacity to be effective because of the situation.”

Jacobs indicated he would primary Collins if necessary. The incumbent, whose trial is scheduled for February 2020, has said he has not decided yet whether he’ll run again.

In 2018, following the indictment, he briefly suspended his campaign and Republicans in the district were scouting a replacement. Jacobs was one of a stable of potential Republicans in consideration.

Ultimately, Collins unsuspended his campaign, at the advice of his attorneys and the disappointment of GOP leadership. He beat Democrat Nate McMurray by less than half a percentage point in the fall.

McMurray has not officially announced he will run again either, although he vowed a rematch of Collins is the candidate and is already fundraising.