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. Higgins: Too Soon For A Presidential Endorsement

From the Morning Memo:

There are a lot of Democratic presidential candidates right now.

Generally speaking, those candidates have not been endorsed by a lot of people and/or organizations so far. There’s a reason for that: It’s early.

“The election’s a year off,” Buffalo Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins said. “There have not been any primaries held as of yet. There have been no debates, and I think this is obviously going to be a very important election, which is held next year, not this year.”

The congressman scoffed at the idea of officially throwing his support behind anybody during the current calendar year. He pointed out there are still candidates getting into the race, and if he were to make an endorsement at all, next year would be the appropriate time to do so.

That applies even to the hometown contender, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, his colleague in Washington, D.C., whom so far has little support for her bid among members of the state congressional delegation – a few of whom have announced support of other candidates.

“I have a very good relationship with Senator Gillibrand, work closely with her,” Higgins said. “She is a great United States senator, and she is a viable presidential candidate.”

Some publications have already opined about her seeming lack of support so far in her home state. So far, Gillibrand has been endorsed by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Manhattan Democrat.

Despite the fact that party leaders typically shape consensus for the nomination, Higgins said he believes too much is often made of personal endorsements.

Collins: Don’t Read Into Missed Vote For Slaughter Post Office

Earlier this week, members of Congress voted overwhelmingly to name a post office after the late-Congresswoman Louise Slaughter and her husband Bob Slaughter.

The Democrat served three decades in the House and died early last year while still in office. Only seven Republicans voted against the measure.

However, Congressman Chris Collins, who represents the neighboring New York district, did not vote. The two members were also very critical of each other, with Slaughter leading calls for investigations into the Republicans stock dealings.

Collins is currently facing federal charges related to insider trading.

“Louise and I were not exactly on the best of term,” he said.

But the congressman said he did not actively avoid the vote. Collins said he didn’t know it was happening and had a conflict that afternoon so he couldn’t be on the floor.

“We haven’t been voting on substantive issues,” he said. “So I had a conflict and it turns out it was the post office. It was supposed to be another one that didn’t occur but I wouldn’t read into anything other.”

In fact, Collins said he thought Congress had already passed legislation to rename the post office last year. He said he is still not sure how he would have voted.

“I would not have voted no,” he said. “Whether I would have voted present or not, I’m not sure.”

Rep. Collins Still Debating 2020 Reelection Bid

Western New York Republican Chris Collins, facing federal insider trading charges, very narrowly won his congressional reelection bid, last fall.
When all the votes were tallied, Collins ended up beating his Democratic challenger, Nate McMurray, by less than half a percentage point in the mid-term race. McMurray has continued to be active on social media and in the community and has maintained the appearance of someone who plans on challenging the congressman again.

He half-confirmed his intentions Friday on Twitter, tweeting that if Collins runs again, he will too.

The Republican incumbent has not confirmed he will run for what would be his 5th term. Friday, he made it sound like the decision is still very much up in the air.

“I’m debating that,” he said. “We’ll debate within my family and you know, I’ve been there eight years and so that will be a decision for early next year, one that I’m not locked in on right now.”

Collins does not believe the close result in 2018 would be a reason not to run. In fact, he pointed out he received more votes than any other Republican candidate in New York and more than some members of House GOP leadership.

He said he would expect the total to be even higher for a presidential election year in a district in which President Donald Trump remains popular.

“140,000 people, probably in the nastiest election that there’s ever been, said they wanted me to come back as their member, so I would say that I’m in a pretty good spot,” he said. “Clearly, anyone that voted for me last time’s gonna do it again.”

Collins said if he runs, McMurray would be his “dream candidate to run against.” He said the Democrat is a far-left candidate who has moved even further left since last year.

The congressman noted the status of his ongoing federal litigation will weigh into his ultimate decision.

Hochul Tired Of People Making Comments About The Appearance Of Powerful Women

From the Morning Memo:

A tweet from Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul is going viral.

Hochul has been documenting her busy schedule traveling across the state this year with the hashtag #HowSheDoesIt. However, Wednesday she posted a video discussing something that bothers her during those travels.

The lieutenant governor said recently a male elected official told her she looked like she gained a few pounds but “that was good because she was too skinny before.” Not surprisingly that didn’t go over well.

Hochul said she often is told she looks better in person than on television or people make comments on how tired or awake she appears. She said she drinks plenty of cucumber water and puts cucumbers on her eyes.

“I was trying to make light of the fact that someone just had made a comment this week and I said, ‘You know there’s a lot of women who can relate to this,” Hochul said.

Beauty tips aside, the lieutenant governor said that wasn’t the point. Rather she said any woman in politics or other high-profile positions consistently has to deal with comments on their appearances.

That’s what’s she’s actually tired of.

“A lot of women just want to be judged by their performance, how hard they work, how they value their jobs and let’s get to that place in society as well, so that’s what my message was,” Hochul said.

The video has been watched thousands of times and retweeted hundreds more.

Still Waiting For Special Election Decision In SD-57

From the Morning Memo:

It’s still unclear when an election will be held to fill New York’s 57th state Senate District seat vacated by longtime Republican legislator Cathy Young, although the field is becoming more clear.

Republican candidate George Borrello said he has submitted double the mandatory required petitions to get on the ballot ahead of the April 4 deadline for the GOP, Conservative and Independence Party lines. Because of Young’s sudden resignation and new election laws advancing the timeline, the current Chautauqua County executive said he faced significant challenges to get signatures.

He said he and volunteers didn’t even get started until two weeks into the process, which spans a little more than a month.

“It was truly challenging on so many levels and I’m just very thankful for everyone that circulated petitions on my behalf and also the people that signed them and stepped up,” Borrello said. “I’m very grateful for those folks that have faith in my ability to carry out and continue on Cathy Young’s legacy of great public service.”

If, however, the governor calls a special election, those petitions don’t actually matter. In that case, the local parties designate a candidate and Borrello has already been chosen by Republicans and Conservatives to run on their respective lines.

It would seem that the June 25 primary day would be the most opportune time for a special election, because all of the staff and machines are already in place. Under New York election law, it would have to be held no sooner than 70 days, but no later than 80 days following a proclamation from the governor.

That means the window for Gov. Andrew Cuomo is quickly approaching.

His office has not confirmed a timeline to this point.

“Overwhelmingly, it seems here locally, people feel that they deserve the right to have a representative long before the first of next year. So I’m hopeful that he will call for that special election but it’s up to the governor to decide if and when,” Borrello said.

If there is no special election, the Republican could face a primary challenge. Alleging County Legislature Chairman Curt Crandall is also reportedly circulating petitions.

No Decision On Paper Bag Fee Yet For Erie County

New York State’s new grocery bag regulations not only ban single-use plastic bags but also allow counties to opt into a five cent fee on paper bags.

If counties do take part in the program, two cents will be returned to them to purchase reusable bags for local shoppers. The other three cents of the fee will go toward a state environmental fund.

“What the fee is to do is to dissuade people from actually using paper,” Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, D, said. “There are other food grocery stores that already prohibit it, plastic bags and they charge a nickel or a dime for paper bags.”

Poloncarz is a proponent of the plastic bag ban and, in fact, proposed similar legislation in Erie County several years ago. He said he’s also been on record supporting policy like the plastic bag fee, especially with money going toward reusable bags.

However, the county executive will not say definitively whether the county will opt in.

“I’d consider it, I just want to take a look and see what the language of the law is,” he said.

Poloncarz said he’s not sure if its a decision he can make unilaterally or if the County Legislature needs to approve the paper bag fee. If it’s the latter, he believes it’s premature to comment.

The minority caucus in the Legislature has already introduced a resolution against the “opt in” provision.

“This tax would hurt the many people of Erie County who are already working hard to make ends meet. Instead of imposing an additional tax for the use of paper bags, we should encourage voluntary participation in the use of re-usable bags and recycling efforts,” said Legislator Lynne Dixon, I, who is running against Poloncarz for county executive.

Minority Leader Joe Lorigo said the decision is the Legislature’s to make and he will be voting no. He called it a “money-grabbing tax attempt.”

Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo, R, has already promised Monroe County will not participate.

Gallivan: Criminal Justice Reform Slanted For Offenders

From the Morning Memo:

New York State took on criminal justice reform in this year’s budget.

But former state Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections chair Pat Gallivan, R-Elma, said his fellow lawmakers didn’t listen to everybody before making the changes. Gallivan, also the former Erie County Sheriff, said law enforcement opposed nearly all of the reform.

Among the changes coming to New York, is a new system that eliminates cash bail for roughly 90 percent of cases. Another will require prosecutors to turn over discovery evidence to defense attorneys much earlier than in the past.

Others still include a new “speedy trial” provision, a prohibition on the release of mug shots, and relaxed penalties for misdemeanor drug crime convictions. Gallivan mentioned them all specifically as laws where the Legislature didn’t heed testimony from police, prosecutors, victims and other law-abiding members of the community.

“The criminal justice changes are slanted to offenders at the expense of law-abiding citizens and victims,” he said. “Certainly we should always be looking at our criminal justice system to ensure that it’s fair to everybody but when we exclude one side or one party or the other, we’re not fair to everybody and that’s problematic.”

At the same time, Gallivan pointed to the failure of lawmakers to extend the statute of limitations for Rape in the 2nd and 3rd degree, as another instance in which the voice of victims was not heard.

Advocates however, including members of the Democratic majority in the Legislature, argue the legal system has been inequitable for people of different races and socioeconomic statuses. They said these reforms help move toward making New York’s courts work for everyone.

Chick-fil-A Won’t Open Location In Buffalo Niagara International Airport

That was fast.

Less than a day after news broke Chick-fil-A would open a location inside the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, it appears the restaurant is no longer in the airport’s plans.

The idea immediately drew criticism from Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, who took exception to the company’s controversial history with regards to LGBTQ rights and urged the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to reconsider.

He said a state entity should not be doing business with a company that “funds hateful and divisive groups.” Early Friday afternoon, the assemblyman released a statement, reporting the plans were dead.

“Earlier today I spoke with the vendor of the Buffalo Airport food court project, and they informed me they will not be opening a Chick-fil-A as a part of their airport project,” Ryan said. “A publicly financed facility like the Buffalo Niagara International Airport is not the appropriate venue for a Chick-fil-A restaurant.”

“I applaud the decision that has been made to remove Chick-fil-A from the plans for this project,” the assemblyman continued. “We hope in the future the NFTA will make every effort to contract with businesses that adhere to anti-discriminatory policies, and we’re confident another vendor who better represents the values of the Western New York community will replace Chick-fil-A as a part of this project in the very near future.”

Delaware North runs concessions at the airport. A second source said it was never finalized that Chick-fil-A would be coming to BNIA, but it was one of several options being considered for a “new look” food court.

That source said the restaurant, known for its southern-style chicken, is no longer in consideration. It was the NFTA that initially confirmed the Chick-fil-A plans, and a spokesperson for the authority said Friday it was not aware of any changes.

It did, however, release a statement in response to Ryan’s earlier criticism.

“First and foremost, the NFTA is an organization that prides itself on its strong commitment to diversity and inclusion and stand firmly against any form of discrimination. We have the upmost respect for Assemblyman Ryan and consider him a great partner and friend to us. We will reach out to him and discuss his concerns,” NFTA spokesperson Helen Tederous said

Chick-fil-A’s controversy over LGBTQ rights dates back roughly a decade when the Chief Operating Officer Dan Cathy made statements opposing same-sex marriage. It has also contributed millions of dollars to conservative religious groups, including a recent report it donated $1.8 million in 2017 to a trio of groups accused of LGBTQ discrimination.

Last week, the San Antonio city council approved a new concessions plan for the city’s airport with a condition that Chick-fil-A be excluded. The Texas attorney general called the decision discriminatory and is investigating whether San Antonio violated the company’s religious liberty.

Assemblyman Ryan Urges NFTA To Reconsider Chick-fil-A In Airport

From the Morning Memo:

Many Western New Yorkers waited a long time for a Chikc-fil-A restaurant to finally sprout up in the region.

The location in Cheektowaga still sees long lines daily, now months after the grand opening. The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, perhaps seeing the success of the nearby fast food chain which serves southern style chicken, is planning on opening its own location in the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

But Chick-fil-A hasn’t been welcome by everybody in the area. Many people were critical of the company’s past anti-LGBTQ statements and donations to groups that oppose same sex marriage.

New York State Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, said, as a state entity, the NFTA should not be doing business with a company that funds hateful and divisive groups.

“I don’t believe the leadership of the NFTA intends to help spread hate and discrimination, but allowing a corporation like Chick-fil-A to do business at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport will help to fund continued divisive anti-LGBTQ rhetoric,” the assemblyman said. “New York is a welcoming state that celebrates diversity.”

“The views of Chick-fil-A do not represent our state or the Western New York community, and businesses that support discrimination have no place operating in taxpayer-funded public facilities,” he continued. Once again, I urge you to reverse this decision and identify a different restaurant to operate at the airport.”

Ryan pointed out the San Antonio City Council rejected a plan to open the restaurant at its airport for the same reasons. He also noted NY is still is not allowing state-funded travel to NY because of a law “allowing for transgender discrimination that is on the books until 2020.”

Chick-fil-A’s positions were back in the national spotlight as well this week, after openly gay Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said he doesn’t approve of their politics, but “kind of” approves those chicken. It drew the ire of some activists who felt he missed the opportunity to condemn the company.

Erie County Executive, GOP Spar Over Handicapped Parking Incident

The Erie County Republican Committee is criticizing County Executive Mark Poloncarz after his detail apparently parked in handicap spots at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery prior to his Wednesday State of the County address.

Poloncarz acknowledged and apologized for the situation on Twitter after someone wrote that a handicapped woman with Alzheimer’s Disease was not able to park.


However, the GOP found the similarities between this incident and another with then-County Executive Chris Collins eight years ago.

Poloncarz’s then-campaign spokesperson, Peter Anderson, admonished Collins for parking in a handicapped spot at a local high school during a parade in Akron. In fact the party, said it was so similar, it simply updated the old press release.

“In keeping with his record of arrogance and disregard for the rules, Mark Poloncarz Chris Collins presumably reached a new low in conduct recently when he parked his car in a handicapped parking spot at the Albright Knox Art Gallery during operational hours a local high school prior to a speech and political fundraiser he was hosting summer parade.”

Anderson, now a spokesperson for the administration said the “non-issue” was being deliberately cooked up by people who deliberately misrepresent the truth. He pointed out Poloncarz apologized while he did not believe Collins ever did.


Ultimately, he said there’s no comparison between the two situations though.

“As you’ll recall, Collins drove his own vehicle to a parade in Akron, and then deliberately parked his vehicle in a clearly-marked handicapped spot so he could force his way to the front of a parade; he remained parked in that handicapped spot for the duration of the parade as well,” Anderson said. “On Tuesday, the County Executive’s detail inadvertently and briefly parked in front of a sidewalk ramp at the AKAG (NOT a clearly marked handicapped spot) and moved the vehicle immediately upon being told of the issue.”

Poloncarz is running for county executive again this year. His Republican-endorsed opponent is Erie County Legislator Lynn Dixon who is a registered member of the Independence Party.