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

Reed Asks AG Barr to Investigate Cop Dousing Incidents As Hate Crimes

From the Morning Memo:

A string of recent incidents in which civilians poured water on New York City police officers is getting some attention at the federal level.

This week, Southern Tier Republican Rep. Tom Reed wrote a latter to United States Attorney General William Barr asking him to investigate the actions as potential hate crimes and pursue criminal assault charges against the perpetrators.

“Make no mistake – these officers were attacked because of the badge and uniform they wear,” Reed wrote. “If our nation does not come together to confront the rhetoric of hate and the attacks on our law enforcement officers, the safety of our homes and communities will be in jeopardy.”

The congressman said criminals have been emboldened by rhetoric from Democratic lawmakers, recently enacted state laws requiring officers to issue tickets instead of make arrests for some offenses, and “some district attorneys’ refusal to prosecute certain low-level crimes.

“While we cannot control the extreme rhetoric of these politicians and the total disrespect local district attorneys have shown toward police by refusing to prosecute these crimes, the United States Justice Department does have the ability to investigate criminal hate crime charges,” Reed said.

He also expressed support for a proposed New York State law that would make it a Class E felony to throw or spray water or any other substance at an on-duty officer. He said, however, that bill is facing stiff opposition from Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.

Rep. Collins Solicits Campaign Contributions

It sure seems like Republican Congressman Chris Collins plans to seek his fifth term in 2020.

Collins has repeatedly said he doesn’t plan to announce his intentions for New York’s 27th District until later this year. However, he is actively fundraising.

The congressman sent out a letter soliciting contributions Wednesday. In it he referred to a recent poll in which he’s 20 points ahead of his “primary opponent” Chris Jacobs.

Of course, Jacobs and attorney Beth Parlato are the only Republicans who have officially announced there candidacy, so far. Technically Jacobs can’t be Collins primary opponent until the incumbent says he’s running.

He seemed to acknowledge that a few lines later in the letter.

“And should I choose to run, I will need your support,” he said. “This is going to be an expensive race.”

The letter is specifically focused on Jacobs who the congressman continues to call a “never-Trump” Republican. He said the poll also found likely GOP primary voters believe the current state Senator is the least likely to support President Trump’s agenda (mostly true although they also said he’s the second most likely to support the agenda).

Collins, who asked for contributions of $50, $100, $250 or more, recently admitted his ongoing federal litigation has made it difficult to fundraise but also promised he could self-fund a campaign if need be.

The ‘Price Of Justice’

From the Morning Memo:

For years, as the state Legislature attempted to pass the Child Victims Act, many opponents pointed to the potential financial implications, not just for institutions like the Boy Scouts or the Catholic Church but New York in general.

When lawmakers finally passed the bill in January they listed the fiscal impact as “to be determined.” They are likely about to get a much better idea of exactly what that impact is with a one-year lookback window for civil lawsuits opening today.

Litigation that otherwise would have fallen outside the statute of limitations will be coming en masse.

“First and foremost, sometimes there’s a price on justice and I think bringing justice to these victims is the thing we should think about the most,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said.

Asked about how much it will cost taxpayers, the speaker said he would need to check with the Ways and Means Committee. Ultimately, it may be difficult to predict a hard number.

Attorneys across the state have indicated their plans to sue various school districts over the next weeks and months. Other organizations, like the church, provide things like health and refugee services that the state may need to pick up if they’re severely injured by the suits.

“If there’s a cost on the school districts or the state or whoever was responsible for these terrible acts against young people, that’s just a price of justice and that should be paid,” Heastie said.

He also didn’t have an immediate answer for how much this will cost the court system which is preparing for potentially thousands of new cases.

Speaker On State’s Sexual Harassment Settlement: ‘Hopefully It Brings Closure To The Victim’

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, during a visit to Western New York spoke about the state’s recent settlement with a sexual harassment victim.

It was a former Assemblyman from the region, Dennis Gabryszak, who was accused of harassing seven different female staffers. While Gabryszak’s litigation in state and federal court is ongoing, New York agreed to pay one of those staffers $125,000 in damages and lost wages.

“Hopefully it brings closure to the victim,” Heastie said.

The Speaker said hopefully the settlement as well as more stringent laws dealing with sexual harassment, which the governor signed this week will signal an end to that kind of culture in Albany.

“For us in the Assembly, I want to make it very clear that we want to make sure that all employees are comfortable and free of harassment,” he said.

Gabryszak resigned in January 2014 following the accusations and prior to Heastie becoming Assembly Speaker. However, addressing sexual harassment has been a continued point of emphasis for lawmakers in recent years.

Rep. Higgins Believes ‘Reckoning’ Coming For Buffalo Catholic Diocese

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-NY-26, believes a “reckoning” is coming for the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.

The one-year look back for victims of childhood sexual abuse under the Child Victims Act opens Wednesday in New York. The diocese will likely be the target of hundreds, if not thousands, of lawsuits.

“(Victims) are entitled to pursue in civil action what it is they’re entitled to in terms of the pain and suffering and the expense that they’ve had to incur to deal with the emotional wreckage that comes with child abuse,” Higgins said.

There has been speculation the Buffalo Diocese could file bankruptcy in order to limit the potential financial impact of lawsuits. The congressman said he doesn’t know if that will come to fruition but he warned the church against the strategy.

“The fact of the matter is that would trigger a review of where the diocesan resources have been shifted to and why they were shifted there,” he said.

Higgins said the best course of action for the diocese is to do right by all the victims who have been wronged. He said “everybody’s suffering” but the church needs to be held accountable for its “lack of oversight and for hiding information” about priests and other trusted members of parishes who took advantage of those positions.

State Settles Sexual Harassment Lawsuit With Accuser Of Former Assemblyman

New York State has agreed to pay $125,000 to one woman who accused former Democratic state Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak of sexual harassment.

The state Attorney General’s office confirmed the settlement which consists of $100,000 for damages and another $25,000 for lost wages. However, a spokesperson made clear the AG did not represent Gabryszak.

The former assemblyman resigned from office in January 2014, after seven former staffers accused him of harassment. Six of those women filed lawsuits against him in state Supreme Court with the seventh filing in federal court.

A judge dismissed three of those cases for falling outside the statute of limitations, but the other three and the federal suit remain open. In 2016, the Legislative Ethics Committee fined Garbryszak $100,000 after it was determined he had violated the public officer’s law by sexually harassing legislative aides.

A 2015 report released by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics detailed a string of “sexually inappropriate behavior” by the lawmaker, including one incident in which he told a female staffer he was “aroused” when talking about going to strip clubs. The report also said he asked a woman to get him information on his cell phone or iPad, knowing she would view pictures of naked women or escort service information.

Spectrum News is not reporting the name of the staffer from the state’s settlement due to the nature of the accusations, although the court documents are public.

Jacobs Sees Good Signs In NY-27 Poll

From the Morning Memo:

A poll released last week had current state Senator Chris Jacobs trailing incumbent Chris Collins Ina potential Republican primary for New York’s 27th District.

More likely primary voters also said they preferred recent Medal of Honor recipient David Bellavia than Jacobs should Collins end up not running. But for the candidate who was the first to announce and has raised the most money, sitting in second ain’t bad.

“I take a lot of good things out of this poll, that we are beginning in a good place. We’re starting to get momentum and I’m very happy and we’re walking away from this poll encouraged,” Jacobs said.

He said he was not surprised at all that Collins fared well in the poll despite the fact the congressman still faces federal insider trading charges.

“Obviously Chris is the incumbent, has been around and served the district but I think that as I’ve said, in the past he’s done some very good things but unfortunately right now, due to his arrest and indictment, I just don’t think he can effectively represent this district,” Jacobs said. “He can’t serve on committees and I think the 27th District deserves that.”

As for Bellavia, Jacobs said he has great respect for the veteran. However, right now he doesn’t expect him to run.

“He has said he’s not interested,” he said. “I take him at his word. Certainly, he has every right later on to re-evaluate and if he does that, I certainly will too.”

The Republican also said he wasn’t surprised Democrat Nate McMurray, the 2018 challenger, announced he’s running again in 2020. He pointed out McMurray narrowly came within defeating Collins last year.

“I think it’s very important to hold this district in Republican hands to support President Trump,” Jacobs said. “The only way that this will flip is if Chris Collins is in the race because he will likely lose in the general election.”

He said the state’s reddest district will not be vulnerable as long as any GOP candidate besides Collins gets the nomination.


NY-27: McMurray Running For Congress Again

It’s official.

Democrat Nate McMurray is giving it another go in New York’s 27th Congressional District.

McMurray lost to incumbent Republican Chris Collins last year in one of the country’s closest contests. The campaign gained national attention as the district is widely considered the reddest in the state.

“I have a lot of fire for NY-27 and I’m excited about doing it again,” he said.

Over the last year, McMurray said he never really stopped campaigning and meeting with voters. That was particularly obvious on social media where he regularly voiced opinions on issues like gun control and criticized Collins and President Donald Trump.

Yet, after a grueling 2018 experience, he admitted he was hesitant to jump back into the fray for 2020.

“It was hard to full commit because I know what this takes. It’s such a personal commitment,” he said. “It’s so difficult emotionally. It’s difficult on your family.”

One of the reasons the race was likely close to begin with last year was Collins was indicted on federal insider trading charges. Those charges are now a year old and the incumbent recently fared well in a poll testing against Republican challengers.

However, McMurray believes many of the same conditions still exist as two year ago and noted Collins is still scheduled to stand trial in February 2020.

“It’s different but right now we’re in the same place we were in a year ago. Chris Collins is still indicted. There’s other people saying they want to take his place and the biggest difference is I’m stronger than I was a year ago,” he said.

Collins has not actually announced whether he plans to seek his fifth term but McMurray believes he will. He said the Republicans recent $500,000 loan to his campaign account indicates that and expedited McMurray’s own decision.

“I think his best way of staying out of jail and preserving his freedom is to try to hold onto that seat as long as possible and I know firsthand, better than anybody, how hard he will fight to hold onto that seat and I don’t foresee him dropping out,” he said.

Two Republican, current state Senator Chris Jacobs and Fox News contributor Beth Parlato, have already announced they are running for the seat. McMurray becomes the first Democrat and believes he will have a clear path to the party’s nomination.

He said he’ll start off with more institutional support than he did in 2018, particularly from national Dems who were slow to enter the race last year.

“To win we need to do a lot of the same things we did before but we need to improve and get better and we have already looked at the numbers from last time, we see where we were weak and we know how to strengthen those areas and we also need to raise more money,” he said.

McMurray said the contest is about more than just the charges Collins faces. He plans to focus on issues like joblessness around the district and improving the agriculture industry.

NY-27 Poll: Embattled Collins Still Favored In GOP Primary

Republican Congressman Chris Collins may still be the favorite in a 2020 GOP primary for New York’s 27th Congressional District despite the cloud of a federal insider trading trial hanging over his office.

That’s the headline from a new poll conducted by Western New York-based company Tel Opinion Research. Live interviewers spoke over the phone with 500 “Republicans with a history of voting in Republican primary elections” in the district.

Collins, who has maintained his innocence, has yet to make a decision about whether he will seek another term and his trial is scheduled for February 2020. Meanwhile, two GOP candidates so far, state Senator Chris Jacobs and attorney Beth Parlato, have officially announced their candidacy.

If the incumbent faced just those candidates in a primary today, 34 percent of those polled said they would vote for Collins with another 11 percent saying they would lean toward him. Twenty-one percent said they would vote for Jacobs with another 6 percent leaning toward him, while only 4 percent said they’d vote for Parlato.

That’s noteworthy since a year ago the congressman squeaked out a victory by less than half a percentage point over Democrat Nate McMurray, following his indictment, in what’s widely considered the state’s reddest seat. The poll confirmed the district still strongly supports the president, with eight of ten voters approving of the job Donald Trump is doing.

Collins also saw a relatively high favorability rating with 60 percent saying they had either a favorable or somewhat favorable opinion of him. A quarter of those polled did say they had an unfavorable opinion of the congressman.

The poll also considered the possibility of Collins not running in 2020, which GOP pollster and Tel Opinion Vice President Barry Zeplowitz noted would be likely should he not be acquitted in February. Tel Opinion asked about a number of potential Republican candidates who have not announced their intentions yet, including recent Medal Of Honor recipient David Bellavia, Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, state Senator Rob Ortt and Assemblyman Steve Hawley.

Among all those candidates not named Chris Collins, the poll suggested Bellavia would be the front runner.

His favorability rating was at 58 percent and 33 percent said he was their preferred candidate if the incumbent didn’t run. Jacobs came in second on that question with roughly a quarter saying they would vote for him if Collins wasn’t in the race.

Zeplowitz pointed out there are several important factors to consider about the survey results. Not least important, a lot can change over the next ten months, it’s still unclear who will get in the race and Jacobs has a significant fundraising headstart over other candidates.

He also noted the president could have a significant impact on the race, should he choose to weigh in. Two out of three voters polled said it was at least somewhat likely they would support any candidate who Trump publicly supported.

The poll did not ask who voters would prefer if Collins were to run against Bellavia. The margin of error is +/- 4.5 percent.

nypoll by Anonymous JTOvBZl on Scribd

Schumer Demands Northern Border Report

From the Morning Memo:

A report from U.S. Department of Homeland Security about Customs and Border Protection staffing at the northern ports of entry is past due and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is demanding DHS deliver its findings to Congress immediately.

In April, CBP announced it planned to temporarily move 300 northern border officers to the southern border. That prompted Schumer to lead a push for new legislation requiring a report by August 1.

So far those details about the number of officers who have been reassigned and what resources and conditions would allow for a return to the previous staffing levels have not been delivered.

“This report is of great interest to many border communities in New York and across the nation which do not wish to see commerce interrupted by increased wait times, or their security threatened by the lack of adequate staffing,” Schumer wrote in a letter to the Homeland Security Secretary. “In particular, Western and Northern New York rely heavily on cross-border tourism during the summer months.”

He noted nearly 5 million vehicles cross the border at Buffalo’s Peace Bridge annually and the summer months are particularly busy. He said the potential staffing shortage could be a disincentive to tourism which is vital to the region.

Schumer has noted there have been noticeable backups and slower traffic at the bridge since CBP announced it was reassigning staff.