Channel 2 weatherman Kevin O’Connell’s potential candidacy for Erie County clerk lasted about as long as a brief summer shower.
O’Connell said Monday he will remain with WGRZ-TV through the end of his contract in June of 2018, despite conversations with local Democrats over the past several weeks about running for the vacant post.
“The commitment I have made to Channel 2 I will honor,” he said. “At the end of the day, my word has got to be my word. I’m very flattered, but at this time it’s just not feasible.”
The Buffalo News reported Friday evening that a group of local Democrats was urging O’Connell to run on their line in November, citing his near-universal name recognition in Erie County and reputation for helping local charities.
But the situation may have come to a head over the weekend when Erie County Republicans demanded his removal from Channel 2's airwaves. Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy said he was considering legal action regarding equal time provisions should the station not act immediately.
The chairman voiced his concerns in a Saturday email to Channel 2 General Manager Jim Toellner.
“WGRZ should not be giving the Democrat Party an unfair advantage by beaming their candidate into every home in Erie County each night,” Langworthy wrote. “It is inherently unfair and unethical.”
The chairman pointed to other reporters and anchors who had discussed political candidacies in the past who were immediately asked to decide between running for office and their news positions.
Toellner said he discussed the situation with O’Connell on Monday and learned then that he had told local Democrats of his decision not to run.
“He assured them he is not a candidate and told me the same,” Toellner said. “It is not an issue.”
O’Connell’s departure from a race he never officially entered appears to cede the lead position for the Democratic endorsement to Steve Cichon, a former WBEN Radio reporter and news director. Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner said Monday he was unaware of O’Connell’s decision, but now looks to Cichon in a competition for the party nod that also includes former Buffalo Board of Education member Janique S. Curry.
“Steve seems to have more support on the committee and will be a stronger candidate moving forward,” Zellner said.
Democratic Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns of Buffalo is also expected to prove a strong candidate in a September primary, even though Zellner’s committee has indicated he will not be given consideration. That stems from Kearns’ previous Assembly candidacies on the Republican line and his expected backing for clerk this fall by the GOP.
Attorney Thomas G. Kobus, who was instrumental in attempting to persuade O’Connell to join the race, said Monday he was also unaware of the weatherman's decision and was disappointed when told. He and others encouraging O’Connell saw him as the best candidate to face Kearns in the fall.
O’Connell acknowledged Monday he had received encouragement to run from many friends and supporters when news of his potential candidacy broke Friday night.
“I heard from a lot of people after the article appeared in The News,” he said. “People offered kind words, support, and pledges of help if I needed it. And I was appreciative.”
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