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WGRZ is the local winner in suspenseful election night coverage

Alan Pergament

The delay in getting election night results Tuesday in the race for Erie County executive led to a suspenseful competition on the 11 p.m. newscasts on the three local network affiliates.

And the winner was … WGRZ-TV (Channel 2).

While WIVB-TV (Channel 4) and WKBW-TV (Channel 7) were still extending the suspense by suggesting the race between Democratic incumbent Mark Poloncarz and Republican/Independence challenger Lynne Dixon was in doubt, WGRZ called the race for Poloncarz at 11:05 p.m. Tuesday.

The call was made by Democratic analyst Bruce Fisher after Channel 2 reporter Steve Brown noted where the remaining votes were and asked Fisher and Republican analyst Carl Calabrese, “how do you see the rest of this coming in?”

“It is over,” declared Fisher. “Lynne Dixon would have to win substantially all the votes in smaller places and the suburbs that are traditionally much more split.”

He added if Poloncarz is ahead by 10 points with 75% of the vote in, “he is going to win by six or seven points.”

Asked if he concurred, Calabrese said “not yet.”

Fisher ended up being right on the money. Poloncarz won, 53.5% to 46.5%, which is 7%.

Fisher’s prediction wasn’t the only reason WGRZ won the night. Channel 2 reporter Michael Wooten also did the best job analyzing the races for the Erie County Legislature, noting that Democrats were going to flip Dixon’s seat with a victory by John Gilmour.

WGRZ also was the only station to break from a commercial to catch Poloncarz’s victory speech at the start. WIVB and WKBW joined the speech in progress, with WIVB staying the longest.

WIVB chose to put its political experts, Democrat Len Lenihan and Republican Bob Davis, on a few minutes after Fisher had predicted the end on WGRZ.

Davis, the Republican, noted the race was tightening and seemed to hold out some hope that the rural counties and Southern suburbs would swing the race.

“I’m sure Mark is surprised by how close it is,” said Davis.

Lenihan, the Democrat, was a little optimistic in predicting Poloncarz would win by 55% to 45%.

WKBW didn’t put have any experts on.

It would have been wise to find a couple of wise political men or women. At 11:12 p.m. co-anchor Jeff Russo proclaimed, “the fight here is far from over.”

That was about six or seven minutes after Fisher declared it was over.

Now on to more highs and lows of the coverage:

Best Republican Strategy: After noting Republican losses, Channel 4 co-anchor Jacquie Walker asked Davis what he would do if he were the Erie County Republican chairman: “Stay in bed,” cracked Davis.

Exceeding Expectations: As WIVB anchor Don Postles said the station was expecting Poloncarz to speak, Walker immediately told viewers what they could see. He already was speaking.

What Else Are They Going to Say? At the top of the 11 p.m. newscast, WIVB reporter Marlee Tuskes said the message at Republican headquarters was it is still early “and they are still confident Dixon will come out on top.”

Define Disappointed: WIVB reporter Shannon Smith was part of the station's strong coverage of the race for Niagara Falls mayor. She said that after Republican Glenn Choolokian was one of three candidates to lose to Democrat Robert Restaino, he told her it was “not what he wanted, but he’s not disappointed.”

Please No More Ads: As Tuskes spoke, WIVB ran a decent amount of footage of Dixon’s advertisements. Haven’t we suffered enough? The best part of the election being over is that viewers no longer have to endure the ads.

“Huge” Mistake: WIVB played a prerecorded interview with Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul talking about Poloncarz winning by a “huge” margin when the results were tightening. It would have been wise to have dropped the interview.

Best Perspective: Veteran WIVB reporter George Richert did the best job putting Restaino’s victory in perspective, noting that he wasn’t the endorsed Democrat and had to win a primary before winning Tuesday’s election.

Good Job: As WIVB was about to sign off, you could hear someone off-camera say, “good job.” My sentiments exactly – for WGRZ.


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