Election night is always an interesting and crazy time in a newsroom. But the 2009 Election Night might very well be remembered as the night a Utica Common Council Candidate angrily asked "You wanna dance?!"
Problems with the Utica Common Council First Ward will be looked into throughout the day after a large number of votes appeared to go to candidate Ned Smajic, whose name was recently taken off the actual ballot after an appeals court decision.
Was it a computer glitch somewhere along the line that read a line as Smajic instead of a different candidate? The Board of Elections Commissioners said something is amiss, but it will take some time to sort out what. Those votes COULD possibly go to the man who won the appeals decision to get Smajic's name off the ballot - Frank Vescera.
Vescera was certainly no stranger to the WKTV newsroom on election night 2009. Earlier in the evening, Utica Police sent out the following press release:
"On Tuesday November 03, 2009 at approximately 5:30 PM, Utica Common Council candidate Ed Hill and incumbent Frank Vescera were engaged in an argument while at a polling station located at 2 Kennedy Plaza. According to witnesses; the two had a brief argument when Hill became angry with Vescera and accused him of congregating in close proximity to the polling table. During the confrontation Hill allegedly "chest bumped" Vescera. At that point, Poll Watcher Michael Colon intervened in an attempt to separate Hill and Vescera. Colon stated it was then that Hill turned his attention to Colon, shoved him and punched him in the face with a closed fist. The police department was contacted, both Hill and Vescera left prior to the officer's arrival. Colon filed a harassment complaint against Hill with Officer Ryan Kelly of the Utica Police Department Patrol Division on scene. Colon suffered no injury as a result of the incident."
Now, with that said, a story was then posted on our website regarding the incident, and mentioned in the broadcasts before the results of the race.
Shortly after 11 p.m., the newsroom phone rang...and I just happened to pick up. I was greeted with a curt "who's this?" and I explained that it was Dave. My greeting was then met with a very angry Mr. Vescera, who chose to use the opportunity to yell at me for the story and demand an immediate retraction - that it was all false.
When I explained to Mr. Vescera that the information came from a Utica Police Department press release, he responded "I don't care. I want it retracted."
I explained that how, when it comes to an incident where charges are filed, we check with those agencies in which the charges were filed - in this case, Utica Police Department, who sent out an official release on the incident. He continued to tell me he "didn't care."
I explained that if he wanted to contact UPD and explain to them that he felt their description of events was inaccurate, we would be glad to run a correction based on a clarified press release from UPD. Mr. Vescera responded accordingly:
"No. I'm not going to do that. Why don't you do your job?" he said, in an unfortunately very loud and angry tone.
I responded as best as I could, saying "Frank, don't yell at me. I'm trying to explain to you. If you think UPD got it wrong, tell them so they can tell us."
"No, I'm telling you to do your job and get the facts straight," Vescera said.
"And I'm telling you these facts came right from the police, Frank. Are you saying the police are lying?" I asked.
"Don't put words in my mouth, David. I'll have you know that I'm recording this entire conversation and I will sue you guys," Mr. Vescera told me.
Hopefully Mr Vescera's recording of this conversation will surface so that I can get some of these quotes tightened up, as they are coming from my memory the following morning after the incident.
I asked Mr. Vescera to calm down and stop yelling, and was told to "do something right for once in your life."
When I told him that a comment like that was not just insulting professionally, but quite insulting personally, insinuating that I had not done anything right in my life, Mr. Vescera then accused me again of putting words in his mouth and said what was, for my money, the most interesting election night quote of the year:
"You wanta dance with me, David?! Because we'll dance!"
"I don't want to dance with you, Frank," I answered.
At this point, my boss, Steve McMurray, then decided it was time to intervene. However, Steve was no more successful, it seemed, than I was. Steve read the entire press release to Mr. Vescera, who said the entire thing was not true.
However, it appeared Mr. Vescera wasn't any less angry with Steve, as there were several times the conversation was sprinkled with a "don't yell at me, Frank. I'm trying to talk to you."
Steve explained to Mr. Vescera that yes - in the script copy that ran during the 11 o'clock news, a line was left out that mentions that the charges stem from the poll watcher and not Mr. Vescera, as it read:
"The first ward common council race got a little heated this evening...with one of the candidates now facing charges. Ed Hill is charged with harassment following an alleged scuffle with his opponent Frank Vescera. Utica Police say the fight happened at the Kennedy plaza apartments...one of the polling locations."
Steve said that the line about the poll watcher SHOULD have been in there, and agreed with Vescera on that. He also noted that it was only at the 11 pm broadcast that it appeared as such - it was fully-explained in other shows as well as on the web. However, Vescera insisted to Steve that the entire incident was wrong and sensationalized.
Steve asked Vescera "The press release says you were in an argument with him - is that true?"
Vescera: "I'm telling you what happened."
Steve: "The police press release says Ed Hill chest-bumped you before swinging and hitting a poll watcher. Is that true?"
Vescera: "I'm telling you the story."
Steve: "You're a pretty slick politician, Frank. I've asked you several times and you still haven't given me an answer."
Vescera: "No, you're the slick one!"
So, after more than 30 minutes of conversation on Steve's end, Steve was willing to let Vescera tell his side of the story on camera. Although, even that seemed to be a hard sell.
"I just told you my side," Vescera told him.
Steve then explained that in order for it to get on the news, he'd need to be formally interviewed. Vescera agreed, and Pat Bailey and a photographer were dispatched. In order to know where they were going, Steve asked Vescera where he was.
"What's that supposed to mean?!" Vescera angrily retorted to Steve.
Steve explained "Frank, calm down. I just need to know where they're going to meet you for the interview. Are you in Utica right now or Barneveld."
"Why do you have to go and make a crack about Barneveld?!" Vescera yelled back, noting controversy that has surrounded Vescera's residence over the years.
Steve again explained that they needed to know where Vescera was at that moment in order for someone to come interview him and tell his side of the story. Vescera then gave a location in Utica, and the team was able to meet up with him for an interview.
At the scene, Vescera refused to take any questions, stating his story, and nothing else.
Police say witnesses told them Vescera and Hill were arguing before Hill swung at Michael Colon, a poll watcher for Mr. Vescera. Vescera says that he was visiting with a bedridden woman at Kennedy Plaza before coming in to the voting area and finding Hill fighting with women working the polls.
According to Vescera, he was only stepping in to tell Hill what he was doing "was wrong" and break things up. His side of the story can be found here:
First Ward candidate Vescera disputes recollection of election night incident
Today, we've dispatched a crew to try and find out just exactly what happened on election night, talking with police, and if he can be found, Mr. Hill.
But regardless, Election Night 2009 was certainly a memorable one, if anything, for the night that Frank Vescera asked "You wanna dance with me?!"
Keep your dance cards open. Here's to politics in 2010.