Actually, she didn’t say anything wrong.
Rather, when you hear everything she said, her awkwardness becomes insignificant and her point turns out to be both gracious and valid.
I’m talking about Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and a controversy that erupted Thursday evening when Channel 10 ran a story in which she seemed to attack a $25 million pledge from philanthropist Tom Golisano because it wasn’t big enough.
He wants to help build a new performing-arts center, ideally at a specific downtown location called Parcel 5, and the mayor’s sound bite on the evening news said that if he donated $80 million instead of $25 million he could.
The video clip sounded ungrateful and snide.
And Lovely Warren took a hell of a beating for it – mostly from me. In this column and on the WHAM talk show, I raked her over the coals good. And, on the basis of what Channel 10 aired, she had it coming.
But it turns out Channel 10 didn’t air the entire interview.
It was a quick catch as catch can after another event. The mayor was there, the camera got shoved in her face, and the questions got asked. Nothing wrong with that.
But there was something wrong with how the interview was edited and presented on the evening news.
That became apparent Friday night when, after push back from the mayor on the Brother Wease show, Channel 10 did another story and played, in two pieces, what it said was the remainder of the interview.
From the video that was shown, it appears that the Channel 10 reporter approached Lovely Warren and asked her about Golisano’s pledge. She responds enthusiastically and emphatically with gratitude. In her words, facial expression and tone of voice, she is obviously trying to show excitement and thankfulness for the billionaire’s generosity.
That clear sentiment is quite different from the impression
left by the piece of video that Channel 10 chose to include in its first report. Instead of being ungrateful and dismissive, the mayor had actually gone out of her way to praise Golisano.
It then appears that Channel 10 asked the mayor about citing the performing-arts center at Parcel 5. She generally indicates it might not be the best fit, and she specifically talks about the uncertain challenge of raising the $50 million that would be needed on top of Tom Golisano’s money. She makes a reasonable and articulate point.
That video didn’t make the cut either.
Instead, in its initial report, Channel 10 showed the response to another question its reporter asked, in which he compared Tom Golisano to George Eastman, and asked if George Eastman would have gotten guff over wanting to be on Parcel 5.
That’s when Lovely Warren gave the response that was put on the evening news. Having just spoken about the shortfall between what was pledged and what was needed, she stayed on that topic and, using the reporter’s comparison to Eastman, pointed out that Eastman usually paid for everything and, in this case, that would eliminate the uncertainty associated with the new theater and pave the way for it to go forward on Parcel 5.
It’s a valid point.
But when that piece of video was presented alone, without the lead up of the previous conversation, she looked like an ungrateful idiot.
That impression was not fair, and it was not consistent with the totality of what she said to Channel 10.
And that false impression had potentially big consequences – possibly poisoning the relationship between the city and Tom Golisano, and inaccurately tainting Lovely Warren in the middle of the Democratic Party’s mayoral candidate selection process.
Tom Golisano was enraged by the initial Channel 10 report. Its airing risked taking his $25 million offer off the table, at least for the city of Rochester while Lovely Warren was mayor. That is huge. Trying to rectify the matter, a transcript of the entire interview was given to Mr. Golisano, and Mayor Warren called him Friday to try to set things right.
Hopefully he will see that, at least in regard to this incident, the mayor honestly did nothing wrong and expressed no unreasonable sentiment. Further, her direct and enthusiastic gratitude for his generosity is undeniable and impressive in the clip that was edited out. Yes, her administration over the winter may have given short shrift to the proposal Tom Golisano is backing, but with a new deputy mayor and a new affirmation of the city’s continued respect and gratitude for the philanthropist, hopefully this can be a new beginning, instead of an end.
And what about Channel 10?
Personally, I cannot believe that Channel 10 purposely sandbagged the mayor or cherry picked the interview to make her look bad. I can understand that those close to the mayor could feel different. It is undeniable that the video clip used in the first report unfairly distorted what the mayor said and made her look bad. The selection of that clip created this whole dust up. It did real damage. My respect for the reporter involved and my personal fondness for Channel 10 lead me to believe it was an accident. But it was a very unfortunate and ultimately unprofessional accident which should cause Channel 10 to look hard at how it happened and how it can be prevented from happening again.
Also, Channel 10 is on a one-station campaign right now to only interview actual officials – not their spokesmen. It is certainly understandable that officials might be reluctant to speak to Channel 10, fearing that what happened to the mayor might happen to them.
And what about me?
I was the loudest voice of condemnation of the mayor. My condemnation was reasonably based on the video presented in the initial Channel 10 report. My regret in this matter is that I gave the mayor a beating she didn’t deserve, and that I don’t have a relationship with her or her staff that would have allowed someone to reach out to me Friday morning and explain that Channel 10 got it wrong. Had I known the entirety of the interview, I would have defended her Friday morning, not criticized her.
I would suggest that the mayor’s communications staff record all her interviews itself – as many such staffs do – so that if there is ever another such incident, it can immediately produce what she said and eliminate the controversy of context.
I am not a fan of Lovely Warren. As a mayor, she blows hot and cold.
But Thursday in her answers to Channel 10, she made sense and said nothing wrong.
And it is unfair to her and the truth that it appeared otherwise.