Brattleboro Reformer hosts 'election central'

11/06/02 12:00AM By Susan Keese
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(Host) In Windham County, the one place to be on election night is the Brattleboro Reformer office.

VPR's Susan Keese was there Tuesday night, and files this report:


(Sound of busy newsroom, phones ring.)

(Keese) The Reformer has a tradition of opening its doors to the public on election night. Kate Casa, the paper's managing editor, calls it election central:

(Casa) "I've never worked at a newspaper where the candidates and the public is invited to sort of come in and mill around and watch the results come in and talk to the reporters. A lot of people call in to find out election results. So it's just another component to the night that makes things interesting and very, very busy."

(Keese) The tradition dates back to the days of Norman Runnion, who edited the paper from the late 1960s to 1990. Runnion was a fiery, public-spirited journalist who loved to be in the middle of the action. Candidates naturally gravitated to the Reformer newsroom to watch the returns come in. Current Editor Casa says Brattleboro and the towns around it are exceptionally participatory and politically involved:

(Casa) "A lot of people are involved, motivated outspoken, opinionated and I'd say the citizen involvement is higher here than in any city or town where I've ever worked."

(Keese) As the returns began to trickle in, candidates and onlookers trickled in as well. A local radio station broadcast from the newspaper's parking lot. Reporters waited by the phones for calls from town clerks in the 25 towns the Reformer covers.

Brattleboro Police Officer Sheila Prue stood by as she took an early lead over incumbent Henry Farnum for the Windham County sheriff's seat. Windham County Democratic Chair John Moran was there to watch the returns:

(Moran) "I'm the chair of the Party and I just want to be in the center here and see what's happening."

(Keese) In the newsroom it was all hands on deck. Even former reporters, like Erin George, returned to help.

(George) "Election night is one of those things that runs in your blood - you never know what's going to happen. You have to be really flexible and fast-paced. It's one of those nights that you can't stay away from the newsroom."

(Keese) One of the paper's editors copied the returns on a big white toteboard in the middle of the newsroom. But the returns came in slowly. Most of the towns in Windham County still count ballots by hand.

By the night's end Windham County had elected two Democratic Senate candidates: Rod Gander of Brattleboro and Jeanette White of Putney won clear victories over Republicans Norman Wright and Mike Hebert. Progressive candidate Sarah Edwards unseated incumbent Don Webster, a Democrat, for one of Brattleboro's three House seats. Citizens in Wilmington decided to rescind the towns much publicized anti-nudity ordinance. And Voters in the Leland and Gray Union School District in Townshend voted "No" on a new addition for the performing arts.

For Vermont Public Radio, I'm Susan Keese in Brattleboro.


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