One of the reasons Dennis Richmond has attracted so much praise and such a large viewer following in his decades of anchoring is that he's a pro. He's kept his opinions, political and otherwise, to himself while on air.

KTVU anchor Richmond is nearing retirement next month, so I asked him the other day that since this is such a pivotal presidential election, if he might be tempted to do editorials or commentaries in his closing days. "No," he says firmly.

But, I soon found out, he's not afraid of speaking bluntly to a reporter off the air. Especially when the columnist calls the day after ABC's disgraceful debate last week, one in which "manufactured political distractions" predominated and substantive issues didn't get raised by either ABC anchor Charlie Gibson or George Stephanopoulos for over an hour.

Richmond, it was obvious, was still appalled by that sorry performance in a key debate just before the Pennsylvania primary.

"I'm getting disgusted with this election," fumed the 40-year Channel 2 vet.

"The Democrats are just handing this election to the Republicans." Richmond added, "Rev. Jeremiah Wright wounded him (Obama) greatly. I'm terrified of a McCain-Clinton campaign. Both are consummate politicians," added the newsman with ill-disguised disgust at such a scenario involving old-school pols.

The newsman says he's never met Sen. Obama, and was disappointed a few weeks ago when a reception for Obama to which Richmond was invited was canceled when the candidate's schedule changed.

About the fatuous Gibson, dismissively called "Gipetto" the following night by Stephen Colbert (after Charlie G's reading-glasses posture), Richmond scoffed, "He's a field reporter, not an anchor. He only got the ABC anchor job when that guy (Bob Woodruff) was shot in the head." I briefly worked with Richmond in Oakland when I was a KTVU news writer, and the San Ramon resident was genial in person, but super-serious and ultra-professional when the cameras were on.

"I've always kept my politics out of it," he told me. "Keep people wondering where I stand.

"Since I've announced my retirement," Richmond noted, "I've gotten lots of letters and e-mails thanking me for doing just that."

Still, that hasn't prevented Richmond, a news junkie, from following the election — and the press' flawed coverage of it — closely.

"The whole process is starting to disgust me," he says. "No one is talking about the issues."

I told Richmond I thought the broadcast press raising manufactured political distractions didn't seem to be working against Obama, and he replied, "I hope not."

"Obama and Hillary are close on the issues," the KTVU anchor said, "so the press would rather talk about all these other things."

Long Way to the Top: Congratulations go to Richmond's recently anointed successor, veteran KTVU anchor Frank Somerville, another solid pro.

Somerville's hung in there to get to the top of local TV news. When he was working in the low-paying news department up at Channel 50 in Santa Rosa, Berkeley High grad Somerville once told me, he and his wife lived in a camper on his sister-in-law's lawn in Santa Rosa.

Somerville takes over the 10 p.m. co-anchor spot May 22, and one thing you'll never have to worry about is Somerville's taking himself too seriously. He may look serious and exude gravitas on camera, but...

When I started at KTVU around 1993 and Somerville was anchoring the morning news, Frank occupied the cubicle next to skeptical writer/producer Roland DeWolk.

DeWolk, a long-time newspaperman and an old Oakland Tribune colleague of mine, was relentless in tossing insults at Somerville, whose telegenic good looks made him an easy target. But DeWolk genuinely liked Somerville, and Frank always laughed off DeWolk's good-natured insults.

"Frank isn't a complainer," said KTVU writer DeWolk last week, "Plus, he has some of the best news judgement I've seen in 35 years in the news business. I have a ton of respect for the guy."

(Next Time: Richmond prepares to leave the East Bay)

Bill Mann's column runs every other week. Reach him at newsmann@mannpublications.org