The Condition Of The Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee

My wife, Jane Weihe, and I met with Charlie Brown, the chair of the City Democratic Committee, and Ellen Kiehl, first vice president (there are five).  Jane was chair of the city committee from 1986 to around 1998.

Charlie and Ellen were very well spoken and thoughtful.  Charlie began by noting that the Democratic Committee has a mission statement.  He emphasized that the number one item (it in fact is the first item) is to elect Democrats.  His other goal is to maintain harmony in the committee.

To understand his remarks one has to know about the recent history of the committee.  Having talked to Valerie Keehn, I think she would agree with me that her number one priority as mayor was to expose and, if possible, remove Tom McTygue from office.  Tom is a rough and tumble politician so the war that ensued was bitter and protracted.  While her many calls for investigating him never produced anything, their conflict did succeed in both of their defeats in the subsequent election.

The conflict between the two was not limited to the council chambers.  The meetings of the city committee were extraordinarily ugly and dysfunctional.  To say that the committee was paralyzed would be an understatement.  The conflicts continued well past the election in which they were defeated.

So it is quite understandable that Charlie and Ellen had their work cut out for them when they became officers.  With patience and diplomacy, they managed to create enough calm to perform the basic tasks of the committee such as to circulate the petitions required to get candidates on the ballot and to distribute campaign literature.

The problem has been that to achieve this they pretty much gave up taking a stand on anything that was remotely controversial.  Here is the Saratoga Spring Democratic Commitee platform on development and the greenbelt:

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Plan for Smart Development that Preserves our City in the Country.

We actively promote and endorse the timely adoption and regular revisions to the Comprehensive Plan. The Plan should encourage:  smart, sustainable growth, healthy transportation options, conservation of energy and natural resources, use of renewable energy, and non-vehicular accessibility. To preserve the value of “a city in the country,” we need to encourage thoughtful growth while preserving valued open spaces.  We also need to be intentional about maintaining and promoting a community that welcomes and celebrates diversity.

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This is the kind of statement that is so vague that Saratoga PAC could endorse it.  Who is not for” smart, sustainable growth”?  Who is not for “healthy transportation options”?  Who is not for the “timely adoption” of the city comprehensive plan?

To fully appreciate how paralyzed the Democratic Committee has been, one has only to consider that they were unable to take a position on the casino gambling expansion.  Fifty-eight percent of the voters of our city voted against the state constitutional amendment and probably eighty percent of the Democrats in the city opposed the amendment.  No matter.  As I understand it, the committee never even debated the issue let alone adopted a position.

It was no surprise then that at Saturday’s Democratic Committee meeting the issue of Saratoga National Golf Course’s proposed expansion was hardly touched on.

I have considerable sympathy for the challenges that Mr. Brown and Ms. Kiehl face.  John Franck is a zealous supporter of changing the zoning to allow a resort.  Mayor Yepsen steadfastly refuses to indicate where she stands.  Michele Madigan may vote for it in the future.  Chris Mathiesen opposes the changes.  So for the committee to take a position, risks antagonizing at least one of the elected Democrats on the Council.

Mr. Brown also made the argument that whatever differences someone may have with any of the Democratic incumbents, their opponents would be worse.  I think that is true although the margin of difference varies.

The problem is that with this ethos what you get is a culture of what the Russians call apparatchiks.  James Billington, the librarian of the United States Congress, describes an apparatchik as “a man not of grand plans, but of a hundred carefully executed details.”  This is not to say that the people on the committee are not well meaning.

This culture does, however, lead to the fact that there are currently seventeen vacancies on a committee that is supposed to have fifty-four.  A number of the members of the committee are either elected officials, the spouses of elected officials, or the deputies of elected officials.

The reality is that very few people want to devote their energy to an organization that has as its core mission electing the lesser of two evils.  To attract new and vigorous people it seems reasonable that one would need to actually stand for something.  If the Democratic platform is indistinguishable from Saratoga PAC it is hard to believe that the committee can successfully grow.

I told Mr. Brown that I respectfully disagreed with him about how to build a party.  To attract people that will work hard one must identify popular issues that have broad community support and that provide a sense real mission.  This may involve some significant conflict but it may be worth the struggle.  Personally I believe that the Democratic Party won office because people believed that they would work to improve the quality of life in our city as well as strengthen it economically as compared to the Republicans who seemed driven entirely by the economics of unrestrained development (Skip Scirocco being an exception).  People have wrongly assumed that the Democratic Party rejected the casino and that they stand as protectors of the greenbelt today as they have in the past.  As a party they did not and do not.

Interestingly, Mr. Brown impressed me with his social skills.  He has a thoughtful and measured style.  He is a good listener.  Unfortunately, like many people drawn to politics, he does not seem to have the social vision to accompany those skills.  I have no illusions.  I expect that the Democratic Committee will continue to take no positions.  I expect that on occasion, as they have in the past, someone of principle will decide to run and will get their support.  Unfortunately, more commonly, others with less appealing qualities will also run and will enjoy the same support.

A Picture Of the Fabulous Jane Weihe (Ex-Chair of Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee)

JaneInItaly

14 thoughts on “The Condition Of The Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee”

  1. Until today I’ve found this blog to be accurate and factual. Regarding your assertion “A number of the members of the committee are either elected officials, the spouses of elected officials, or the deputies of elected officials.”, two deputy commissioners serve: M. Lynn Bachner and Joe Ogden, and one spouse of an elected official, Kevin Madigan. Yes, John, three is “a number” but that number represents less than 8% of the current committee membership and 5% of the total possible membership. SSDC organized a successful September 10 primary for Chris Mathiesen, who won with 65% of the vote — something a “paralyzed” organization would not be able to accomplish. I’d be interested to read about the SSRC. For the first time in the 20 years I’ve been involved, SSDC has raised more money than SSRC. Perhaps Saratoga PAC is filling the void?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In recent years, the perception of the SS Democratic Party is that it’s more a collection independents (or non-Republicans) running under a loose confederation, than a unified political party, which the Republicans generally are. The Keehn vs. T. McTygue feud is a perfect example of this. Today, it’s old guard Dems Watkins, Foy, and T. McTygue (in effect) suing current Democratic Commissioner Mathiesen over the proposed Collamer lot deal, which the latter negotiated.

    In 2007, I was at an informal gathering of Democrats, who were working on a mailing, where a current deputy commissioner made it clear that the very name McTygue stood for sexism, racism, and just about every other “ism” that should be anathema to Democratic Party principles. Yet the local organization continues to nominate someone for office, W. McTygue, whose surname is still poison to many voters (which is why he’s already lost twice to a weak opponent) and whose brother is a party in the suit, above. Whether the opinions expressed at that gathering are true or not, it sums up the continuing conflict within local Democratic ranks.

    In the US House of Representatives, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Minority leader Nancy Pelosi are reputed to despise each other. Yet, in public, they keep it to themselves in the interest of party unity. What do you think is going to happen if both W. McTygue and Chris Mathiesen are elected and have to serve together on the City Council?

    Let the fireworks begin!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Turns out I was wrong — M. Lynn Bachner is no longer a member of the SSDC. Two of the 34 current members qualify as either “are either elected officials, the spouses of elected officials, or the deputies of elected officials.”, therefore 6% of the current membership and 4% of the complete membership.

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  4. WHOA!!! I would hardly call Skip Scirroco a ‘weak opponent! He’s buried BOTh McTygue’s now, and for good reason: he’s done an extremely good job given the absolute mess he was handed when first elected. He works well with the city council too.

    Let’s be real here: we have three parties in this city: Democrats, republicans – and McTygues. And even the Indy’s don’t want the latter. Good riddance to the lot of them IMHO.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My feeling is that Scirocco keeps winning because the McTygues poisoned their own well with Tom’s junior high antics, publicly mocking Val Keehn during council meetings. Despite this, the Democratic Party, for whatever motives, keeps nominating them. I agree with you, however, that it’s time for the McTygues to permanently retire.

      But I still maintain that Scirocco is a weak candidate. A year ago, he was embroiled in the water hookup fee controversy, which seems to have evaporated, and has never met the state’s requirement for an adequate supplemental or back-up drinking water supply. It’s also taken him five years to get yard waste pick-ups back on a routine schedule, which is clearly a management issue. I’ll let John and others comment on his City Council voting record. Even in a three-way race, a strong, motivated candidate could defeat both of them. Any takers?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. the water connections “evaporated”, because they were baseless claims made by a political opponent. One that was doing a lot worse while they were in charge, including charging under $25,000 for the first three phases of building on railroad place, when it should have been closer to $300,000 and there were no improvements made to the city right of way. They were just given, just like the park easement and just like the dump property.

        The source capacity has been resolved and the state department of health, the organization responsible for compelling the city to upgrade, has signed off with the results and find the city in compliance. There are four new wells, that are producing well over the needed amount. It should be noted that several municipalities needed to place water restrictions on their residents. There was none in this city because the wells were producing enough water to keep laughberry lake levels where they needed to be.

        The issue of leaf pickup, is one where it is not the top priority. The prior administration thought it was more important too and because of this, neglected major infrastructure needs throughout the city. (Poor water flow through fire hydrants for example, see the Woodlawn fire.) the bottom line is this, less people and allocating workers to complete less cosmetic and instant gratification type projects means the leafs are picked up less regularly and there has been no outcry to hire more people because most people don’t want to pay higher taxes just so their leaves and yard debris is picked up in 2 days ass opposed to 5-6. ,

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      2. OK, I misspoke when I characterized Skip Scirocco as a “weak” candidate. Mark Scirocco’s comments are reasonable and fair. Back to you, John.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. John, I appreciate that you are making efforts to get the Democratic Committee to take a stand on the Saratoga National Golf Course expansion. However, I need to comment on some of your statements. First of all, you fail to mention that it has been nine years since you and I have spoken at all. But, I remember the meeting. From my perspective, you were hoping to convince me to “play nice” with Commissioner McTygue. It is true, that there was no love lost between the two of us. And with every passing month that I was in office, more information about how public works operated was placed into my lap by those who had direct knowledge of what was happening. Exposing and/or removing Commissioner McTygue was certainly NOT my number one priority. But because I was virtually the first Democrat in the city with any authority to even consider challenging the operations of Tommy McTygue, the flood gates were opened. Had the democratic committees during his tenure done exactly what you are asking the current committee to do, which is to defend Democratic principles and their platform by exposing and confronting (and even NOT endorsing) their own candidates who don’t, then things might well be very different today. The problem with politics is exactly what you seem to be supporting…”let’s not air our dirty laundry in public, and hope that somehow it will clean itself.” Ethics reform doesn’t come from those who are walking around in filthy clothes; it come from those who are tired of smelling them! E-mail me next time you want to put words in my mouth, please. And by the way, as I believe I told you nine years ago, winning a second term was also not my first priority.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. That must have been a very difficult thing for them to do given how out of practice they are in taking positions. So I gues the PACis not considered “controversial”? Will they make their position public? I”mwaiting for the press release.

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  7. That is a nice picture of Jane. We just got home this week from our trip to Ireland. Margie Van MEer

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