Saratoga PAC Goes Into Attack Mode In Mailings Against Chris Mathiesen…The Uglier Side Of Politics In America

As many of you may have already seen, the PAC has gone into gear and their most aggressive mailings so far have been in support of Rick Wirth in his campaign to defeat Commissioner of Public Safety Chris Mathiesen.

The mailings focus on three issues.

The Collamer Building

This involves the sale of the Collamer Building and the purchase of a plot of land on Route 9P.  Earlier this year I published a long piece in which I presented both Commissioner Mathiesen’s version of events along with Tom and Bill McTygue’s version.  I would direct readers back to that piece.  It was posted on August 16.

There are a number of ironies about the mailer.  First, the decision to purchase and sell the properties was supported by all five of sitting Council members.   This was done after a very long process which was fully vetted by all the members of the Council.  The fact that the PAC endorsed Michele Madigan and John Franck who supported the decision speaks to the ethical standards of the PAC as a whole.

It is also worth noting that Larry Novick, who is an executive with Bonacio Construction, acted as a facilitator in the negotiations between the city and Joel Aronson who owned the land the city wanted for the EMS station and who wanted to develop the Collamer Building.  At the time, Aronson was planning to have Bonacio Construction convert the Collamer Building to condos if the project went forward.  Novick, who had been involved with the purchase of the “Lillian’s Lot” from the city used his experience to help develop the plan for the land deals.   Subsequently, Joel Aronson and Sonny Bonacio had some sort of falling out.

Sonny Bonacio played a central role in establishing Saratoga PAC and is one of its most significant contributors.  Again it is rather cynical for him to have aggressively pursued the land transactions and now help fund an attack on Commissioner Mathiesen for the very same project.

The Crime Wave

Saratoga PAC paid for a mailing on behalf of Rick Wirth with a screaming headline “Surrendering Saratoga’s Safety.  To read this material one would think that the Crips and the Bloods had invaded Saratoga’s neighborhoods.  The crime rate has gone up.  When the  numbers are very low, it does not take much to create a spike.  In fact, according to Police Cheif Greg Veitch, a gang of criminals operating in 2013 caused the numbers to jump before they were apprehended. 

To get a perspective on the crime figures presented by the PAC consider these numbers provided by Veitch:

The absolute numbers can be found at the FBI and DCJS websites.

Crime Rates: per/100,000
All violent crime:
USA- 443.7
NYS- 381.8
SS- 222.3

USA 135.0
NYS 121.8
SS 58.3

Agg Assault:
USA 265.9
NYS 229.4
SS 142.2

The arrest rates are even more important:
USA 29.6%
SS  50%

Agg Assault:
USA 56.3%
SS 92%

The largest increase in total numbers of violent crimes was for robbery and aggravated assault in 2014.  We not only have fewer crimes per/100,000 than the national or state averages but we make arrests at a much higher rate when those crimes are reported to us.

We arrested 92% of all reported felony assaults in the second degree in 2014.  Only 5 felony assaults were reported in the downtown area and 4 were closed by arrest. 

Homelessness and Vagrancies

Another PAC mailer displays in bold letters the following quote from Chris Mathiesen regarding the homeless problem in Saratoga Springs: “There’s not a lot the police can do.”  Having run an anti-poverty agency for sixteen years, I can attest to the challenge of working with the homeless.  There are usually significant mental health issues involved.  The fact is that there are important civil rights issues as well that severely limit what can be done to address this issue.  Mr. Wirth was the Commissioner of Public Safety himself for a term and knows this.  This is the kind of political posturing that adds to the cynicism of the public and does not speak well for Mr. Wirth.  It is easy to talk about involving social service agencies in dealing with the homeless and it is entirely another thing to solve the problem.

Lacking EMS Services

Probably the most cynical ploy is the attack on Mathiesen for “Lacking EMS Services” on the east ridge and then attacking him for the cost of defending the city for the purchase of the land that the new EMS station would be located on.  This of course is just an extension of the attack on the Collamer Building

The Saratoga PAC chair Rob Manz has been very clear that the number one priority of the PAC is to change our Comp Plan and zoning ordinances to allow for more development. More specifically their goal is to elect a City Council that will allow Saratoga National Golf Course to expand into even more of a resort than they already are by adding a hotel, retail, and more. Their real problem with Chris Mathiesen is that he has been a consistent and persistent voice on the Council in defense of the greenbelt and in opposition to SNGC’s plans. This means Mathiesen must be replaced by  a more compliant Council member, namely Rick Wirth. Will the PAC succeed in their expensive campaign targeting Chris Mathiesen and create a Council more to their liking?  We will know on Tuesday. Polls are open from 6AM till 9PM.

8 thoughts on “Saratoga PAC Goes Into Attack Mode In Mailings Against Chris Mathiesen…The Uglier Side Of Politics In America”

  1. Wasn’t Michael Toohey — one of the largest individual donors to the Saratoga PAC — Joel Aronson’s attorney for the land transaction (or perhaps he still is)? Why is he associating himself with a PAC that has made criticizing a deal that he worked directly on, and that are to the detriment of his current or former client?


  2. When you scrape out — and control for — an “apples to apples” comparison, the city of SS does, in fact, have a high/rising crime rate when compared to demographically-similar and like-type cities.

    An unfortunate fact; but a fact nevertheless.

    (Please note: this is not offered as an argument for either/any candidate)


      1. I’d be happy to, Ms Zuzia–thank you for asking!

        Begin here, with these 2012 stats from the FBI (the best and latest I could find):

        After downloading the Excel file, we can now have some fun. Let’s try these “slice & dice” exercises:

        First let’s do a simple slice by population size and compare SS to other NYS cities in the 25-30K size’d category.

        We get a mixed bag:
        – SS is BELOW the Median in overall violent crime (barely), robbery, and larceny
        – SS is THE Median for murder, aggravated assault and property crimes
        – SS is ABOVE the Median for rape, burglary and arson

        Now let’s do a much more valuable and useful “apples to apples” exercise: let’s control for both population size and residential income levels. By matching up each of these 25-30K cities with their $ fig and then pulling a subset of all those within 1 Standard Deviation of SS, and then comparing those same rates, we get this:

        – SS is BELOW the Median for robbery and car theft
        – SS is THE Median for murder
        – SS is ABOVE the Median for Overall Violent Crime (barely), rape, aggravated assault, property crime, burglary, larceny and arson

        So, there ya go.

        Now to be fair—‘cus that’s the kinda guy I am — SS is basically a TOURIST TOWN….. and we should expect it to have a slightly higher-than-norm crime rate because of that fact/

        But my purpose here was to refute the general notion / talking point / marketing spin that the city has a “low crime rate”

        Ya dig?

        Liked by 1 person

  3. John,

    Your post on the PAC’s takeover of the Wirth campaign is telling. Until recently I had paid little attention to the zoning text amendments currently under consideration by the City Council and gave no thought to any similarities between the political mechanization now in play and the political intervention in the1994 Exit 14 rezoning outcome.

    But the induced birth of SARATOGA PAC and its attempt to tip the City Council on Tuesday, serves to remind of the Machiavellian maneuvering by the then Republican chair in advance of the Exit 14 rezoning vote.

    The problem presented by PAC advocacy for certain changes in well established policy – particularly lands use policy – is not so much what its supporters seek, but rather how they seek it.

    The PAC proposes to effect certain amendments to the City zoning ordinance by electing a favorably disposed City Council. Certainly that is its right and privilege, although the content of its campaign to unseat some incumbents suggests an intellectual dishonesty.

    Then, when you overlay the known history of some of our major land use decisions on the PAC’s stated agenda, the potential damage becomes evident. Some candidates supported by the PAC would be compromised before they took their oath of office because they would not be free to participate openly and objectively in legislative matters – particularly land use and zoning issues – that require adherence to existing state and city law.

    So, for instance, having sought and accepted endorsement by he PAC, knowing full well that a substantial amount of its money and other resources would be dedicated to their election, how will they be able to honestly and objectively conduct the reviews that go before land use changes?

    How, for example, could they avoid the ex parte discussions that would inevitably occur and would they have the courage to report them – as required – on the record? Would they be able to participate in a wholly objective SEQR review of a PAC supported zoning change and, most importantly in this community, would they be able to maintain an open mind until all interests and parties had been heard? And even if they could, many in the community would remain skeptical. It is essential that the public maintain trust in the process even if it disagrees with the outcome.

    And the failure of PAC endorsed candidates for mayor and public safety to repudiate what are clearly PAC’s ‘dirty’ campaign tactics calls to question their strength to resist manipulation and suggests a willingness to use political surrogates as bullies. Not the stuff of new chapters in “Profiles in Courage.”

    My recollection is that many of the same forces were in play in the 1994 Exit 14 debate as now, and have been every time any intensive development has been proposed in that area. The subsequent Anderson proposal that ultimately ended up in the federal-courts also comes to mind.

    The 1994 proposal was politically charged. The Council had two members who had found the rezoning acceptable, one who was opposed, one who remained ambivalent about the community college use but concerned about the other uses the amendment would allow, and one who had elected to recuse from discussion and vote because of an affiliation with one of the projects proposed tenants.

    Without getting into all the gory details here, it became obvious in the run up to the vote that the leadership of the majority party wanted to insure that the amendment was adopted. The problem with all that was the posturing and pretense going on even before the proposal was put to public hearing.

    If the community thinks (then as now) that a major public policy decision is taking place outside the public view or is inordinately influenced by money or power, then all pretense to open government and objective review is out the window and trust in the authenticity of the outcome is gone. Legitimate questions of integrity arise.

    Ultimately, the then leader of the majority party failed to gain the four (4) votes necessary to enact the amendment but only because an adjacent property owner, Yaddo Corp., invoked a section of General City Law requiring a super-majority vote.

    Many land use votes come down to value judgments and as such reasonable members of the community differ. But those judgments must be arrived at honestly, framed by a deep knowledge of the community’s history and culture. But because we know that some of the political class has attempted to manipulate or even strong-arm past Councils on such land use questions, the public becomes alienated and cynical when it believes the “fix” is in

    That is why the PAC and its rather narrow focus raise questions and concerns. The PAC’s two endorsed candidates who have not repudiated its embrace (mayor and public safety) put themselves in an untenable position: i.e., committed to enact major policy changes before review processes, environmental and fiscal impact assessments, public hearing and debate have been completed or even begun. Let’s think long and hard before we give up the Council to the control and manipulation of a disproportionately small but powerful group from whose control a Stafford or Wirth could not escape.

    Better to stumble along – kicking, screaming and arguing about key public issues- then to forge City policy and make appointments outside the public realm, sheltered from public oversight and finitely managed by political operatives.

    The PAC would have been better served had it conducted an honest assessment of community views using a valid instrument. Instead they framed a “questionnaire” deigned and intended to elicit a preconceived response. Those prepackaged outcomes became the pretense for the PAC endorsements. That, and the dishonest mail campaign foisted on us by the PAC is in itself enough to warn us off.


    Liked by 1 person

  4. Rick Wirth’s own “Women for Wirth” campaign mailing (not from Saratoga PAC) is an unintentional self-parody worthy of a Christopher Guest mockumentary (he’s the filmmaker behind “Best In Show,” “A Mighty Wind,” and many others).

    It shows an open-collared Rick embracing a bevvy of Saratoga “babes,” who are apparently afraid to walk down Broadway without his protection. Tom Selleck, eat your heart out.

    Liked by 1 person

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