The May 9th Saratogian had an article titled “Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee Updates Platform Statement.” The statement from the Democrats is a study in vapid spin. There is nothing in this “platform” that the Saratoga Springs Republican Party would not whole heartedly embrace.
It is easy to imagine the crafting of this document as an episode from the HBO series Veep with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and her staff struggling mightily over every tiny banality.
The Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee identifies six areas for the platform.
- “Keep city government fair: The Democratic Committee supports public debate to improve government.”
- “Maintain and promote the quality of life: Besides smart, sustainable growth, [Saratoga Springs Democrats] value a robust mix of opportunities that build community, diversify our economy and make our City a wonderful place to live.”
- “Plan for the long-term: infrastructure, water resources and financial stability: Sound, proactive fiscal planning must continue to protect the excellent financial health our City has achieved and to ensure it keeps meeting residents’ needs.”
- “Safeguard open space and the environment with smart sustainable development: Decisions about development in Saratoga Springs should be guided by a comprehensive vision for our “City in the Country”—a plan that balances continued economic growth with the essential need to preserve our open lands and the wellbeing they provide.”
- “Preserve and enhance public health and safety: While our police, fire and emergency medical responders provide services on the front line, all City Council members and their departments play a role in protecting the safety of the City and the health of its residents.”
- “Address housing needs and services: The City lacks enough housing that is affordable for people who work here, retirees, and younger residents.”
Two things worth noting about two items.
Sustainable Saratoga has been waging a major campaign to amend the city’s zoning ordinances to require large projects to include affordable housing elements. The Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee has been silent all during this campaign. Even if they had problems with elements of the proposal, one would expect them to be a voice in the “public debate” championed in their first item. Regrettably they are not.
As for protecting the greenbelt, similarly, during the heated conflict over the plan by Saratoga National Golf Course to build a one hundred room hotel in the city’s greenbelt along with retail, and other items in clear conflict with the comprehensive plan, the committee took no position. In fact, the committee never allowed a vigorous discussion of the issue at their meetings for fear of internal conflict.
Here is a link to the full platform story.
Some background is in order here. The battle between Democrats Mayor Valerie Keehn and Commissioner of Public Works Tom McTygue between 2005 and 2007 was acrimonious, bitter, and personal. It is hard to overstate how rancorous this conflict was. Regrettably, it was not limited to the city council chambers. Attempts to transact business by the City Democratic Committee became impossible. Shouts and threats between the warring factions meant Committee meetings descended to unheard of depths.
It is much to the credit of the current Democratic chair, Charlie Brown, that he was able to patiently move the committee back to an atmosphere of civility. With his pony tail and Birkenstocks he appears an unlikely chairman, but he is extremely well liked by the members of his committee.
The problem is that this détente was accomplished by basically jettisoning any principled stands on local issues by the committee. Given the fact that the Democratic members of the City Council are divided on most issues, the price Mr. Brown requires of the committee is that they take no positions lest they come into conflict with one of the elected members of their party.
Full disclosure: Jane Weihe is my wife. Decades ago, my friend Tom McTygue, the only Democrat on the council at the time, appeared to entertain the idea of allowing the Anderson’s to develop land at Exit 14 into an office park. Jane Weihe decided, as part of a strategy to defeat this effort, to take on Tommy and what ensued was a hotly contested election for the committee seats of the Democratic Committee. Jane’s slate won overwhelmingly and she became their chair.
People will probably be amazed to learn that Jane and Tommy went on to work together for years. This was not to be the only time that Jane and the committee had differences with Tom on issues. The secret was that Jane never made things personal. She also ran meetings on controversial issues in a way that respected the members of the committee and kept the focus on issues rather than personalities. Her differences with Tom were always principled and never were tainted with ego and power moves. Tom, for his part, knew that he needed the party at election time and it was in his interest to maintain a relationship. Jane in turn believed that the city needed Tom and that he did an extraordinary job running his department, keeping the city beautiful, restoring the casino and Congress Park to their past glory, plowing snow (which in those days there was a lot of) and much more.
Tom McTygue has a well deserved reputation for being tough and not afraid of a fight. With that in mind, Jane and the committee’s ability to disagree without self destructing is about the best example I can think of that it can be done.
It is a sad waste that our current Democratic Committee seems only concerned with winning elections and cares so little for issues. The excuse is always that division will only serve the Republicans. One would have hoped that the Bernie Sanders campaign might have shown a light on the importance of focusing on issues but at least in Saratoga Springs the lights are still out.