It seems that the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee is doomed to eternal cycles of conflict and disintegration.
The last cycle involved a bitter battle between Valerie Keehn and Tom McTygue (This is a link to an amusing history of the debacle. It includes Gordon Boyd’s involvement). Ms. Keehn, a Democrat who took office as Mayor of Saratoga Springs in 2006, appeared to have one goal in mind which was to rid the City Council of Public Works Commissioner Tom McTygue (Bill McTygue’s brother) who for many years had been the only Democrat on the City Council. She publicly endorsed Skip Scirocco, McTygue’s Republican opponent in the 2007 city election. Scirocco won that election and still serves today as Public Works Commissioner.
A bizarre coda to her mayoralty came on election night 2007 when both she and McTygue were defeated. She showed up at the Holiday Inn where the Republicans were having their gathering. On her entrance she received a standing ovation from the Republicans. She actually gave a speech to applause offering that losing the election was worth it because she credited herself with McTygue’s defeat, something the Republicans had tried unsuccessfully to do for some 30 years.
The dystopia did not end with that election. Democratic Committee meetings were studies in madness marked by yelling and recriminations between the two factions. Eventually the Keehn vs McTygue camps burned themselves out.
Unfortunately during the last few years the level of madness has been slowly but inevitably growing yet again in spite of the efforts of Charlie Brown to hold the party together. Former Mayor Joanne Yepsen, who has always been close with the McTygues, has a faction that overlaps with the current charter change zealots. By zealots I do not mean people who simply support the city manager form of government. I mean people who view opponents of the city manager form with suspicion and hostility. High on their list of “enemies” is Mayor Kelly. Mayor Kelly’s decision to impanel a charter commission last year was considered a betrayal by the city manager faction and those of us who follow politics closely know that Ms. Yepsen is no fan of Mayor Kelly in spite of originally pushing her candidacy for mayor (these alliances have no shelf life).
All of this division was exposed at the February 23 Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee endorsement meeting this year. As some may recall the event was an eight hour ordeal. Bill McTygue (who was not even a member of the committee) had circulated a white paper to the “insurgents” titled “Help Us Take A Stand…” (These are the same people who now control the committee following the mass resignations.) His paper urged his group to block endorsements for Michele Madigan, Meg Kelly, and John Franck. The paper began “Currently there exists a major split on the Democratic Committee when it comes to supporting Madigan, Kelly, and Franck for re-election.”
Bob Turner briefly put himself forward as a candidate to challenge Meg Kelly for mayor but dropped out before the committee did their endorsement interviews. The “insurgents” tried to block John Franck’s endorsement by having enough members leave the meeting room to deny the meeting a quorum, but they were unable to successfully orchestrate this. Then the “insurgents” put forth Patty Morrison to challenge Michele Madigan for Commissioner of Finance, but she failed to get enough votes to win the committee’s endorsement.
When their attempt to block the endorsements of the incumbents failed, the “insurgents” became even more bitter and aggressive and circulated petitions that allowed Morrison to challenge Madigan in the bitterly fought June primary.
It is important to view this conflict as psychological in nature rather than take seriously any policy differences. It is hard to overstate the animosity these people feel toward the Democratic incumbents Kelly, Franck, and Madigan and Republican Public Works Commissioner Skip Scirocco. On some level the division is over the proposal to change the city government to a city manager form, but it simply makes no sense that the form of the city’s government should engender this level of animosity. My assessment is that one of the reasons the “insurgents” are pressing for the city manager form of government is as a vehicle for getting rid of the incumbents on the City Council.
Curiously charter change played a role also in the 2007 split amongst the Democrats with Keehn pushing for a change and McTygue and his supporters on the Democratic Committee opposing the change. At the time there was some suspicion that Keehn saw charter change as a way of getting rid of McTygue if he couldn’t be defeated at the polls. Now after two failed attempts by Billy McTygue to defeat Skip Scirocco for Commissioner of Public Works, the McTygues have become enthusiastic supporters of the charter changes they once opposed.
Courtney DeLeonardis, who has chaired the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee for the last couple of years, has been a regular target for the “insurgents”. Ms. DeLeonardis is an elementary school teacher. She is just a lovely and kind and thoughtful person. Her modest and principled public statement when she recently resigned as chair of the Committee was an expression of her generous spirit. During her term Ms. DeLeonardis routinely received angry emails and texts from this faction either making demands on her or charging her with some sort of abuse. She had to try to maintain order and civility at meetings that hovered on the edge of disorder.
Patty Morrison, who is a very good friend of Bill McTygue, was a significant player in all of this.
It is regrettable that Ms. Morrison was able to avoid appearing at any event where the public could critically assess her prior to the primary.
The fact is, though, that Ms. Morrison won the Democratic primary even though the Democratic Committee and all the Democrats sitting on the City Council had endorsed the incumbent, Michele Madigan.
So with Ms. Morrison’s victory the current crisis of the Democratic Committee and party came to a head. It was one thing to endure the on-going conflict if in doing so people like Ms. DeLeonardis felt good about the Democratic candidates who were running. Ms. DeLeonardis and her allies now had to face the problem, though, of having to support Ms. Morrison. The Commissioner of Finance is a critically important position. This commissioner must oversee the city’s finances and must craft a budget to support the city’s on-going needs while balancing this with a tax rate that is not a burden to the city’s residents . Ms. DeLeonardis et al were all too aware that not only did Ms. Morrison lack the skills to accomplish this task but they also feared she might bring to the council table the belligerence and animosity they had seen her demonstrate as a member of the Committee.
The people who resigned from the Democratic Committee hoped that such a radical action would alert the public to how gravely concerned they were about the potential harm Ms. Morrison might do to the city’s finances and to the ability of the Council to operate in a civil manner. It remains to be seen whether their gesture will have its hoped for impact.