The rejection of the proposed charter by the voters of our city was the inevitable result of the deeply flawed leadership of those who crafted the charter and managed the campaign for its adoption.
In the final days before the election they posted a video on their face book page, It’s Time, Saratoga, that revealed more about themselves than the charter they hoped to pass. I will use the acronym of their website (ITS) to refer to them in this post.
The target of the video was Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan and its message was that she is the local incarnation of President Donald Trump.
The video utilized footage from an earlier attack ad produced by her opponent during the 2015 campaign for the Commissioner of Finance position.
Like their websites, the ITS video shows a high level of technical skill reflecting the considerable amounts of money the advocates were able to raise in their effort.
The reader may well ask, what a meanspirited attack on Commissioner Madigan has to do with convincing the voters of the merits of their proposed charter?
The answer is “very little.” This video was a self indulgent expression of the visceral anger the ITS people have toward Commissioner Madigan. It was meant to hurt and humiliate, not to educate.
Commissioner Madigan is not the only public figure who has been a target of this group’s enmity, but it is safe to say she enjoys the status of being at the top of their list.
When you think about it, putting this video up on their website as their last appeal to the public to adopt the charter is kind of crazy. It unfortunately is, however, just a more extreme example of their general campaign tactics.
“CommonSenseSaratoga.com” is the flagship website of the campaign for charter change. Readers of this blog may recall that I wrote about the fact that this website was anonymous. They subsequently posted a list of the “founders”. Oddly the list has since been removed but I still have a copy:
- Julie Cuneo and Ron Kim, Co-Chairs
- Jeff Altamari*
- Gordon Boyd*
- Alexis Brown
- Ann Bullock*
- Sarah Burger (Chair of the city Democratic Committee)
- Ellen Egger-Aimone
- Pat Kane*
- Bahram Keramati*
- Bill McTygue
- Mark Pingel
- Bob Turner*
- Beth Wurtmann*
- Joanne Yepsen
- *Indicates citizens who served on the 2017 Charter Commission.
As you can see many of these people were on the 2017 Charter Commission appointed by then Mayor Joanne Yepsen .
What is most striking is the fervor these people have for charter change. Now I think their charter is flawed, and I voted against it, but if it were passed I don’t think it would signal the collapse of Saratoga Springs.
If the reader visits the social media sites created to advocate for charter change, however, they will find a narrative that borders on hysteria. It portrays Saratoga Springs as though it were in the last days of Rome: gross financial mismanagement, votes for sale to political bosses, the city’s infrastructure on the verge of collapse, our water contaminated to the point of being a health risk.
What is really disturbing is that I think that at least some of them may really have believed all of this. It would explain their determination and their ruthlessness.
Frustrated that their warnings were not being heeded they became increasingly desperate to alert citizens to the perceived danger. Thus the video of Commissioner Madigan.
I have observed this in the past with other groups involved in social movements. They love the camaraderie. They love the excitement of the conflict. They feed off each other’s passions.
Any external criticism is dismissed as the efforts of heretics.
Internal discussion is constrained by the need for unity.
Their Own Charter A Victim Of Group Think
We still do not know who actually wrote the charter. I assume it was a subset of the group listed above.
Their own need for unity served to undermine the crafting of their charter.
What they should have done was to circulate the draft to the public to get feedback before finalizing it. This would have helped them avoid mistakes and prepare themselves with real arguments to defend the final version. Regrettably for them, they did not.
I would also note that the combative nature of their campaign was exacerbated by all the festering fights and intrigues these people have been involved in with the existing members of the Council and other public figures over the years. In my first draft of this post I tried to catalogue this history of animosity and conflict. It was a rabbit hole I decided not to climb into.
One thing is certain with a cult-like group like this, they will be back.
They would do well to heed the advice given in the Daily Gazette editorial (11/13/20): “It’s time for opponents of the commission form of government to honor the wishes of the majority of voters and stop putting charter change on the ballot.” https://dailygazette.com/2020/11/12/editorial-in-saratoga-springs-learn-to-work-within-the-current-system/?fbclid=IwAR0lN8mhWfn_8ZXM8vCwT0syxVna4MB5EP0hXJPgKV13DJV3Oip6g9QPRyM