The Working Families will see a primary race in June for two Saratoga County Supervisor positions from Saratoga Springs. Incumbent Supervisor Tara Gaston, who is also running on the Democratic line, will be competing for the WFP line with Bruce Altimar and Gabriel O’Brien. The top two vote getters will appear on the WFP line in November for the two Supervisor positions.
Gaston was endorsed by WFP, but the party in Saratoga County has seen an influx of new registrants, many of them former Republicans, as part of a statewide drive by the Republican Party to gain a second line for their candidates. I have written about this cynical move by the Republicans in previous posts. The WFP has a progressive platform that would make most Republicans cringe. Alitmar and O’Brien are part of this strategy.
Other Saratoga Springs Democratic candidates endorsed by WFP dropped off the ballot I am told because they were worried about losing primaries given the number new former Republicans now registered in the party.
The primary will take place on June 22 with early voting June 12-20.
Some Democrats are now organizing to put their candidates on an additional independent line, but two of their endorsed candidates are not included.
A new group that calls itself Resilient Saratoga has launched a website and a petition drive to get five of the seven Democratic endorsed candidates on an additional independent ballot line. Missing from the petition are Democratic endorsed Supervisor candidate Tara Gaston and Public Works candidate Domenique Yermolayev.
The Resilient Saratoga site was designed by Progressive Elections, LLC, which describes itself as “a new pro-choice, pro-LGBT consulting firm…”. One of the founders of this firm is Libby Post. Readers will recall that Ms. Post was hired to promote last year’s charter change proposal which failed and also was hired by Patty Morrison when she ran for Finance Commissioner. Ms. Morrison lost that race.
The city Democratic Committee has yet to put out an official announcement of their slate of candidates for the upcoming city elections.
MLK Saratoga is inviting the community to celebrate their new project, a Treasure Hunt designed to explore the history of People of Color in Saratoga Springs. Their kick off will be a gathering in Congress Park.
Saturday, April 24, 2021
3:00 PM 4:00 PM
Meet at Spirit of Life in Congress Park
MLK Saratoga has launched a new adventure project which begins to uncover and explore Saratoga Springs’ history of our People of Color … real stories with real impact on who we all are today! So, why a Treasure Hunt? Because we have so much to learn and appreciate about the many hidden “treasures” — right here — that history has ignored, forgotten, or simply white-washed.
You can jump into the Treasure Hunt now by visiting our webpage. (MLKSaratoga.org/treasure-hunt). Download the 2-page map with clues and off you go! Be sure to check back on the website for the answers and to access the “deeper-dive information” PDFs on each of the 10 Saratoga “Treasures.”
Let us know when you have completed all 10 discoveries … we’ll send you a special certificate!
Gotta special Treasure story you think should be added to our future maps?
MLK Saratoga Agrees To Further Dialogue Over Safe Protests
After not hearing from MLK Saratoga regarding issues of safety in social justice demonstrations, I did a follow-up email. They have written back that they plan on issuing a response.
My email to them:
Sat, Apr 17, 9:37 PM (5 days ago)
This is a follow-up to our dialogue begun in recent postings on SaratogaSpringsPolitics.com
The issue of the safety of demonstrators, the public, and the police is of primary concern to me. In the interest of fostering a dialog which I hope can lead us to a more thoughtful consideration of protocols for such events I am asking again that you respond to the following questions posed in my last blog on this subject.
Does MLK Saratoga think that the March 28, 2021, demonstration should have been coordinated with the police?
In light of the fact that the demonstration took over the streets of Saratoga Springs without a permit or coordination with the police, it was an act of civil disobedience. Does MLK Saratoga think that training for the event was needed?
What role, if any, does MLK Saratoga have in minimizing the risk to demonstrators in actions that involve parades and sit down actions in intersections?
Should they be talking to the leadership of demonstrations such as the March 28 action to determine if proper preparation for safety has been planned for?
Thank you in advance for responding.
Hello Mr. Kaufmann.
Our apologies for the delay in acknowledging your last post and email. Our emails typically include our organization signature. In completing the online email form, I forgot that would not be included.
The email post was submitted by me but was from the three chairs. We will send a fuller response when time permits.
We will be gathering tonight at 6 pm in Congress Park to come together as a CommUNITY in peace and solidarity.
The Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee has yet to announce their final slate of candidates for this year’s city election. This is especially odd since petitions designating candidates had to be filed by March 25, and the deadline for filling any vacancies that occurred because candidates dropped out was April 2. As documented in earlier posts, the selection of Democratic candidates for the upcoming city election has been reminiscent of the game of musical chairs.
The most recent dispute among Democratic Committee members over candidates came in early April over choosing a replacement for John Franck when he decided to withdraw from the race for Accounts Commissioner. Two candidates expressed a desire to fill that vacancy on the ticket.
Dillon Moran, readers may recall, originally circulated a petition to run for Commissioner of Public Works this year. He subsequently changed his mind and took himself off the ticket as a candidate for this position and decided instead to put himself forward as a candidate for the newly vacant Accounts position. Mr. Moran had run an unsuccessful race for Public Works two years ago.
Ms. Rella is new to local politics. She has a degree from Columbia Law School and spent over a decade working for a New York City law firm. She was recently appointed to serve on the Civil Service Commission by Mayor Kelly.
Under New York State election law, political party committees set up something called a “Committee on Vacancies” to name persons to run for office on a party’s line when a candidate on a designating petition declines to run or dies.
Five members were designated to serve on the local Democratic committee on vacancies to fill the Accounts position (as well as vacancies that occurred when the Democratic candidates for Finance and Public Works stepped aside). They were:
In an unusual move, a number of Democratic Committee members signed a letter to the committee on vacancies in support of Ms. Rella for the Accounts position. [See the letter and a full list of signatories at the end of this post] Among the signatories was Sarah Burger, chairperson of the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee. Other notable signatories included:
Joanne Yepsen – Past mayor of the city
Pattie Morrison – Unsuccessful candidate for Commissioner of Finance
Minors Sanghvi – current candidate for Commissioner of Finance and had been a member of the Democratic State Committee
Susan Steer – former Zoning Boardmember and wife of Skidmore Professor Bob Turner (He chaired the unsuccessful 2017 Charter Commission and has continued to be a leader in the efforts to create a city manger form of government in Saratoga Springs)
Ann Bullock – Past member of Commission on Charter Change who, along with Bill McTygue accused members of the City Council of participating in pay-to-play awards of contracts. With much publicity they sent their accusations to the New York State Attorney General who took no action.
Natalya Lakhtakia – School Board Member
In spite of the significant support Angela Rella had and her impressive credentials, the committee on vacancies voted three to two in favor of Dillon Moran.
Sources tell me that Ms. Rella will be circulating petitions to run for Accounts Commissioner on her own line on the November ballot. I am told that Julie Cuneo is her campaign manager.
Strange Post By Tara Gaston on her Election Plans
Recently the Times Union and other newspapers reported that Supervisor Tara Gaston, in addition to running on the Democratic Line, would be running on a new independent line called Saratoga Stronger Together. The articles reported that Robin Dalton would be running for Mayor on this line and Adam Israel would be running for Commissioner of Finance.
Tara Gaston posted the following statement on her Facebook page, which she subsequently removed, announcing that she would actually not be on the Saratoga Stronger Together line after all. I cannot make sense of her explanation of her involvement (or non-involvement) with Saratoga Stronger Together . I welcome the readers of this blog to offer some sort of clarification.
Letter To Committee On Vacancies
April 1, 2021
To the Committee of Vacancies:
This letter is in support of Angela Rella’s nomination as Commissioner of Accounts.
I have known Angela personally as both a friend and fellow community activist for over 6 years. I can attest to the quality of her character, integrity and innate intelligence. Angela is discrete and not one to “toot her own horn”, although she is an accomplished attorney who spent over a decade litigating complex commercial cases at a New York City law firm.
She currently gives back to the community by working pro-bono to assist Saratoga County residents in need. She also works for the Legal Project in Albany representing clients in domestic violence and immigration cases. She most recently was appointed by Mayor Kelly to the Civil Service Commission.
Angela resides in town, with her husband Jim and their two school age children.
As Commissioner of Accounts, Angela would be a consensus builder, she works collaboratively, and would be an excellent steward of democratic values and ideals. Presently there are no female candidates on the Democratic line, and the Republicans are running a full female slate expect for the department of Public Works, who is an incumbent.
I can say without hesitation that Angela would be an excellent addition to our slate.
The names listed below are of fellow democratic committee members who have expressed verbal support of Angela’s candidacy and support her receiving the nomination.
[JK: I received this press release from Connie Woytowich. Her credentials are quite impressive, and her children all attend school in our city]
Like many parents across the Saratoga Springs City School District, I am looking forward to the 2021-2022 school year with a full-time, in-person educational experience for our children that fosters a healthy routine, puts learning at the center of every decision, and highlights the need for community, mental health awareness, respect for others, a safe learning environment, and a sense of love and belonging.
In addition to being a parent and community volunteer, I am a lifelong learner with urban, rural, and suburban teaching and leadership experience at the K-12 level. My extensive network in the educational community in the Capital Region and state are a result of my selection and work as a New York State Master Teacher, former PTA President, and former Camp Invention Director.
I am running for the school board to continue my service to education and our community. The knowledge and skills that I have honed over the past 20 years make me the ideal candidate for handling the critical issues related to instruction, policy, and budget, especially in light of the pandemic. I urge you to take the time to learn more at connieforschoolboard.com , and I would appreciate your vote on May 18th.
According to a Wendy Liberatore story published in the April 13 edition of the Times Union, ex-County Administrator Spencer Hellwig is suing nine Saratoga County Supervisors and the county. Among those named in the suit are Saratoga Springs Supervisors Matthew Veitch and Tara Gaston.
Hellwig’s attorney, however, claims that the supervisors used the issue to “take control over county government and wreak operational havoc on the administrative staff.” And that Hellwig was used as the “fall guy” for the county’s pandemic pay problems.
The courts set a high bar for what constitutes the defamation of a “public figure.”
So first of all, is Spenser Hellwig a “public figure?”
A fairly high threshold of public activity is necessary to elevate people to a public figure status. Typically, they must either be:
* a public figure, a public official or any other person pervasively involved in public affairs, or
* a limited purpose public figure, those who have “thrust themselves to the forefront of particular public controversies in order to influence the resolution of the issues involved.” A “particularized determination” is required to decide whether a person is a limited purpose public figure, which can be variously interpreted:
Assuming Mr. Hellwig is a “public figure” what standard would then have to be met in a defamation suit?
In the context of defamation actions (libel and slander) as well as invasion of privacy, a public figure cannot succeed in a lawsuit on incorrect harmful statements in the United States unless there is proof that the writer or publisher acted with actual malice by knowing the falsity or by reckless disregard for the truth. The legal burden of proof in defamation actions is thus higher in the case of a public figure than in the case of an ordinary person.
I am not a lawyer but as a lay person this would seem a hard suit to prevail in.
Still, Mr. Hellwig is represented by attorney Michael Koenig with the law firm Hinkley Allen. Founded in 1906 this firm has offices across the United States. They are clearly a highly reputable law firm.
The upcoming race for Saratoga Springs County Supervisors is a study in the sad state of local politics. I recently sent questions to the Republican candidates, Matt Veitch and John Safford, and the Democratic candidates, Tara Gaston and Shaun Wiggins, regarding recent events at the Board of Supervisors.
Both events have been covered in earlier posts. One involved the violation of the Open Meetings Law by a committee chaired by Supervisor Tara Gaston. In an earlier email exchange with Supervisor Gaston she dismissed the ruling by the New York State Open Meetings Law that confirmed the violation.
The other involved the hiring of a past chair of the Saratoga County Republican Party to the position of County Administrator. I had FOILed the county for any documents associated with the selection. The only document they provided me was the resolution hiring him. So much for a search for the best candidate.
The only response that I received from the four candidates was from John Safford who is running on the Republican line. I like Mr. Safford. Although I routinely disagree with him, he is refreshingly courteous and direct. You always know where he stands. In this case he defended the county on both issues. I am including his response below.
In contrast, I wrote to his fellow candidates twice, and none of them responded or even acknowledged my emails.
I can understand Supervisor Veitch’s and Supervisor Gaston’s silence. Since they both voted to hire the ex-county Republican chair without doing a search, how could they defend the cronyism associated with this hiring?
What I cannot understand is the silence of Shaun Wiggins who is the other Supervisor candidate on the Democratic line. As he was not involved in either event, one would have hoped he would be critical and inspire support by promising to change things down at the Board of Supervisors. So much for any hope of a champion for change.
There are two more candidates running on the Working Families Party (WFP) line for Supervisor . These two are faux WFP members. The Republican Party directed members of their party to change their registration to the Working Families Party in order to secure that line in the upcoming election.
This kind of manipulation is truly disgraceful. It is meant to fool voters who think they are supporting the progressive agenda of the WFP (Single Payer Health Care, a Green New Deal, etc.) into voting for decidedly more conservative individuals who have no intention of supporting the WFP platform.
I did not send questions to the candidates who will appear on this line and do not plan to contact them as I do not want to offer any credibility to these people.
John Safford’s Answers
According to a FOIL response from the county, the only document associated with the recent hiring of a new county administrator was the Board of Supervisor resolution making the appointment.
While the failure to advertise the position and to establish a public process for hiring was not illegal, the fact that the hiring was not competitive and resulted in the appointment of a past Saratoga County Republican chairman has the unfortunate appearance of cronyism.
I am interested in hearing your thoughts on how this appointment was handled.
As I am engaged in the management of small governments on a day to day basis, I can give an answer to both of your questions from a professional point of view.
The circumstances surrounding the Covid bonus pay incident was a clear indication of the kind of hubris that attends almost all administrations that have attained a level of hegemony and longevity that often blinds the actors to reality. On a state level, the administration of Gov. Cuomo comes to mind. That being said, (and whether or not you think it was transparent) the incident resulted in a decisive action resulting in the removal of a long employed professional manager. Concerning the hiring of a new administrator, I will agree that politics was involved but not necessarily cronyism. Since the entire balance of the Board was thrown out of kilter with the Civid incident, I think the Supervisors needed to act quickly to get someone they knew and trusted on board and I think that is exactly what they did.
I would encourage everyone to help the city update the 2002 Open Space Plan by taking the community survey by April 16th. Information from the city website and a link to the survey are below.
Open Space Survey Released!
For many, access to parks and open spaces are important to their quality of life. Saratoga Springs is working on updating the 2002 Open Space Plan and is asking for your input through a community survey. Survey results will aid the City in updating the 2002 Open Space Plan and establish open space goals for the next five years. The Open Space Plan Update will inventory open spaces; identify special areas for protection, preservation, conservation, parks, active and passive recreation; and establish priorities and potential funding to guide future acquisition and preservation.
Community members can participate in the survey through the link provided on the project website at www.saratogaspringsopenspaces.com. The survey will close on April 16th, 2021. Your participation and voice is important. We look forward to your response!
On March 31 the City Council met to adopt a police reform plan as required by an executive order issued by Governor Andrew Cuomo.
For an hour and a half the public offered spirited comments that ran the gamut from civil but frustrated to unrestrained anger. Some of the public comments were disturbing, and there were several incidents in which members of the public interrupted remarks being made by the City Attorney.
At the center of the conflict was the refusal of the Council to issue a blanket adoption of the 50 proposals coming from the Task Force.
The language in the resolution states:
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the City Council, in accordance with the Saratoga Springs City Charter and Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order No. 203, accepts the identified Task Force recommendations as contained in the enumerated sections of the “Reinvention Plan: Toward a Community Centered Justice Initiative” (A true and complete copy of which is annexed hereto):
The focus of the conflict is over the word “accept.” The advocates for the Reform Task Force want the word “accept” replaced with the phrase “adopt and ratify.”
There are two widely divergent views regarding the Council and the resolution.
The Council saw themselves as in favor of the Task Force recommendations but unwilling to commit to wholesale implementation without in some cases a more careful evaluation and clarification of what would be involved in putting the proposals into effect.
For example, in his remarks to the Council, City Attorney Vince DeLeonardis observed that the recommendation to divert seized criminal assets to non-profits would violate the terms of that program. He also identified elements of the proposed citizen review board that would need to be addressed (video below).
The Task Force And Their Supporters
The supporters of adopting the reform proposals in their entirety exactly as crafted by the Task Force were, to say the very least, suspicious of the intentions behind the resolution. It was clear in their remarks that they saw the language of the resolution as a way to delay and undermine the work of the Task Force.
Social MediaAdds to the Problem
Not surprisingly some recent postings on social media have contributed to the environment of suspicion. With stunning speed an edited version of Commissioner Michele Madigan’s remarks appeared on Facebook that evening following the meeting. At the end of this post is a link to a Facebook page called “Peoples [sic] Voice.” The professionally crafted video alleges that “…members of the city council threatened to use police if protests continue in saratoga.”
I encourage the readers of this blog to view Commissioner Madigan’s comments which are included below to determine for themselves whether she used her remarks to threaten people. For me her remarks were an appeal to work together.
Following are video clips of a few of the people who spoke at the meeting that are meant to give the reader a sense of both the arguments made as well as the tone of the meeting.
These are raw videos. I have not gone through the process of writing a commentary about the accuracy of the statements below. I have previously covered many of the problematic allegations in earlier posts, and City Attorney Vince DeLeonardis addresses others in his remarks which are also included below.