Republican Candidates To Participate In League of Women Voters Forum. Now Will the Democrats Participate in the Saratoga Today Forum?

The local League of Women Voters prematurely advised the press that, with the exception of Commissioner of Public Works Skip Scirocco and county Supervisor Matt Veitch, none of the other Republican endorsed candidates would be participating in their forum.

I say “prematurely” because all of the Republican candidates have notified the League that they plan to participate.

The candidates had missed the League’s deadline for responding, but the League had still encouraged them to participate which they have agreed to do.

Saratoga Today will also be sponsoring a candidate forum. Their deadline for the candidates to respond was September 15. While all Republican and independent candidates have responded, the Democratic candidates have yet to agree to participate. A person in a leadership role on the Democratic Committee assured me that they will attend, but so far nothing has been confirmed. We will have to wait and see if all or any of them participate.

All of the Republican and independent candidates have agreed to participate in both forums.

The followers of this blog know that I have been highly critical of the League. For me, in the past few years, it has squandered its traditional and well earned reputation for scrupulously fair dealings and being above partisanship.

Curiously, in the past when the majority of League members were Republicans, Republican candidates frequently did not participate in League events whereas the Democrats consistently showed up.

The old League would do everything it could to avoid a hint of partisanship. That League would never have gone to the press because they were sensitive that it would be used to embarrass one party and make it that much harder to work with them. Their decision this year to publicize the fact that the Republicans had failed to meet their deadline would never have happened in the past. It also explains the Republicans’ current reticence regarding participation.

The Times Union was happy to write a story alleging that the Republicans would not be participating in the League’s forum. It will be interesting to see whether they now publish a story that the Republicans will in fact be participating, but the Democrats have yet to agree to the Saratoga Today forum.

Prior to the decision by the Republicans to participate, I asked Robin Dalton, who is running as an independent, if she planned to attend the League event. She responded:

My feeling is every debate is an opportunity to tell the voters what I stand for. I don’t care who’s moderating.

Robin Dalton

It is important to note that Democratic candidates Ron Kim (Mayor), Minita Sanghvi (Finance), James Montagnino (Public Safety), and Dillon Moran (Accounts) have also ignored requests from myself and from The Real One Saratoga to address specific policy issues whereas all of the Republican candidates and most of the independents have responded to both requests. The Democrats, with the exception of their Public Works candidate, passed up the opportunity to write unedited answers to questions about important and substantive local issues. In my case it was on the UDO. The Real One Saratoga asked questions on a variety of issues facing the city including development, policing, and taxes. They are publishing the unedited responses of the candidates who replied on their website and Facebook page.

[An explanation regarding the “Real One Saratoga” name and site. This bi-partisan group of individuals had originally planned to name their site “One Saratoga” but Dillon Moran (candidate for Commissioner of Accounts) learning of their plans created another One Saratoga site. His site incorporates unpleasant attacks on this group.]

It is apparent that these four Democrats prefer to limit their social media presence to only those sites that they feel are clearly friendly to them.

I will be posting a link to Real One Saratoga and giving a brief history in a later post. They are asking thoughtful questions to the candidates about substantive issues.

All this runs against the stereotypical myths about Republicans and Democrats.

It is the current slate of Republicans who are willing to engage about issues wherever the opportunity arises.

I would note that I do not agree with some of the positions taken by some of the Republican candidates, but I applaud their willingness to go on the record.

BLM Supporters Denied Access To City Court

On Tuesday, September 23, a policeman stationed at the public access door to city hall denied access to city court to members of Black Lives Matter attempting to attend the hearing for several of their members. Some supporters and family members of those being arraigned had earlier gained entrance to the hearing.

Who instructed the police officer to deny them access and why remains unknown.

A Serious Violation Of Our Justice System

This event is deeply disturbing. Access to our courts is a fundamental right. Only on the rarest of occasions and at the discretion of the presiding judge is the public denied access to a legal proceeding. Trials held in secret are traditionally known as “Star Chambers.”

The Star Chamber’s history goes back to to England in the middle ages. The “star” is a reference to the stars on the ceiling of the room in which it held its trials. According to the website The First Amendment Encyclopedia, King Charles I exploited the court to punish his critics. It was abolished in 1641 by the Long Parliament. This was an important advancement towards a fairer system of justice.

In Richmond Newspapers Inc. v. Virginia (1980), the United States Supreme Court cited the First Amendment to support the right of the public and members of the news media to attend criminal trials.

The transparency of our courts is fundamental to minimize the potential for the abuse of power.

I would ask the readers of this blog to consider how they would feel if they believed that the state was unfairly persecuting someone using the courts and they tried to support that person by attending their hearing only to be turned away.

Whatever criticisms I may have of the local BLM group, their denial of access to city court is an egregious abuse.

Commissioner Robin Dalton Responds

Today I received this press release from Commissioner Dalton:

In conversation with Commissioner Dalton should told me:

I consider the right of access to the courts to be fundamental to our system of justice.  It is my intention to rigorously investigate what happened that morning to determine who is culpable in the decision to deny access.  The determination as to who can attend a court hearing must rest with the courts.

This is not about Black Lives Matter.  It is not about left or right.  It is about protecting our justice system.

The people of this city deserve to know what happened and I am dedicated to providing them with answers.

Commissioner Robin Dalton

Dillon Moran’s Charges of Voter Fraud Crumble Under Scrutiny

On September 13, 2021, Dillon Moran, the Democratic candidate running for Commissioner of Accounts in Saratoga Springs, accused his Republican opponent, Samantha Guerra, of voter fraud. I did some digging into Mr. Moran’s claims, and while I find his accusations of fraud against Ms. Guerra quite dubious, I was reminded of Mr. Moran’s own involvement in creating fraudulent documents used in his 2019 race for Commissioner of Public Works against Skip Scirocco.

In putting together this hit on Ms. Guerra, Mr. Moran and his campaign manager Libby Post have shrewdly exploited the media whose timelines and lack of investigative resources make them, and thus us, easy victims.

The Reveal

On Monday, September 13, 2021, I received a text inviting me to Dillon Moran’s “Town Hall” where, the message informed me, he would discuss “voter fraud challenges this November in Saratoga Springs.”

The text provided a link to attend what appeared to be a virtual event.

I emailed Mr. Moran asking if he could share his information on voter fraud. I also clicked on the invitation text link. The link took me to a website where I answered a series of questions that provided his campaign with my name, email address, telephone number, and home address.

Consistent with my previous experiences with Mr. Moran, I received no acknowledgement of my email request let alone a substantive answer. In addition, in spite of providing him with all my personal information, I was never allowed to participate in his town hall meeting.

What follows is based on press reports along with a Powerpoint presentation he did as part of a press conference he organized.

The Allegation

The Republican candidates circulated petitions to get an additional line on the November ballot. The name of their second line is United Saratoga.

Mr. Moran, who is running for Commissioner of Accounts, alleges that his Republican opponent, Samantha Guerra, forged twenty-five signatures on the United Saratoga petitions.

In support of his allegations he included a number of images comparing some of the signatures on the petitions with the registration signatures maintained at the Saratoga County Board of Elections.

He also included the image from one of the petitions showing a number of entries that appear to be written by the same hand.

According to a story in the Times Union, their reporter interviewed a person named Trudy Gilbert who asserted that the signatures attributed to her and her son were not theirs.

According to the power point presentation, three local citizens (Suzannne Kwasniewski, Al Ormsby, and Mark Pingel) somehow became aware of these problematic documents and submitted a letter on June 10 to Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Hagen alleging that fraud had been committed. The letter, judging from its language, was clearly drafted by the law firm Greenberg Taurig. The letter directs Ms. Hagen to contact two attorneys at the firm should she have any questions. A copy of the letter appears at the end of this post.

The letter requests that not only should the particular twenty-five signatures out of 630 plus be ruled as invalid but that all the petitions, including those circulated by other persons, should be disqualified and all the candidates be denied the United Saratoga ballot line.

A Mistake Is Not Fraud

I spoke to Terry Briscoe whose signature was among those that were alleged to be fraudulent.

Terry explained to me that Samantha Guerra had come to his door asking him to sign her petition. Terry had injured his hand in a bicycle accident. He told me that due to his injury he had difficulty writing on the petition and ended up using block letters. He told me that his wife was in the kitchen, and he asked her if she wanted to sign in support of Ms. Guerra. She said yes, and Terry took it upon himself to write in his wife’s name as well.

Terry told me that sometime in June he was contacted by Dillon Moran regarding the signatures. He explained to Mr. Moran what had transpired.

In spite of this, Terry’s name remained on the list of alleged forgeries in the objection submitted by Mr. Moran’s attorneys.

Here are the two relevant documents. The first page is from Mr. Moran’s attorney’s objection. The second page contains Terry and his wife’s signatures.

As Terry’s wife did not personally sign the petition, her signature could legitimately be subject to disqualification.

While Samantha Guerra was remiss in not catching this error, she would not be the first person to have made mistakes while circulating petitions. No reasonable person would have construed this as a criminal act.

This should have been a wake up call to Mr. Moran that entries like Terry’s and his wife’s are not necessarily “forgeries.”

Readers should take note that the second column heading reads “Name Of The Signer” rather than “Signature of the Signer.” It seems more than possible that people given the petition to sign might have interpreted this as simply requiring them to write their name in a legible manner (block lettering). In fact signatures on petitions are not required to be in cursive.

A Squandered Opportunity To Get At The Truth

New York State election law provides a powerful vehicle for complainants like Mr. Moran and others challenging the legitimacy of petition signatures.

The complainants could have had a hearing in state supreme court way back in June with the right to subpoena witnesses and to question them under oath.

The reader should understand that the courts recognize the critical importance of expeditiously resolving such claims due to the pressing timetables of elections. These cases are not allowed to drag on, and Mr. Moran’s case would have been ruled on in a timely manner.

If Mr. Moran had been in earnest about actually disqualifying the petitions he would have taken this route.

The reader should understand that the District Attorney to whom he submitted his complaint had no authority to disqualify the petitions, but the state supreme court could have.

Why The Inaction For Four Months?

Mr. Moran is not shy. One has to wonder why he waited until now (September 15) to publicly raise this issue. More critically, why did he fail to pursue his allegations which allegedly involve serious criminal behavior for four months?

According to the Foothills Business Daily:

Moran said he did not act over the summer given how much was on the DA’s plate: the city saw a particularly violent time that included many fights and a homocide (SIC).

“I’m allowing her [DA Heggen] the benefit of the doubt,” Moran said, but also said he turned to the press when “The Republican district attorney has sat on it. That’s a problem.”

Foothills Business Daily September 15, 2021

The District Attorney?

Moran said he acted at the behest of counsel who told him to follow the criminal route that involved first sending the letter to the district attorney’s office. 

Foothills Business Review September 15

So according to Moran, his attorneys directed him to write to the District Attorney rather than go to the state supreme court. This begs credulity. Greenburg Taurig is a prestigious international law firm. It is difficult to understand why they would advise their client to squander an opportunity to resolve the issue in an expeditious hearing before the state supreme court in June. They would (should?) have known that the DA would not have the authority to disqualify the petitions.

In addition it is unusual for the DA to initiate an investigation based on a citizen inquiry. While the DA does have some investigative resources, normally actions by her office are triggered by law enforcement organizations or by judges.

Why would Mr. Moran hold a press conference before trying to determine why the DA had taken no action? Why did he not explore other options for pursuing his allegations over all these months such as the Saratoga Springs Police Department or the New York State Police?

The Messy Business Of Circulating Petitions

Anyone who has been associated with the process of collecting petition signatures knows how challenging the process is.

There is a reason that there is a rule of thumb among political operatives regarding how many signatures to gather. That rule is “gather twice as many as the minimum because you need a wide margin due to probable errors.”

It is hard to get signatures. People are not home. They don’t answer their doors. If you solicit signatures on the street you have people who sign who may have a Saratoga Springs address but don’t actually live in the city.

You are not required to see an ID for someone you are soliciting. If you go to a house you don’t always know for sure that the person who is signing is the actual person who is registered there.

There are the basic common disqualifying errors like people who sign more than one petition or who think they are registered in the party they are signing a petition for when they are not.

Mr. Moran in his Town Hall asserted that signatures must be done in a cursive manner rather than with block letters. This is not true.

The Times Union article made a point that the signature for Ms. Gilbert used her nickname whereas her signature on file at the Board of Elections used her formal name. This stuff happens all the time. Some people vary the way they sign their names. Sometimes they use their middle initial and sometimes they don’t.

And of course we have the example of Terry Briscoe signing for his wife.

People make mistakes.

Proof of Point?

Out of over 630 signatures, Mr. Moran claims that twenty-five were “forged.” The Times Union was able to contact one household that asserted the signatures on one petition were not theirs. The Republicans have produced thirteen affidavits of persons who signatures were allegedly forged who reaffirmed that they signed the petition.

Throwing Around The Term Fraud

I am not a handwriting specialist, but it does appear that a number of signatures on some pages of the petition were written by the same hand.

I have no idea what the origins of these signatures are. We know in the case of Terry Briscoe he signed for his wife. Regrettably, Mr. Moran did not pursue his legal option in June to properly call witnesses under oath to find out just what happened.

At the risk of being snarky, the signatures that are alleged to be “forgeries” are not only similar but as they appear consecutively on the petitions the possible problems with them are even more obvious. It is hard to believe that these signatures were the product of some nefarious plot. Surely even the most inept person would make some attempt to make each look different if the intent was to be deceitful and fraudulently enter signatures on the petition.

More likely, some people in good faith erroneously signed the petition for themselves and other family members who agreed to be signatories as well as in the Briscoe case. As noted earlier the petition itself reads only “Name of Signer”.

There is also the obvious fact that the number of undisputed signatures is so great as to make any serious challenge of the petitions pointless. Why would someone resort to forgery when they had many more than the number of signatures they needed anyway?

I do not know and Mr. Moran has not explained this.

I do know that the forgery statute referred to in the letter to the DA specifically requires that a successful prosecution show proof of criminal intent to be successful. Such intent has not been remotely established and the opportunity to establish intent was squandered when Mr. Moran oddly chose not to pursue his investigation in court.

The Bigger Picture

As my lawyer friends often tell me, one never knows how a judge may rule.

In this case we have some forty-one pages of petitions with over six hundred names. The Moran people have identified twenty-five they purport to be forged. In the case of thirteen of those, the signatories have submitted affidavits affirming that they did sign the petitions. Even if we ignore the affidavits, that still leaves over six hundred signatures. The minimum required to get the ballot line is three hundred and thirteen.

Is a judge going to throw out all the petitions and deny the candidates their line on the ballot over these twenty-five signatures?

More importantly, as the issue of the twenty-five challenged signatures seems so marginal as regards the basic validity of the petitions, will a law enforcement organization want to devote their resources to investigate this? As there are explanations like the Terry Briscoe example and no harm was done in the sense that the problematic signatures would have no material impact on other six hundred signatures which far exceed what was required by statute, would this merit an investigation?

An Unflattering Assessment

I offer the following unflattering speculation regarding this business.

Mr. Moran had no real interest to get to the bottom of the problematic signatures. He knew that his opponent had an overwhelming number of signatures so it was not reasonably possible to disqualify enough to invalidate the petitions.

Had he actually gone to court, there was the real possibility that the court would have rejected his claim of “fraud.” Such an outcome would be disastrous to Mr. Moran given the bravura nature of his allegations.

Consistent with this, he did nothing to pursue the alleged crimes for almost four months because he believed the publicity of his sensational accusations would have most impact if he made them just before the election. Waiting would have the added benefit that if in fact the police were to pursue the case, any determination would occur after the election.

Dillon Moran Has His Own Unfortunate History

If you believe I am being too harsh on Mr. Moran, consider his history.

In 2019 Mr. Moran sent out a flyer as part of his campaign to be the Commissioner of Public Works. The flyer included a letter purportedly from the New York State Department of Health. The letter was not from the NYSDH. He had doctored (forged?) it. I wrote about this in a post.

Regarding the copy of the letter in his flyer I wrote:

“In fact this is a fake document created by Mr. Moran’s campaign. The city was not cited with a violation and this document did not originate with the New York State Health Department.”

In 2020 Mr. Moran worked to pass a charter change proposal. As part of his effort, he set up several fake websites meant to confuse people who thought they were accessing the websites of those opposing charter change. Here is a link to my original post.

Standard Procedure For The White Walkers

Mr. Moran is a member of a group I refer to as the white walkers after the HBO series Game of Thrones. This moniker is meant to identify their destructive behavior.

These people often have some valid points but they lack faith in the public to understand their issues so they resort to shrill and overthetop attacks that serve to undermine the credibility of their original points.

Rather than point out the problems with her petitions, Mr. Moran has chosen to try to destroy Samantha Guerra’s reputation. This is part of the narrative that consultant Libby Post has the Democratic candidates pursuing. “Republicans are evil people undermining our democracy so vote for Democrats.”

I prefer to judge my Democrats and Republicans one at a time.


Letter Sent To Saratoga County DA

Past Commissioner of Public Safety Lew Benton Offers Thoughts On Police and Black Lives Matter

[JK: Lew Benton sent me his thoughts on the recent controversies surrounding the police and Black Lives Matter. In his piece he refers to a recent editorial by the Times Union. I share his assessment of this shrill opinion piece. Here is a link to the editorial. Lew served as Commissioner of Public Safety for four terms from 1988 to 1995]


 John
I noted, first with interest and then with concern, the various reactions to Comm. Dalton’s and Assist. Police Chief Catone’s initial characterization of a June 26 early morning fight on Caroline Street and how some of their comments have been interpreted.

Since then, racial tensions have flared as members of Saratoga BLM and the police interact and BLM grievances are aired at City Council meetings and in the press. Time to de-escalate, cool down and divorce personalities from the issues at hand.

And is it valid to conflate – as some have – increased Caroline Street violence with social justice issues and racism and, in so doing, distract from addressing either? If that question is not being asked then perhaps we are just chasing our tails.

Now, just a few days ago, comes news that some participants in a July street protest precipitated by BLM grievances have been arrested. Most of those arrested have been charged with simple disorderly conduct, a violation, for blocking or otherwise interfering with motorists on downtown streets. A few others face misdemeanor charges for alleged conducts that only serve to corrode the movements legitimacy.

Some have already called to question the timing and manner of the arrests, what authority authorized them and why, as reported, warrants, once issued, were not served sooner. But assuming the County DA played a role in the decision to request warrants her office will be responsible for prosecuting the cases. Interestingly, the DA’s and the City Court’s role in all this seems to have escaped the same scrutiny the police and public safety leadership have faced.

It will be interesting and telling to learn how the DA proceeds with this prosecution, if indeed she does. Perhaps the city court might view the entire affair as an opportunity to encourage (require) a mediation that thus far BLM has rejected.

On Friday the Albany Times Union editorial board weighed in.

After hedging their bets with a disclaimer assuring the public that “We are not endorsing the behavior that the people who were arrested are accused of …”, the editorial board launches into a full throated assault on the police, the city’s public safety administration and the city council. Their crimes, according to the editors, include the “selective” abuse of the police power, intimidation and violation of the civil rights of protestors.

Then, for good measure, they call the administration “nasty”, “petty”, “authoritarian” and “unbecoming” before offering up their solution. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the city council had already attempted – apparently unsuccessfully – to broker a mediation and outreach.

While the editorial board’s self-righteous name calling may have given its members some immediate gratification, I doubt it will do much to calm the water or allow for an honest effort at resolution. In the current environment here and elsewhere, name calling seems to be the go to strategy for addressing difficult problems so I guess the TU board can be forgiven for signing on.

Caroline Street

The June Caroline Street brawl, reportedly involving 15 to 20, resulted in the stabbing of a 26 year-old, the discharge of a “ghost” gun and the suggestion of possible “gang” involvement. Serious stuff and fraught with serious consequences, including potential injuries to police officers and bystanders, the risk of escalation, unfounded allegations of police misconduct and the attended risk of municipal liability.

But the June 28 press conference veered into some heavy oncoming traffic. Criminal justice reform, police defunding, a growing public indifference to or hostility toward police, demonstrators demanding racial justice and police reform, and “gang” influences, were referenced as possible contributors to the street violence.

Over the last several years there have been many, many violent incidents on Caroline Street and environs, several resulting in serious injury and, in at least three cases, deaths. The greater community has in large part looked the other way because, I suspect, the episodic violence was contained to a relatively small area and had little impacted most of us.

But the deputy police chief’s June 28 comments gave cause for heightened concern and the need for a corresponding and proportionate response. And the proliferation of gun violence so evident in other cities in our region only adds, I’m sure, to John’s legitimate concern and obvious frustration.

The more recent homicide on Caroline Street only affirms the deputy chief’s concerns.

When the knives and the guns come out, it is long past time to look again at the Caroline Street culture, what real dangers it presents and the untenable position it puts the police and the city in.

Police agencies and local governments are frequently suspected of playing down or suppressing information about the seriousness and risks of such events lest they harm the community’s image or call to question its ability to maintain order and safety.

That didn’t happen on June 28. The deputy chief and the commissioner did not sugar coat the June 26 Caroline Street violence. Rather, they shared the reasons for their increased concern, emphasized the need for a strategic plan to ensure the safety of those drawn to the Caroline Street scene and the role of the entire community in effecting it.

Some heard raciest undertones in their comments and pounced. The central, intended message was lost, or at least subordinated, in the ensuing scrum.

It was legitimate to look to some of these hot buttons as aggravating influences – particularly possible gang activity and hostility toward the police – other references triggered a backlash. The Times Union editorial board deemed some statements so egregious that it called for the deputy chief and the commissioner to resign.

But if every public official and office holder resigned because of an intemperate statement born of frustration and made in the heat of the moment, none would be left to serve and few would be willing to take their place. Conversely, if every news reporter or editorial writer who has gotten a little too far out over their skis in a rush to judgement were required to resign we would have no news outlets.

And in spite of the deputy chief’s temporizing July 14 statement, the local BLM organization staged a demonstration that culminated in several arrests, subsequent police stops, increased tensions and a chaotic city council meeting.

Different City administrations have attempted to keep the lid on the Caroline Street. pressure cooker. Many years ago a 8 PM to 4 AM overlapping special patrol was implemented which, I recall, helped tamp down violent outbreaks.

Other strategies were considered. A public safety initiative to close bars at 2 AM rather than 4 AM was strenuously resisted by bar operators and ultimately dismissed by an indifferent, mulish County Board of Supervisors.

Pre-peak season meetings with the police, bar operators, private security and the SLA, sponsored by public safety, sought to lessen the occasions of violent and other criminal behavior.

I recall riding, over 26 plus years ago, on patrol with then Officer Catone late at night on Caroline Street during the height of the season. Then, as now, the goal was to roll back, calm dicey situations before they got out of hand. What I experienced then was good, ethical policing conducted with discretion, common sense and a cool demeanor.

Still, even a greater police presence designed to deter such street crime begs the more fundamental question of cause and effect.

What really drives the too frequent downtown lawlessness and occasion of violence? Booze, street drug use, diminished inhibition, alcohol fueled bravado, mob mentality, less fear of potential legal and social consequences, simple peer pressure. A “What Happens in Las Vegas, Stays in Las Vegas” mind set.

Add guns to the mix and we gain a better understanding of the deputy chief’s concern. Personal experience informs that a concoction made of booze, street drugs and guns is a recipe for violence. And why would anyone have a legitimate reason to go armed onto Caroline Street if they were just out for a night on the town and some innocent fun?

We rely on the police to protect and serve the community. When they are forced to assume the role of Caroline Street “babysitters” until the clock strikes 4:00 AM and a caravan of drunk drivers leave town, their ability to respond to other needs or emergencies is diminished and the potential to be drawn into a confrontation increases.

It is essential that, as John Catone urged, we help define and support a community based plan to meet growing violent downtown episodes. Following the summer when the city has benefit of this season’s experience, the type and number of incidents compared to past years and knowledge of any changing influences driving outbreaks of violence, would seem the best time to develop such a plan.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Police find themselves between a rock and a hard place.

The many high profile police killings of Black men and women and some responses to BLM demonstrations around the country allow (encourage) many to paint all police with the same brush, a stereotyping of the many because of the sins of the relatively few.

We seek out evidence to affirm acquired bias and then apply it to an entire class. A Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, murders a Black man, and all police officers are compromised, their actions questioned and their motives suspect.

Negative stereotypes cut both ways and die hard and too many bad police, poor policing practices and failure to cull racism from the ranks in many police departments across the nation only give them more credence.

And some of the so-called tough on crime, law and order political crowd have attacked the police from a different angle. They assail, for example, their response to the January mob assault on the US Capitol, by labeling insurrectionists and common thugs “Patriots.”

A Georgia congressman refuses to shake the hand of a Metro DC police officer who fought to protect the House Chamber. And the former president who instigated the attack continues to condone and even praise those who assaulted the police that day.

Many in that crowd taunted and hurled racist epithets at Black members of the Capital Police.

How can such stereotyping of police because of incidents of unjustified deadly force and racial profiling on one hand, and right wing instigated and condoned attacks on them on the other, not make policing a Caroline Street environment or a BLM demonstration more difficult and potentially more dangerous. Or, as on the evening of July 14, how does a demonstration seemingly designed and intended to bait the police and draw them into a confrontation do anything other than further already hardened opposing positions?

Of the demonstration John Kaufman wrote:

“The announced purpose of the July 14, 2021, protest was to secure an apology from Assistant Police Chief John Catone for some unfortunate remarks he made at a press conference on June 28. His conciliatory statement issued on July 14 was deemed insufficient by the leaders of Black Lives Matter. I don’t think anyone expected Catone to actually issue an apology. The ostensible goal of the demonstration was then to educate the public regarding Catone’s original remarks in order to show proof that the Saratoga Springs Police Department is a racist institution.”

I know John Catone. He is not a racist. Calling or suggesting an institution or its leadership is “racist” does not make it so.

The Question of Racism in Saratoga Springs

Let’s face reality. Saratoga Springs has never been immune to bigotry, discrimination, racism or anti-Semitism anymore than any other community has.

Some of the more blatant examples made national headlines while others were deemed so common place as to be accepted without objection.

After Henry Hilton took over the management of the Grand Union Hotel he refused Joseph Seligman, who had masterminded the plan to refinance the nation’s Civil War debt, a room because he was a Jew. Hilton’s act to bar Seligman and his family became a national cause celebre, the most public anti-Semitic incident in America up to then.

Said Hilton, “As the law permits a man to use his property as he pleases, I propose exercising this blessed privilege, notwithstanding Moses and all his descendants object.” Headlined the “New York Times”: “A SENSATION AT SARATOGA. NEW RULES FOR THE GRAND UNION. NO JEWS TO BE ADMITTED. MR. SELIGMAN, THE BANKER, AND HIS FAMILY SENT AWAY.” Thus this place became synonymous with American anti-Semitism.

In 1942. Yaddo elected to admit African American artists and writers for the first time. Among them is Langston Hughes. Saratoga Springs, by then a city, still had racially segregated accommodations, including the New Worden hotel whose bar was a favorite Yaddo watering hole.

Hughes – already a published novelist, poet and playwright – had written “Let America Be America Again” four years earlier – so it was more than ironic that Yaddo executive director Elizabeth Ames deemed it necessary to seek assurances that Hughes would be permitted in the Worden bar. Here is the October 16, 1942 response she received from the Worden’s proprietor:

Dear Miss Ames,

Replying to yours of the 15th, I do not object to Langston Hughes, the colored writer coming in our bar as long as he is in the company from someone else from Yaddo.

Cordially yours,

Edward C. Sweeny

Much more recently, then Commissioner of Public Safety Ron Kim, whose physician father is a Korean-American, was the target of racial epithets anonymously published online in the “Saratogian” during a re-election campaign.

Ron publicly protested. The then publisher of the “Saratogian” said he was “… distressed that a candidate would not address an issue (privately) before going to the media…” The then editor, in more measured response, wrote that the racial slurs were “… offensive…” and she “…did not want such comments associated with the Saratogian.” Still, they were deemed acceptable for publication. A tepid response to what demanded an aggressive condemnation.

Today, of course, it is illegal to bar a Jew from a Grand Union or an African American from a New Worden bar. But it’s not illegal to be an anonymous racist or political operative who, emboldened by the internet, can hit and run without fear of retribution or sanction.

Then there is a more subtle racism hidden behind allegations of “reverse discrimination.” Case in point.

In 1989, I began a process designed to encourage more minorities and women to compete for appointment to the City’s fire and police services. At that time there were members of the community who believed, incorrectly I thought, that non-white candidates were unlikely to be appointed.

We set out by re-tooling the Civil Service test announcements, distributing them widely throughout the City, and offering pre-test orientation and other enticements. This was done through a committee I appointed made of the City Civil Service executive, the League of Women Voters, representatives of the police and fire services and a representative of the NAACP. The local press was supportive and profiled the initiative.

Some members of the city’s political class suggested it was not a politically savvy move but the leadership of the police department supported the effort and I never heard a word of protest from the ranks.

But in 1997, an action was brought against me alleging reverse discrimination. The action was ultimately dismissed but only after bumbled initial steps by the NYS Division of Human Rights and a protracted fight to defend our position and the right to actively recruit minorities.

These examples underscore past racism and discrimination here in Saratoga Springs that needs to be known and understood. That is not the role of the police but rather the obligation of the entire community including our schools, faith communities and government.

Robert Peel, the British Prime Minister who established the modern London Metropolitan Police, identified nine principles of “ethical” policing, including this:

“To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”

Yes, police must be held to a high standard and evidence of racial bias must be disqualifying. But for many years now perspective appointees to the Saratoga Springs Police Department have been subjected to psychological examination, background investigation, interviews and even polygraph testing before appointment.

So we acknowledge that it is our duty to support the police as our representatives in promoting the welfare of the community but it should also be our duty to call out and fight against racism whenever and wherever we see it.

Perhaps we should demand that this year’s crop of city council candidates outline specific actions they would take to seek to address street violence, promote racial peace and justice and bring the best motivated, culturally and racially aware candidates into the police department. So far few have offered more than pious fluff.

Lew
09/13/2021

Police Make More Arrests;Elz Figuereo Balks at Mediation

The Saratoga Springs Police Department posted the document below announcing additional arrests of Jamaica Miles and Alex Patterson.

Press Conference

Leaders of the local Black Lives Matter group and the Capital District Group, All of Us, held a press conference today (September 9, 2021) on the steps of city hall to address the arrests.

From left to right:

Chandler Hickenbottom

Jamaica Miles

Alex Patterson

Lexis Figuereo

Samira Sangare

The press conference began with Jamaica Miles reading from a statement alleging that the arrests of members of her group were part of a campaign by the police and the city government to suppress their movement.

Lexis Figuereo alleged that he was pulled over by the police for having an air freshener hanging from his rear view mirror before being arrested on an outstanding warrant related to his alleged role in blocking a car at the July 14, 2021, demonstration and his alleged role in disrupting City Council meetings.

Jamaica Miles asserted that the police action was an effort to deny her group’s first amendment rights. Figuereo’s sister Chandler Hickenbottom told the media that the arrest of herself and three other women outside the city’s police department was an example of why she and other people of color fear the police. She particularly noted that the arrest of Gabrielle Elliot in the presence of her children was a trauma that will stay with them the rest of their lives. She described the trauma of her arrest which involved being placed alone in a cell for four hours. She told the media that the police had arrested them to shut them up but that her arrest would have the opposite effect and that it would only motivate her more. She told the media that the arrests will serve to motivate others as well.

Someone from the media asked Jamaica Miles why she thought the police had posted on the police Facebook page video from the July 14 demonstration. She responded, “We don’t know for sure what they’re doing and we’re not going to make comments on their investigation.”

Lexis Figuereo condemned the City Council for appropriating $35,000 to hire facilitators for the proposed mediation with BLM. “I am never going to agree to a thirty thousand dollar meeting. You’re insane.” He asserted that this money would be better spent on services to help people. He objected to the fact that he and his group had not been involved in the selection of the mediator. He told the media that he would need a phone call from the city before anything could go forward. He noted that Commissioner Michele Madigan had called him last week but that he did not have the time to speak to her then. He told those present that BLM had added to their demands that all the charges be dropped for all those arrested for the protests in the Capital District. Figuereo and Miles also added a demand that all the attacks on the Black Lives Matter end.

The speakers all complained that they were denied facemasks when they were in custody.

The Arrest And The Baby Carriage

The press conference condemned the police for traumatizing the children of Gabrielle Elliot by arresting her in front of them. The children’s father is Lexis Figuereo.

Assuming that Ms. Elliot did throw a bottle at the police as is alleged, the police might have put off arresting her in light of the presence of children. I temper this speculation because I wasn’t there. Throwing a projectile at the police suggests a level of aggression that might have required a strong response

It seems equally appropriate to assess Ms. Elliot’s behavior in this matter. If she did hurl a bottle at the police with her children present it was beyond reckless. One has to ask the classic “What was she thinking?”

She also contributed to the trauma of her children by resisting arrest in front of them.

Just as the police might have considered delaying the arrest, Ms. Elliot could have protected her children from trauma by:

  1. asking the children’s grandmother who was present to take care of them
  2. agreeing to go peacefully with the police.
  3. reassuring her children that everything would be ok and she would see them later.

Instead, Ms. Elliot grabbed the children’s stroller in her effort to resist the police. The turbulence of the struggle could only have made a troubling situation into a very scary one.

Commissioner Madigan Formally Responds On Issue of Mediation

Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan issued a press release in response to Mr. Figuereo’s remarks at the press conference regarding proposed mediation. She indicated that for mediation between the city and BLM to be productive required the assistance of a professional mediator. She indicated her willingness to discuss the issue but made clear that without a professional mediator there could be no engagement between the city and BLM.

If Mr. Figuereo holds to his position that he will not agree to participate in mediation with a paid facilitator then it would appear Commissioner Madigan’s efforts will be in vain.

The Poverty Of The Press Covering The Press Conference

Those speaking at the press conference repeated over and over that the arrests were meant to intimidate and silence the Black Lives Matter group. They went on at length that the police and city were systematically using their power to deny BLM their first amendment rights (Freedom of Speech).

At root, the assumption of Jamaica Miles, Lexis Figuereo, and the other presenters was they had been falsely arrested in the city’s attempt to silence them. The obvious question, that for whatever reason none of the media asked, was did they block traffic and/or did they disrupt the City Council meetings even after being directed by the police to stop interfering with the Council’s deliberations?

The police may very well have resorted to the approach of arrests rather than summonses in order to discourage further illegal actions by BLM. The city has tolerated repeated demonstrations with minimal arrests for over a year.

It was instructive that when a member of the media at the press conference asked why the police department had put up videos from the July 14 demonstration, Jamaica Miles responded that they were not going to comment on the videos.

Those videos document the blocking of a car during the demo whose driver repeatedly told the demonstrators that he had a heart condition and needed to be allowed to proceed. It is not surprising that Ms. Miles did not want to address the videos because to do so would have required acknowledging that members of her group had broken the law.

It is most unfortunate that the reporter who asked this question did not follow up with the issue of BLM culpability.

The BLM people may legitimately speculate on the timing of the arrests. They may speculate on why the city chose to arrest those charged with disorderly conduct rather than issue a summons to appear in court. But for the media to let them go on at length that there was no basis for arresting them other than to intimidate and silence them without asking about the events for which there is ample video documentation is hard to understand. See the following videos.


Police Videos From July 14 Demonstration

The grey Lexus is apparently the vehicle whose blocking is the basis for many of the arrests.

Update On September 7 BLM Arrests

Below is a release from the Police Department regarding Tuesday’s (9/7/21) arrests. My understanding is that a disorderly conduct charge is a violation and rarely involves jail time. I am also told that the charges against Molly Dunn and Gabriel Eliot, which are misdemeanors, can involve serious jail time.

A Grim Business

I find this entire business very sad. As a veteran of social justice movements for decades I have seen this kind of thing before. The BLM people feel a profound self righteousness. Imbued with their passion for social justice they feed off each others’ anger. They believe that because they are fighting the evil of racism and because their actions are peaceful, in that they do not involve physically assaulting others, that any resistance to their efforts has its roots in racism and authoritarianism. This only inflames their anger further.

They simply filter out the fact that they are breaking the law by obstructing traffic and ignoring directives from the police. It should come as no surprise then that they are enraged when they are subject to arrest for these actions. The arrests serve only to further reenforce their rage and frustration against what they see as a government bent on silencing them.

They also experience a sense of community in this kind of struggle. Given how alienated many of these folks feel these collective actions generate a much enjoyed sense of brother/sisterhood.

Still, the sense of empowerment they experience is fragile. The image of a woman screaming epithets at the glass doors of city hall at the police officers inside who are unresponsive is an image that stays with me.

The undisciplined nature of the BLM actions invites disaster. So far, no one has been seriously hurt. I expect that even the more serious misdemeanors will probably be reduced as they work their way through the courts.

I know that there will be those who celebrate these arrests. I knew that sooner or later there would be arrests and while I think the arrests were justified, I am not celebrating.

The City Council has appropriated $22,340.00 to engage Dynamic Communications Training, whose offices are on Caroline Street, to act as mediators between the City Council and Black Lives Matter.

Saratoga Springs Police Make Arrests Growing Out of July 14 Demonstrations and Events At City Hall

Multiple arrests were made today (September 7, 2021) of persons associated with the local Black Lives Matter group. I do not have the details but I have confirmation that Lexis Figuereo was among those arrested.

Some of the arrests occurred earlier today and some this evening at an entrance to City Hall. In the video above an unnamed woman is arrested at the Lake Avenue entrance to City Hall.

I expect to have more details tomorrow.

To Engage or Not Engage? Most Democratic Candidates Decline

I sent emails out to the City Council candidates appearing on the Democratic, Republican, and independent ballot lines asking them to respond to a question on the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). All of the candidates on the Republican line and two candidates running on their own line, the Saratoga Strong line, responded. Only one candidate running on the Democratic line submitted a response to my request.

Why It Was Important To Respond

I cannot overemphasize the impact that the UDO will have on our city. Its scope is breathtaking. The UDO will determine what kind of development will be allowed in the greenbelt. It will decide how tall our buildings will be downtown. It will determine the size and number of parking spaces required for residential and commercial properties. It will determine how much buffering for our streams and wetlands will be required to protect our watershed. I could go on but these provide some sense as to just how broad and important this document will be for the future of our city.

I was interested in knowing what the various candidates running for city offices thought about the proposals in the UDO.

Given the scope of the document, however, I thought I could get a sense of where the candidates were coming from if I just asked them to focus on the advisory opinion on the UDO recently issued by the Planning Board. This opinion given to the City Council is fairly brief and easily understood.

I thought this would provide some important insights into the candidates. It would show:

  1. How informed they are about major city issues.
  2. What their position is on some controversial questions.
  3. How articulate and thoughtful they are.

Revealing Answers That Are Troubling

The answers of those who responded are brief and revealing. In some cases the responses are sufficiently bland and vague that it does not appear the authors actually read the Planning Board’s advisory opinion. In others the authors carefully avoided the most contentious recommendations from the Planning Board. There were also a number of responses that demonstrated both a grasp of what the Planning Board recommended and a refreshing willingness to address the full scope of the advisory opinion.

I plan to address the responses below in a later post but for now I leave it to my readers to do their own assessments.

It is most unfortunate that the four Democratic candidates chose not to answer at all. This continues a disturbing trend where candidates for office and elected officials refuse to engage others that differ with them and instead limit their public comments to venues that they themselves control. It makes a mockery of protestations of transparency. If your ideas are sound you should not fear directly dealing with your opponents.

The Candidates’ Responses:

Ron Kim (D) Mayor

No response

Dillon Moran (D) Commissioner of Accounts

No Response

Minita Sanghvi (D) Commissioner of Finance

No Response

James Montagnino (D) Commissioner of Public Safety

No response

Angela Rella (The Accountability Party) Commissioner of Accounts

No Response

Domenique Yermolayev (D) Commissioner of Public Works

[JK: Correction Re Ms. Yermolayev’s comments. Longfellows restaurant/hotel is not located next to Saratoga National Golf Course. The restaurant and hotel are part of a massive Planned Unit Development that was approved back in 1981 and that also includes the Interlaken and Regatta View subdivisions. Subsequent to that project a later City Council included in the regulations for the Rural Residential District (RR = Greenbelt) that PUDs would no longer be allowed in the greenbelt.]


Heidi Owen West (R) Mayor

Since my decision to run for Mayor, I have been following the progress of the UDO and have paid close attention to the discussions of the Council during the recent workshops.

When I initially read the Planning Board’s advisory opinion, I was impressed that, except for four inconsistencies, the board determined that the UDO is compatible with the Comprehensive Plan.  In my opinion, translating the vision from the Comprehensive Plan into law via the zoning ordinance, and combining it with other key City planning documents, is an enormous undertaking.  It seems to me that the City’s staff and its consultants have generally accomplished this task, and the four issues that must be addressed for compliance seem reasonably straightforward to correct.

My general assessment is that this version of the UDO is very close to meeting the original objectives.  Based on the workshops held by the council it appears that the major concerns raised by the Planning Board and the Design Review Commission for further sustainability and protection measures will be incorporated into the final document. 

In discussions with constituents and other business owners, all of whom care about Saratoga Springs, I have heard concerns that the UDO does not go far enough to protect our Greenbelt, and I’ve also heard complaints that the new requirements and board reviews discourage development and increase costs to build in Saratoga Springs.  Based on my limited knowledge, there appears to be a balance needed here.

The following are the four specific inconsistencies identified by the Planning Board and their recommended actions:

  1. Incorporating appropriate density limits in the GCR district for residential uses
  2. Re-zoning two parcels on the east side of Marion Avenue to align with the Comprehensive Plan’s future land use designation;
  3. Establishing design standards for the GCR zoning district in the vicinity of the State Park to better reflect the Specialty Mixed Use-Park designation in the Comprehensive Plan; and
  4. Requiring a conservation analysis for all site plan and special use permit applications for development in the SR and RR zoning districts.

These changes all seem well thought out and based on the videos of the workshops they appear to enjoy a consensus at the council.  Once the final draft is adopted there will be a series of public hearings.  At this point I support the council’s deliberations but I reserve judgement until the public has been heard.

Greenbelt: 

I have been a longtime proponent of protecting the greenbelt and Saratoga Spring’s “City in the Country” character. It’s a large part of what makes our city and the surrounding area special. 

I’m in favor of the planning board recommendations and revisions that “clubhouse” not be added to the list of approved uses and that the standards for Country Club, Greenhouse/Nursery and Marina be more clearly defined to ensure their uses are consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. It’s important to establish clear definitions for use to avoid any misinterpretations in the future. 

John, I am sure you recognize that land use is a complex process. After time in office, I expect to become much more aware of how to achieve the balance between improving the city’s downtown development with quality projects, while still protecting our greenspace.

Skip Scirocco (R) Commissioner of Public Works

The city’s Planning Board advisory opinion regarding the UDO made a series of recommendations, most of which would amend the UDO to better protect the rural parts of the city from the kind of development that would undermine its “green” character.  I think they have done an excellent job and I support their approach.

The Rural Gateway

The southern gateway to the city that runs along route 9 has suffered for decades from unattractive, aging structures.  The Planning Board generally supports the UDO’s effort to encourage development that would enhance the experience of entering our city.

They note that the “rural” part of the title (GDR) should be respected.  The current zoning involves strips of narrow land interspersed between sections of the state park along Route 9.  Given the extensive wetlands that are part of this zoning, in order to make any kind of development possible, the depths of strips may have to be increased.

I am agreeable to allowing for this expansion but it must be done in a manner that respects the rural factor.  Most important, we need to establish rigorous design standards for what fronts on Route 9.  The hotel recently approved and built along route 9 is entirely out of keeping with what most people would consider rural.  Without rigorous design standards the city could end up with an even uglier entrance than we have now.

Approved Uses For The GDR

The UDO lists approximately fifty-five uses for what can be constructed in the rural gateway (GDR).  The Planning Board advisory opinion recommends that all but twenty allowed uses be removed from the UDO. 

Conserving Greenspace

The city currently requires that before calculating how many structures can be built on a parcel in the greenbelt, certain wetlands, slopes, and other land features must be removed from the calculation.  So if a parcel has four acres of which two are wetland, the calculation for what can be built is based on only two acres.

Currently the requirement for this kind of calculation is limited in the greenbelt to subdivisions.  The Planning Board would like this requirement extended to all projects that require site plans and special use permits.  I think this is an important enhancement to the UDO.

Tightening Up Definitions

The Planning Board advisory opinion included the following: 

“The Planning Board recommends revisions to the definitions and standards for ‘country club’, ‘greenhouse/nursery’ and ‘marina’ to ensure that these potentially intensive existing uses are consistent with the CDD designation going forward.”

“Country Club: The proposed definition in the UDO is too broad and the last portion of the sentence – “and/or similar uses” – should be removed.”

“Greenhouse/Nursery: The proposed definition should reflect a design standard for a small-scale plant/flower propagation center similar in character to Balet Flowers and Design.”

“Marina: The standard design and layout of a typical marina may need to be modified within the RR zone (CDD area) in areas that abut public land and where nature trails and protected open space is envisioned.”

All of this has my support.

Defining A Club House

My colleague, Michele Madigan, asked the Planning Board to consider adding a “club house” as an allowed use in the greenbelt.

The Planning Board responded as follows:

“Introducing additional uses such as banquet facilities, business center, lodging for up to 100 rooms and up to 6 free standing golf lodges, containing up to 8 guest rooms with associated common space” presents a significant risk to preserving the rural character in the ‘country’ part of the city. It should be noted that ‘Clubhouse’ as a distinct use is not proposed for inclusion in the UDO and the Planning Board sees no compelling reason to establish a definition for such use.

I support the Planning Board on this issue.

JoAnne Kiernan (R) Commissioner of Finance

Thank you for your invitation to respond to the question you have posed to the candidates as follows: “The city’s Planning Board issued an advisory opinion regarding the most recent draft of the UDO.  What is your reaction to their opinion?  Please be as specific as possible.”

From my perspective, decisions involving the Comprehensive Plan and the City’s Zoning Ordinance are among the most important decisions considered by the City Council under our Charter.  The Council enacted an update to the Comprehensive Plan in June 2015 following roughly 18 months of study by a Comprehensive Plan Committee.  The Council then retained a local planning firm to assist it in the development of a Unified Development Ordinance (“UDO”). In all, it has been just over six years since the City Council embarked on the drafting of the UDO with consultants.

Working with the City’s planning staff, Camiros (the consultants) published its third (and final) draft in April 2021.  That draft is just over 275 pages in length and it includes a number of exhibits that supplement the draft. 

The Planning Board has participated in the review of all three drafts presented by Camiros during the multiple public presentations over the past two years.  Most recently, the Planning Board adopted a resolution incorporating an Advisory Opinion (April 2021 draft) as per the request of the City Council.  That resolution provided a relatively narrow scope of recommendations to the Council which were considered by the Council during the four public workshops conducted this month. 

I must give credit to the City Council members who have served over the last six years and devoted an enormous number of hours to the re-write of the Zoning Ordinance.  The Council’s work has resulted in the preparation of a document that incorporates subdivision regulations and other planning documents into a single document – the unified development ordinance.  It has been an enormous undertaking and I am grateful to the Council for getting to this point where the current draft can be circulated for public review prior to the public hearings that will be scheduled by the Council this fall. 

The City is also indebted to the Planning Board who over the past six years has received updates on all three drafts of the UDO and provided meaningful feedback to the consultants and planning staff.  I know that some members of the public are not aware of the many, many hours Planning Board members devote to the broad responsibilities under their charge.  We are fortunate to have such dedicated citizens willing to devote long hours solely in the public interest.

The Planning Board’s advisory opinion to Council recommended correcting conflicting information between the comprehensive plan and UDO and changes to ensure the rural area is protected and better energy and sustainability standards. 

The council has worked to incorporate most of the PB recommendations into the current version of the UDO.  Protection of the rural areas  is very important and that was evident from the conversations and decisions that were made. The current UDO aligns with the comprehensive plan regarding energy and sustainability. The recommendations put forward by the PB offer further steps for ensuring energy and sustainability. While all of the proposed energy and sustainability recommendations may not be incorporated into this current version, they are future opportunities for additional enhancements and should be reviewed regularly to see how and when they can be added.

I am aware that there is a long history in our City of vigorous debate before the Council on matters related to zoning.  I expect such will be the case if I am elected Commissioner of Finance.  If I were to hold that office, I would seek to obtain the most accurate information available and weigh the facts before me to balance the interests of the individual property owners against the interests of the City as a whole.   There is no magic formula that can be applied to this balancing test.  Ultimately, it is a matter of the sound exercise of judgment by those five individuals on the Council responsible for the decision. 

My background as a CPA causes me to do whatever is necessary and appropriate to gain the complete information necessary to make a fair and reasoned decision for all Saratogians. 

Tracey LaBelle (R) Commissioner of Public Safety

“First and foremost, I LOVE OUR CITY.  I truly appreciate and will forever be grateful for the beautiful city I was born in and will raise my children in. The greenbelt is extremely important in preserving our historic- wonderful city.

As a lifelong Saratogian, I am intatmatley aware of the importance of preserving our historic green spaces and landmarks. As Commissioner of Public Safety, I will do everything in my power to keep this city as beautiful and as green as possible, while taking into account the various and diverse interests that make up our community.”

Please let me know if you have any questions.

All the best,

Tracey

Samantha Guerra (R) Commissioner of Accounts

As you may know, this is my first run for public office, and I am enjoying many aspects of being a candidate for Commissioner of Accounts.  Among the things that has presented the biggest challenge for me is the UDO process.  The document is long and very technical.  That said, I recognize the importance of the components of a new Zoning Ordinance for our City and the need for all candidates to become well versed in the basics of the document.  I pledge to do that.

​Your email asks us to provide comment on the Planning Board’s Advisory Opinion issued earlier this month.  That Opinion addresses a broad scope of issues.  This email will address several. 

1. I agree that density limitations are appropriate for residential projects along South Broadway.  For mixed use projects, I’m inclined to follow the methodology used in the transect zones.

2. I concur with the resolution discussed by the City Council at its recent workshop pertaining to the proposed change for the lands near Marion Avenue.  

3. I disagree with the conclusion reached by the Planning Board in its discussion of the Specialty Mixed Use-Park (SP).  The Board’s recommendation for the uses that are appropriate eliminates roughly 60% of the proposed uses,including nearly all of the residential uses as well as restaurants, hotels, and retail.  In support of its recommendation the Board selectively quotes the provision from the Comprehensive Plan (page 59) that “allows for a mix of commercial and residential uses…”  I concur with the recommendations of the City’s consultant and Planning Department that the uses identified in Article 8 of the UDO are appropriate and should remain.

4. I agree with the recommendation that a conservation analysis should be included for subdivisions as well as site plan and special use permit applications.  

5. I agree that the City’s Sustainability Coordinator and the Open Space Advisory Committee as well as the City’s Administrator of Planning and Economic Development should be consulted by the Planning Board when the Planning Board concludes that it is appropriate to do so. 

6. On the question on energy and sustainability, I agree that the City should encourage applicants on the four bulleted points.  The mandatory nature of the proposal in the advisory opinion, without the corresponding cost implications, is premature.

7. I would recommend that the Administrator of Planning and Economic Development be included in the list from which the Planning Board is encouraged to seek advisory opinions.  

8. The “process” recommendations set forth at the foot of page 4 and the top of page 5 are matters with which I am not currently familiar.  Additional research would be needed to provide an informed opinion on these items.

9. I am not persuaded that the “Just Cats” approval on South Broadway resolves the question of the need for zoning changes along South Broadway.  I concur with the resolution recently reached by the City Council to expand the GC-R District at the south end of South Broadway to 600 feet.  

10. I am not adequately prepared to offer an opinion on Commissioner Madigan’s request on the “clubhouse” definition issue, but I understand the Council has resolved that issue at a recent workshop.  

​Should I serve as the City’s Commissioner of Accounts, I will endeavor to provide a balanced approach to zoning and land use issues while taking into account the needs of the City as well as the rights of individual property owners.  The term “balanced approach” is difficult to define, but I am cautious in expanding zoning regulations that make it more difficult or expensive for homeowners and other citizens to seek relief from our land use boards.  

Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts on your blog.

Samantha Guerra

Robin Dalton (Saratoga Strong Party) Mayor

Basically, I support the points made in the Planning Board’s advisory opinion. 

There are uses allowed by the UDO that in and of themselves could be acceptable but history has demonstrated that without clear definitions and design requirements they can become potential threats to the rural character of the greenbelt. 

The marina is a prime example.  The Planning Board offered that the definition for a marina needed more work.  A marina that is simply a well designed and modest set of docks and launches that serve local boat owners could be an asset to the outer district.  A marina that includes a restaurant and that offers a fleet of boats for hire could take on a scale and character that is entirely inconsistent with the goal of maintaining the country part of the city in the country.

Saratoga National Golf Course is an asset to this city but expanding it to include a potential hotel and condos as well as additional retail would compromise the rural low intensity usage that is at the core of the greenbelt.

I like the recommendation that a conservation analysis should be done for all projects requiring site review rather than just subdivisions.  This would better serve to protect what green space remains in the greenbelt.

The Council has a lot of work on its hands to address all of this and while the adoption of the UDO is an enormously important step, it is not an end.  The city will continue to evolve and the zoning and design standards will be ongoing well beyond the UDO’s adoption.  As mayor I think I can play an important role in realizing our community’s goal of being a city in the country.

Adam Israel (Saratoga Strong Party) Commissioner of Finance


Saratoga Springs has devoted more than 5 years and countless resources in developing its Unified Development Ordinance (UDO).  Multiple experts including city employee’s and outside consultants have contributed to its formation.  I respect our sitting Planning Board and their advisory opinion.  I also respect the opinions of the various experts who have helped to form our UDO.   I understand the impact this ordinance will have on shaping our city’s future, and appreciate all the work that went into forming the current UDO.   

Warm Regards,

Adam W. Israel

Candidate for Commissioner of Finance

Scott Presler Frozen Out Of Yet A Third Venue

According to the Times Union, Scott Presler has lost yet another venue to speak at.

For those not familiar with Mr. Presler’s schtick, a commenter on this blog who signs herself as “Mulligan” offered this link to one of his speeches:

The Upstate Conservative Union had hoped to host him at the American Tactical System which is a private shooting range open to the pubic. The TU offered no reason for the cancelation.

In an overwrought statement on its website, the Upstate Conservative Union wrote:

“Once again, the socialist country we now find ourselves living in has threatened to use their regulatory powers to attack our Freedom of Speech Rights and our Economic Rights of Free Enterprise,” the group’s website announced. “Our freedoms are under attack. Please stay vigilant and steadfast as we will find an alternate location in the near future.”

UCU

Presler was previously scheduled to speak at a building owned by the Saratoga-Wilton Elks who, upon learning about Mr. Presler, issued a press release declining to allow him the use of their facility.

As far as a I know, the Elks do not consider themselves a socialist organization.

No Cancel Culture

I sympathize with institutions that do not wish to be associated with Mr. Presler’s xenophobia. I think it is telling that the original venue for Mr. Presler was a rally put on by the Saratoga County Republican Party. In contrast to the Elks our local county party chose to claim that Presler was a COVID risk and was careful not to disassociate themselves from him.

As the Saratoga County Republican Party apparently does not plan to reschedule a visit by Mr. Presler, it appears to me that they have caved into the public outcry over Mr. Presler. Apparently they have set an unfortunate example of “cancel culture.”

As the readers of this blog may remember, I consider myself a socialist. It may come as a surprise to the Upstate Conservative Union but socialists like me believe that Mr. Presler should be able to speak in our county. We believe in the power of our own arguments and welcome the opportunity to challenge the dubious arguments put out by people like Mr. Presler.

I hope the Upstate Conservative Union can find a venue for him. Judging by the video excerpt above, aside from the problematic substance of his remarks, with his ultra long hair there is a rather creepy, “new age” quality to his presentation. I have every confidence in the people of our county that most will reject his hateful ideology if they have the opportunity to hear him.

In their statement the Upstate Conservative Union alleges that some unnamed group in our country has “threatened to use their regulatory powers to attack our Freedom of Speech Rights and our Economic Rights of Free Enterprise.”

I invite the Union to be a guest author on this blog to share with this blog’s readers what “regulatory powers” are being employed to deny Mr. Presler the right to speak.

A Bit of Satire

I received the following from someone who uses the nom de plume, Publius:

***********************

Count me among those bitterly disappointed that the Scott Presler “Rally and Voter Registration Drive”, scheduled to be held on August 25, was cancelled.

According to a co-host of the event, the cancellation was necessitated by Mr. Presler’s potential exposure to the COVID 19 virus. We pray for his well being.

Now comes the sad news that a re-scheduled appearance of Mr. Presler to have been hosted by the Upstate Conservative Coalition has also been cancelled. Disappointed, I say, because I was so looking forward to meeting a true “American Patriot.” There seems to be a dearth of real Patriots these days and so when I learned that Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, along with the RISE Political Action Committee, had lent her considerable prestige to the Rally I
instinctively knew that it was not to be missed.

Perhaps, I thought, I should bring my grandchildren along so one day they could look back and share the experience with their children. Adding to the the excitement was the full on participation of the RISE Political Action Committee. All of this only added to my disconsolateness when I learned that it was not to
be.

Still, I was initially puzzled by the good congresswoman’s characterization of Mr. Presler as an “American Patriot.” Wasn’t that redundant? I assumed that Mr. Presler was an American, so why did the congresswoman, a Harvard alumna and undoubtedly an accomplished Anglicist, use the adjective
“American” to modify “Patriot”?

I became perplexed. Then the epiphany! I had sold her too short. By linking the two words Ms. Stefanik wasn’t being supererogatory but was rather giving Mr. Presler a special designation in the Stop the Steal hierarchy. A super patriot status not enjoyed by other Stop the Steal adherents.

Take, for example, Rudy Giuiiiani. All know that he is an American and a “patriot”, but is he an “American Patriot”? No, his patriotism manifests in his support of Ukraine. And what about former Gen. Michael Flynn. The former president’s first national security advisor is, of course, an American. But, as we know, his allegiance is to QAnon to which he swore an oath on July 4, 2020.
So while these and many others, while enjoying the heady political company of Congresswoman Stefanik and her Stop the Steal colleagues, do not have the elite “American Patriot” badge of honor bestowed on Scott Presler.

So I end with a modest proposal. One that may save the day for those of us hungry for the company or true “American Patriots.” There are two members of Congress who share many of Mr. Presler’s values and beliefs; i.e., fiercely anti-immigrant, pro-insurrection, QAnon devotees, Stop the Steal heroes and pro-
suppression of minority voters.

Yes, I speak of none other than Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida and Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. If Congresswoman Stefanik would entice these two superstars to come here, imagine how many new (non-minority) voters might be registered.

Let us all hope Congresswoman Stefanik can pull it off.

Publius