One Saratoga Offers Insights into City Council Candidates’ Views on Issues

[JK: With 17 candidates running for City Council positions on nine party lines, the non-partisan group One Saratoga decided to develop a candidate questionnaire to try to help voters sort through the myriad choices voters have this year. Here is a release from One Saratoga explaining where to find out what the candidates who responded (only one candidate on the Democratic line responded, all Republicans and independents responded) to their questionnaire think about taxes, police, homelessness and more.]

One Saratoga is a non-partisan coalition of local residents that seeks to have the best qualified people governing Saratoga Springs regardless of partisan affiliations.  They came together in 2019 out of concern for the City’s well-being. They include committed people who keep close tabs on our City’s governance and are willing to devote effort to this project. Their watchword is, “City before party,” they seek to unite the community, avert partisan rancor and extremism, and encourage serious candidates for public service.   

One Saratoga decided not to endorse candidates for this local election season but has instead chosen to be a candidate informational resource.

Courtney DeLeonardis, Chair, of One Saratoga said, “With so many third-party lines and numerous candidates for each of the positions, we felt it would be most helpful to provide community members with accurate information on where the candidates stand on important issues that affect Saratogians.”

One Saratoga has been using its Facebook page and Webpage to share responses to a questionnaire sent to Saratoga Springs City Council Candidates. The questionnaire focused on seven core issues facing the city. The issues chosen reflected input One Saratoga solicited from Saratogians across the political spectrum.

One Saratoga received a total of ten responses from the candidates who are running for City Council.

A hard copy of the questionnaire was sent to every candidate in the mail, an electronic copy was emailed to each candidate, as well as to the city Democratic and Republican Chairs. Reminder emails were also sent to the city candidates.

Unfortunately, One Saratoga received no responses from four of the endorsed Democratic Candidates or four out of five of the Working Families Party candidates.

Candidates who  DID NOT complete the Questionnaire

Democratic Party :                                           Working Families Party:

Ronald Kim-Mayor                                        Maxwell Rosenbaum-Mayor

Minita Sanghvi-Finance                                 Sierra Hunt-Finance

James Montagnino-Public Safety                   Donald Reeder-Public Works

Dillon Moran-Accounts                                  David Labate-Public Safety

One Saratoga has been sharing responses  from candidates who participated in the questionnaire since September and will continue to do so up until the election on November 2. They release answers to questions focusing on a different core issue each week.

To find out more about One Saratoga and to see the questionnaire results, go to One Saratoga’s Facebook page at- facebook.com/RealOneSaratoga or go to their website at- https://realonesaratoga.org/

Ferreting Out the Truth From Negative Republican and Democratic Mailers

Both the Republican and Democratic parties have sent out postcards attacking their endorsed candidates’ opponents. Below are the allegations made in the mailings and the information I turned up looking into the charges the parties have made about two of the candidates running for mayor in this year’s election.

Allegations By Republicans Re Ron Kim

1. Allegation: “Ron’s Primary Residence Is Queensbury”

The allegation includes an image from a 2017 edition of the Post Star Newspaper that shows the following quote:

“He [Kim] and his wife purchased a home in Queensbury in 2008, which is now their primary residence…’It’s sort of an empty nester thing as our lifestyle has changed.'”

In the June 28 edition of the Daily Gazette the reporter wrote:

“Republicans said Kim’s actions amounted to voter fraud, and it said the city deserved a full-time resident’s service.”

Mr. Kim owns homes both in Queensbury and Saratoga Springs. He sought the Democratic endorsement to run against Elise Stefanik in 2018. In order to run for this position he had to live in her district, and he gave his Queensbury home as his primary residence.

According to the Gazette, Mr. Kim voted in Warren County in 2018, 2019, and 2020 before switching his voter registration to Saratoga Springs when he lead the charter change campaign to replace Saratoga’s form of government with a city manager and ward system.

Mr. Kim responded to this allegation by noting that his children both attended the Saratoga Springs schools.

Kim told the Gazette that , “…he divides time between the two communities to relieve his mother of caring for his father. He said the needs of his father, a Korean War veteran, increased during the pandemic.”

The New York State Board of Elections is very tolerant when it comes to a candidate’s residence.

Past Public Works Commissioner Tom McTygue owned both a horse farm in the town of Saratoga and a house in Saratoga Springs. For years the Republican Party sought to have him disqualified from running in Saratoga Springs alleging that in reality his farm in the town of Saratoga was where he lived. It never found traction with the New York State Board of Elections.

I spoke to Saratoga Springs Republican Chair Chris Obstarczyk about the residency issue. He told me the issue was not over a violation of election law but over Kim’s not being a full time resident of Saratoga Springs.

2.Allegation: “Court Forced Ron To Pay 5-figures in Unpaid Rent.”

Mr. Kim was sued by the landlord of his law office for failure to pay rent.

Mr. Kim’s lease on his law office on Long Alley expired in August of 2008, but he remained in that space until August of 2016. Mr. Kim had signed an agreement that should he stay in that office after his lease expired, he would pay a substantial increase in rent (from approximately $1,700.00 increased to $2,800.00). Instead of paying the $2,800,00 as required by the agreement he simply continued to pay his landlord the lower amount he had been paying when his lease was in effect.

When he finally left those offices the landlord initiated the suit for the difference between what Kim had agreed to pay should he stay in these offices after his lease expired and what Kim actually paid. The landlord calculated that the amount Kim owed him in back rent during the eight years was a total of $61,000.

Kim’s requirement to pay the $2,800.00 is crystal clear. Here is the relevant section from his lease. Note “Thirty-sixth (Holdover Tenant).

See thirty-sixth Holdover

The following is from the “pleadings” in the lawsuit and show how they arrived at the figure of $61,000.00.

The suit was settled for $16,000.

An article in the Gazette quoted Kim: “’I think there is a big difference between 16 and 60,’ Kim said, pointing out that at some point it makes more sense to settle than continuing to pay lawyer’s fees.

Mr. Kim’s settlement was, to say the least, very much favorable to him at the expense of his landlord. It appears that it wasn’t he who decided it wasn’t worth the legal expenses to pursue the case but his landlord. I guess some might view this as a shrewd business move by Mr. Kim, while others would characterize it as a dubious legal move that shafted his landlord.

3.Allegation: Served with multiple unpaid tax warrants

The New York State Department of Labor and Department of Taxation issued warrants regarding unpaid taxes for the third quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019. The total including fines came to approximately $3,000.00 which he eventually paid.

In his interview with the Gazette he explained:

For his part, Kim explained the late payments as stemming from a period of time of unexpected financial strain after a fuel tank spilled in his basement, forcing him and his family to relocate as they absorbed the cost of cleanup while litigating for years who was responsible for the spill.

“We were under some extreme financial pressure at that time,” he said of the late tax payments. 

Daily Gazette September 5, 2021

4. Allegation: And Ron Still Owes The State Thousands in Workers’ Comp Taxes

According to the Daily Gazette:

[Kim] has said that he did not have any employees during that period of time and did not need to carry the insurance, and on Friday he said he was fighting the penalty. 

The workers’ compensation penalty stemmed from a period during 2016 when the state said Kim failed to carry needed workers’ compensation insurance from February to July. The state board in August 2019 issued a final notice to Kim to pay $7,000 in the matter, and a court judgment was filed in October 2019 declaring Kim had still not paid the penalty. 

Daily Gazette September 5, 2021

It is true that if a business owner has no employees they are not required to carry Workmen’s Compensation Insurance, but it is hard to fathom what is going on here. The judgement goes back to 2019 and according to the state he has still not resolved the issue.

One possible scenario is that Kim had employees prior to 2016 and failed to advise the state as required that they were no longer with him thus incurring the fine. It is also possible that in spite of his statements to the press he may have had employees for at least part of the period in question. I have spoken to an accountant who indicated that if he in fact had no employees it is very possible to negotiate a resolution that would reduce the fine, and it is odd that it has not been resolved by now.

I have emailed Mr. Kim asking whether he has been in touch with the Workmen’s Compensation Board on this matter and what they are saying. I have not yet received an answer from him.

Bottom line is that the issue remains unresolved and without some explanation from Mr. Kim as to why the state continues to pursue the penalty in spite of his claim about no employees we cannot know the full truth.

Allegations By Democrats Re Heidi Owen West

  1. Allegation: Owen West sued the city of Saratoga Springs to block the building of an Eastside Public Safety Building.

It is true that she participated in the suit. It is also true, as alleged by the Democrats, that the city had to pay significantly to defend against the suit. What they leave out is that she withdrew from the suit (it was subsequently dismissed by the court) and has repeatedly assured the public that, if elected, she will follow through on the currently designed project to make it happen.

2. Allegation: “Owen West tells Democrats she’s an independent while attempting to win Trump supporters by refusing to acknowledge Biden won the election.”

They cite a story by Lucas Willard of WAMC.

West, who has the endorsement of the Saratoga Springs Republican Committee, was also asked via text message if the event featuring Scott Presler and endorsed by Representative Stefanik gave her any pause, and if she believed President Biden won the 2020 election fair and square.

The owner of three downtown clothing stores responded:

“If the other candidates running for mayor want to nationalize this race, that’s fine. But that’s not what I’m doing in my race. Those questions, and this event, have nothing to do with accomplishing my goals I’ve set out to achieve once I become mayor of Saratoga Springs,” said West.

Lucas Willard, WAMC August 26, 2021

I contacted Ms. Owen West and asked her to respond.

Here is the text of her message:

“I don’t know how to be any more clear, Joe Biden won the election and he is our president, fact! Attacks and fictitious rumors about me are distracting, misleading for voters and not what our citizens are looking for. Let’s focus on the real issues facing Saratogians.”

Heidi Owen West

This particular attack by the Democrats is particularly cynical given that the Chair of the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee solicited Owen West to Run as a Democrat.

Apparently the Democrats did not believe that Ms. Owen West was a Trump acolyte when then city Democratic Chair Sarah Burger repeatedly tried to persuade Ms. Owen West to head up their ticket.

Although Ms. Burger and others have recently tried to deny this, I have come into possession of the texts below in which Ms. Burger repeatedly solicited Ms. Owen West to run for mayor on the Democratic line.

The texts from Ms. Burger to Ms. Owen West begin in mid-February, 2021. I have selected representative texts from a lengthy exchange. Sarah Burger’s texts are black letters against a white background. Heidi Owen West’s are white letters against a black background.

3. Allegation: “Owen West is not making affordable housing a priority and indicated there is not a problem with the amount of affordable housing in the city”

This allegation is based on an exchange during the League of Women Voters Forum and specifically references as its source the October 5, 2021, story in the Foothills Daily. Given the content it is hard to understand how the Democrats could make such an allegation. Here is the text from the Foothills Daily:

Owen West: “I believe the…community development office actually has done a great job of working with builders and real estate firms to secure housing for residents in the city. I think a lot of what happens is, we’re not aware of all the opportunities. Right now the city’s on target to exceed units more than twice what HUD requires, so I think part of it is really getting the message out there and the knowledge about the programs that are available so that everyone is insured a place in Saratoga Springs.”

Kim response: “I don’t hear anyone saying we’ve got enough affordable housing. To the contrary, what I hear is that this is an absolute need that has to happen.”

Dalton response: “It insults residents to say that we’re just not aware of all this low income or affordable housing. So I just wanted to point out, it is a huge priority of mine…And that means creating more workforce and affordable housing, and it does not exist right now.” 

Owen West response: “So I didn’t say that I that…there was enough affordable housing, I said I would start by making sure people were aware of what we have, what’s in the pipeline…I just wanted to be sure that people understood that we were at twice the limit of the HUD requirements so that we are doing a great job, but we can always do better. I did not say there was enough.”

To claim, based on this exchange that Ms. Owen West does not support additional affordable housing can be characterized as, at the very least, disturbingly misleading.

4. Allegation: “Owen West is backed by thousands of dollars from big developers and she’ll be in their pocket when it comes to key city appointments”

In July, Ms. Owen West reported to the New York State Board of Elections on the contributions she had received. There were ninety-six contributors. The only contributors whose names I recognized as developers or whose names appeared to imply that they were related to the development industry were Tom Roohan who is the owner of Roohan Realty, a Mike Morgan who apparently owns Morgan Construction Services, and a Brett Balzer with Balzer Tuck Architecture.

I would also observe that because a candidate receives contributions from a developer does not always mean that they have been bought. Our current Mayor has received donations from members of the development community and her two terms do not reflect any prejudice on their behalf.

The flyer also trumpets an ethics complaint the Democrats made to the New York State Board of Elections against Ms. Owen West. The allegations are as dubious as the others in this flyer but as nothing will happen before the election they are yet another example of campaign abuse.

City Republican Chairman Chris Obstarczyk’s Regrettable Remarks

The Chairman of the Saratoga Springs Republican Party, Chris Obstarczyk, has chosen to engage in an ugly exchange with Commissioner of Public Safety Robin Dalton in the pages of the Times Union. He accused Commissioner Dalton of abusing her position to force her department to pursue electoral fraud charges against Samantha Guerra who is the endorsed Republican candidate for Commissioner of Accounts.

For a history of the original charges readers can go to my earlier post on it. It is an unflattering account in which neither Mr. Moran, who made the accusations, nor Ms. Guerra emerge unsullied.

Times Union reporter Wendy Liberatore has now written two articles back to back regarding a police investigation into the alleged election “fraud.”

In a disturbing turn of events, Saratoga Springs Republican chair Chris Obstarczyk has used the Times Union to launch an attack on Commissioner of Public Safety Robin Dalton rather than Dillon Moran, Guerra’s opponent and the source of the allegations. Worse he has questioned the integrity of the police in general and a specific police officer in particular as part of his attack.

Some of this may be related to bitter attacks made by Commissioner Dalton against the Republican endorsed candidate for mayor she is running against, Heidi Owen West.

In a Gazette article Ms. Owen West stated that she had been approached by Sarah Burger, who was chairperson of the city Democratic Committee at the time, to become the Democratic endorsed candidate for mayor. Ms. Owen West declined, and the Democrats went on to settle on Ron Kim as their candidate.

In a video on her Facebook page, Commissioner Dalton accuses Ms. Owen West of lying and claims that the Democrats never approached Ms. Owen West to run on their line.

In fact Sarah Burger did indeed try to persuade Ms. Owen West to run as a Democrat endorsed candidate.

Chair of Republican Party’s Problematic Comments

The following quotes are from the October 12 and 13, 2021 stories in the TU.

The city’s Republican Committee Chairman Chris Obstarczyk said that the investigation is politically motivated, led by current Commissioner of Public Safety Robin Dalton who is now running for mayor.

“The ethical – and normal course of action – would be to send to a different investigatory agency and a different prosecutor outside of the county,” Obstarczyk said in an email. “The police department is politically conflicted because the lead investigator on this case is first in line for an upcoming promotion that would be awarded by mayoral candidate Robin Dalton. The investigator was put in a terrible, political pressure-cooker situation overseen by Robin Dalton. This is a clear-cut political hit job.”

Chris Obstarczyk, TU October 12

Obstarczyk alleged on Tuesday that the investigation came at the direction of Dalton, whom he said was doing a “political hit job” on Guerra. He also said that the police department, which Dalton oversees, is appeasing Dalton so that the lead investigator could get a promotion. [JK: My emphasis] He said on Wednesday he stands firm with his statement.

TImes Union October 13, 2021

These are serious allegations which would seem to warrant some sort of outside investigation perhaps by the county District Attorney or the New York State Attorney General.

But is there really anything to investigate?

Robin Dalton is running for mayor. Why would she want to pursue charges against Samantha Guerra who is running for Commissioner of Accounts and not mayor. Where is any evidence that she interfered with a police investigation?

The police officer who is likely to be promoted to be the assistant chief of police upon the retirement of John Catone is Lieutenant Robert Jillson.

On what basis does Chairman Obstarczyk accuse Commissioner Dalton of interfering with Lieutenant Jillson?

In fact, the implication of Chairman Obstarczyk’s attack is that Police Chief Crooks would allow such interference and worse, that Lieutenant Jillson would pursue a case he did not believe in to cull favor with the Public Safety Commissioner.

In my experience, Lieutenant Jillson is a stand up guy. He has demonstrated calm and thoughtful leadership during the difficult demonstrations here in the city. It may not have been that Obstarczyk intentionally threw Jillson under the bus, but his intemperate remarks have done just that. It was utterly unfair of him to put a cloud of suspicion over Lieutenant Jillson.

The entire business is bizarre. It would appear that Chairman Obstarczyk used the dubious fraud allegations against his candidate for Commissioner of Accounts not to go after the people perpetrating that narrative, but against the person running against his endorsed candidate for mayor.

In an even stranger twist, Mr. Obstarczyk sent an email to the website Foothills Daily which included this allegation:


“Dalton implicated Democrat Commissioner John Franck, who is spearheading the campaign of Ms. Guerra’s opponent, as being the city official who was applying political pressure to the police investigators.”

So who exactly now, if anyone, is interfering in the investigation?

This stuff is extremely troubling. The Times Union has now used Chairman Obstarczyk’s poorly considered remarks ‘s to sensationalize its coverage at the expense of our police department.

All of this is an unfortunate distraction from a discussion that should be taking place instead about the real issues facing the city in this election year.

Supervisors Gaston and Veitch Won’t Advocate Closing Bars At 2:00 AM; Candidates Safford and Wiggins Will

This year the City Council voted unanimously to change the closing time for downtown bars from 4:00 AM to 2:00 AM.

Currently the county government is responsible for the closing time of bars subject to the approval by the New York State Liquor Authority.

At this year’s League of Women Voters of Saratoga County(LWVSC) forum the candidates for County Supervisor were asked if they supported closing the bars early as advocated by the City Council.

In his remarks, Republican candidate John Safford noted that he had knocked on 500 doors in his campaigning and the overwhelming numbers support closing the bars earlier. This matches my own anecdotal experience.

I found it stunning that Supervisor Matthew Veitch answered the question by saying unequivocally that he supports keeping the bars open until 4:00 AM.

Supervisor Tara Gaston gave a rambling response that I will take as a no to supporting the closure, but I leave it to the readers of this blog to determine where she stands based on her remarks (see video below).

John Safford’s position is that a Supervisor should represent the City Council at the county and he would advocate for closing.

Shaun Wiggins was crystal clear. He supports closing the bars at 2:00 AM.

BLM: Were they Ever Going To Participate In Mediation?

The media coverage of the conflict between the local Black Lives Matter group and the Saratoga Springs City Council and Police Department has portrayed the city as arrogant and intransigent. An innocent observer would believe that the City Council and Police Department have been unwilling to engage thoughtfully with a group seeking racial justice. In fact, for roughly two years BLM has had ample opportunity to sit down and meet with the members of the City Council and the Police, and has chosen not to.

While it is not easy to write about a highly charged story such as this, the public has in general been ill served by recent reporting.

The September 24 edition of the Foothills Business Daily (FBD) represents a clear example of this problem. The reporter writes:

The fallout from the arrests that began on Sept. 7 has meant that BLM Saratoga will not enter into a mediated discussion with Saratoga Springs city officials. 

Foothills Business Review (FHBR)

So the article states, as if fact, that the recent arrests of members of the local Black Lives Matter group is the reason they will not participate in mediation. This narrative implies that had there been no arrests, mediation would have gone forward. As we shall see there is plenty of evidence that BLM never intended to engage in mediation regardless of what events unfolded.

A more accurate story would have avoided inserting assumptions made by the writer and simply stated that Samira Sangere, a leader of the BLM group, speaking at the September City Council meeting, had declared that there would be no mediation unless the charges against the members of her group were dropped.

How Can One Negotiate With Evil?

Members of the City Council and the leadership of the Police Department have repeatedly reached out to BLM, and BLM has never demonstrated a serious interest in engaging. The reality is that BLM has only “engaged” with the Council and the Police through the news media, during the public comment period at City Council meetings, and during their demonstrations. For roughly two years they have had ample opportunities to sit down and meet with the members of the City Council and the Police in situations that would have been more conducive to productive conversations, and they have chosen not to.

The BLM leadership has made crystal clear that they think Council members and the Police are unredeemable, hard core racists. Their message has been repeated over and over again in chants in the streets calling the Police murderers and in repeated condemnations of City Council members in the media and in person at City Council meetings.

So there is a certain logic to their refusal to sit down to talk with city officials. If the Council and the Police are hardened racists, what point is there to meet with them outside of the public spotlight because nothing can come of it.

This explains to some extent their actions at Council meetings. The statements made to the Council are really meant to tell the public what a bankrupt institution our city government is and not to move a conversation about reform forward.


The History

Attempts to Reach Out: Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton

In June of 2020, Commissioner Dalton began reaching out to the BLM leadership about meeting. Things looked promising as the Facebook page from this period reflects. There seemed to be some real interest in meeting. Unfortunately, BLM withdrew. Based on the thread it appears that for some reason Dillon Moran worked to undermine engagement. In fact, Mr. Moran is wrong in saying that the Commissioner and the Chief were required specifically to set up a meeting. The Governor’s executive order simply required the City Council to seek input which was accomplished by the establishment of the Police Reform Task Force.

In July, the following month, Commissioner Dalton and Police Chief Shane Crooks set up a Zoom event which they described as Community Conversation/Active Listening. The event devolved into a medium for the BLM participants to shout invectives at Commissioner Dalton and Chief Crooks. It ended with the image below where some of the BLM people can be seen giving the middle finger.

Subsequently Commissioner Dalton gave Mr. Figuereo her cell phone number hoping to establish an effective dialogue. Consider these texts from May and July of this year from Commissioner Dalton’s cell phone. Mr. Figuereo’s text is the first one in black and white, the rest come from Commissioner Dalton. What follows are messages from May and July where Commissioner Dalton reaches out to Figuereo, and he is unresponsive.

Finance Commissioner Madigan’s Failed Quest

Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan made a valiant attempt to set up a mediated meeting with the leadership of BLM. For weeks she continually called and texted Lexis Figuereo in a vain attempt to set up a mediated meeting.

Given the acrimonious and heated events that marked BLM’s participation at City Council meetings, Commissioner Madigan understandably felt it was important to involve a professional mediator. An unstructured meeting, it was feared, would have been just another event full of rage and invective.

The following is a thread of texts and unanswered calls in which she chases Lexis Figuereo trying to make the mediation happen. Somehow, Mr. Figuereo can never get back to her to commit to a meeting.

More Attempts to Reach Out: Police Chief Shane Crooks

Chief Crooks had Lieutenant Robert Jillson reached out to Mr. Figuereo offering to meet with him on multiple occasions. Mr. Figuereo acknowledged this publicly at one point saying he would meet when he was ready. Mr. Figuereo ended up responding to their repeated attempts by telling them to stop calling him.

Lieutenant Thomas Mitchell extended the offer on Chief Crooks’ behalf at a City Council meeting to meet with Mr. Figuereo to no avail.

Chief Crooks told me that he approached Mr. Figuereo at a meeting of the Police Reform Task Force and Mr. Figuereo simply turned and walked away.

Mayor Meg Kelly

Mayor Kelly told me that Mr. Figuereo has never reached out to meet with her.