City Democrats Elect Sarah Burger As New Chairperson

At a special meeting on August 7, 2019, the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee elected Sarah Burger as its new chair.

The initial field for the position of chair included Eddy Abraham and Ellen Egger-Aimone. Apparently Ms. Egger-Aimone decided to withdraw from the race. Ms. Burger defeated Mr. Abraham.

Mr. Abraham was chosen to be first vice-chair.

The committe elected Cassandra Bagramian as treasurer.

It was odd that the committee selected a vice-chair. The notice for the meeting sent out by Ruth Fein stated quite specifically that the purpose of the meeting was only to elect a new chair and treasurer and that “no other business will be conducted.” As I was not there I do not know the details but clearly the committee deviated from the meeting notice.

Sarah Burger

Ms. Burger is an attorney. She served as Mayor Joanne Yepsen’s first City Attorney from January to September, 2014. Her short tenure was marked by ongoing conflict with all the members of the City Council.

I have spoken off the record to persons who were on the City Council during her tenure.  Each confirmed that at an executive session of the Council all five members (including Mayor Yepsen) agreed that Burger should no longer serve as City Attorney. Rather than fire her they agreed to allow her to resign.

Ms. Burger exploited this gesture by distributing a letter to the press claiming that she had voluntarily resigned over her differences with the city over its handling of legal matters including a proposed land swap meant to facilitate building an emergency services building on the east side of the city. The controversy included a lawsuit brought against the city by Tom McTygue, Ray Watkin, and Remigia Foy which was later dismissed by the state supreme court.

Ms. Burger subsequently challenged Chris Mathiesen in a primary for Commissioner of Public Safety which she lost.

Cassandra Bagramian

Ms. Bagramian is the Saratoga County Democratic Deputy Commissioner of Elections under Bill Fruci. She previously worked in the New York State Assembly and for Assembly member Carrie Woerner.

Eddie Abraham

Eddie Abraham has a consulting firm that focuses on assisting businesses with computer technology. The company is called True North BA.

The Inevitable Crash Of The City Democratic Committee

It seems that the Saratoga Springs  Democratic Committee is doomed to eternal cycles of conflict and disintegration.

The last cycle involved a bitter battle between Valerie Keehn and Tom McTygue (This is a link to an amusing history of the debacle. It includes Gordon Boyd’s involvement). Ms. Keehn, a Democrat who took office as Mayor of Saratoga  Springs in 2006, appeared to have one goal in mind which was to rid the City Council of Public Works Commissioner Tom McTygue (Bill McTygue’s brother) who for many years had been the only Democrat on the City Council. She publicly endorsed Skip Scirocco, McTygue’s Republican opponent  in the 2007 city election. Scirocco won that election and still serves today as Public Works Commissioner.

A bizarre coda to her mayoralty came on election night 2007 when both she and McTygue were defeated. She showed up at the Holiday Inn where the Republicans were having their gathering. On her entrance she received a standing ovation from the Republicans. She actually gave a speech to applause offering that losing the election was worth it because she credited herself with McTygue’s defeat, something the Republicans had tried unsuccessfully to do for some 30 years.

The dystopia did not end with that election.  Democratic Committee meetings were studies in madness marked by yelling and recriminations between the two factions. Eventually the Keehn vs McTygue camps burned themselves out.

Unfortunately during the last few years the level of madness has been slowly but inevitably growing yet again in spite of the efforts of Charlie Brown to hold the party together. Former Mayor Joanne Yepsen, who has always been close with the McTygues, has a faction that overlaps with the current charter change zealots. By zealots I do not mean people who simply support the city manager form of government. I mean people who view opponents of the city manager form with suspicion and hostility. High on their list of “enemies” is Mayor Kelly. Mayor Kelly’s decision to impanel a charter commission last year was considered a betrayal by the city manager faction and those of us who follow politics closely know that Ms. Yepsen is no fan of Mayor Kelly in spite of originally pushing her candidacy for mayor (these alliances have no shelf life).

All of this division was exposed at the February 23 Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee endorsement meeting this year. As some may recall the event was an eight hour ordeal. Bill McTygue (who was not even a member of the committee) had circulated a white paper to the “insurgents” titled “Help Us Take A Stand…”  (These are the same people who now control the committee following the mass resignations.) His paper urged his group to block endorsements for Michele Madigan, Meg Kelly, and John Franck. The paper began “Currently there exists a major split on the Democratic Committee when it comes to supporting Madigan, Kelly, and Franck for re-election.”

Bob Turner briefly put himself forward as a candidate to challenge Meg Kelly  for mayor but dropped out before the committee did their endorsement interviews. The “insurgents” tried to block John Franck’s endorsement by having enough members leave the meeting room to deny the meeting a  quorum, but they were unable to successfully orchestrate this. Then the “insurgents” put forth Patty Morrison to challenge Michele Madigan for Commissioner of Finance, but she failed to get enough votes to win the committee’s endorsement.

When their attempt to block the endorsements of the incumbents failed,  the “insurgents” became even more bitter and aggressive  and circulated petitions that allowed Morrison to challenge Madigan in the bitterly fought June primary.

It is important to view this conflict as psychological in nature rather than take seriously any policy differences. It is hard to overstate the animosity these people feel toward the Democratic incumbents Kelly, Franck, and Madigan and Republican Public Works Commissioner Skip Scirocco. On some level the division is over the proposal to change the city government to a city manager form, but it simply makes no sense that the form of the city’s government should engender this level of animosity. My assessment is that one of the reasons the “insurgents” are pressing for the city manager form of government is as a vehicle for getting rid of the incumbents on the City Council.

Curiously charter change played a role also in the 2007 split amongst the Democrats with Keehn pushing for a change and McTygue and his supporters on the Democratic Committee opposing the change. At the time there was some suspicion that Keehn saw charter change as a way of getting rid of McTygue if he couldn’t be defeated at the polls. Now after two failed attempts by Billy McTygue to defeat Skip Scirocco for Commissioner of Public Works, the McTygues have  become enthusiastic supporters of the charter changes they once opposed.

Courtney DeLeonardis, who has chaired the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee for the last couple of years, has  been a regular target for the “insurgents”.  Ms. DeLeonardis is an elementary school teacher. She is just a lovely and kind and thoughtful person. Her modest and principled public statement when she recently resigned as chair of the Committee was an expression of her generous spirit. During her term Ms. DeLeonardis routinely received angry emails and texts from this faction either making demands on her or charging her with some sort of abuse. She had to try to maintain order and civility at meetings that hovered on the edge of disorder.

Patty Morrison, who is a very good friend of Bill McTygue, was a significant player in all of this.

It is regrettable that Ms. Morrison was able to avoid appearing at any event where the public could critically assess her prior to the primary.

The fact is, though,  that Ms. Morrison won the Democratic primary even though the Democratic Committee and all the Democrats sitting on the City Council had endorsed the incumbent, Michele Madigan.

So with Ms. Morrison’s victory the current crisis of the Democratic Committee and party came to a head. It was one thing to endure the on-going conflict if in doing so people like Ms. DeLeonardis felt good about the Democratic candidates who were running. Ms. DeLeonardis and her allies now had to face the problem, though, of having to support Ms. Morrison. The Commissioner of Finance is a critically important position. This commissioner must oversee the city’s finances and must craft a budget to support the city’s on-going needs while balancing this with a tax rate that is not a burden to the city’s residents . Ms. DeLeonardis et al were all too aware that not only did Ms. Morrison lack the skills to  accomplish this task but they also feared she might bring to the council table the belligerence and animosity they had seen her demonstrate as a member of the Committee.

The people who resigned from the Democratic Committee hoped that such a radical action would alert the public to how gravely concerned they were about the potential harm Ms. Morrison might do to the city’s finances and to the ability of the Council to operate in a civil manner. It remains to be seen whether their gesture will have its hoped for impact.

Charter Organizers Evade Responsibility For Petitioning Error

On August 3 Common Sense, Saratoga posted a notice that their proposal to change the Saratoga Springs city government to a city manager form would not appear on this year’s ballot. Rather than graciously admit that they had not researched the deadlines properly they claimed that new state laws made it impossible for them to fulfill the requirements to get their charter change proposal on the ballot in time. This is from their statement:

While the group’s initial intention was to place the proposition on the November 2019 ballot, changes in the Election Law enacted by the legislature this year made it impossible to provide enough time for all the legal milestones and intervals to occur within the time available.

But changes to the NY State Election law were made in January allowing them plenty of time to gather petition signatures and follow all the necessary procedures. Instead Bob Turner announced in the July 24th edition of the Gazette, that they needed to collect 2,000 signatures by August 1.This did allow enough time to complete the steps necessary to get their proposition on the ballot.

The simple fact is that they failed to properly research the deadlines and to allow sufficient time for the process before they initiated their petition drive.  The root of their problem was their failure to be rigorous. Not taking responsibility for their error only serves to further damage their credibly.

 

Advocates For Charter Miss Deadline- Referendum Delayed A Year

I am still unclear about the details but apparently the organizers of the city manager charter petition drive (the people involved refuse to disclose who the organizers are but I understand that Gordon Boyd, Pat Kane, Bob Turner, and Ann Bullock are among the leadership), misunderstood the law and will have to wait until the next general election to get their proposal on the ballot.

This year New York  made a number of changes in state election law.  Among the changes was the deadline for getting a proposition on the ballot in order to address the problem of securing ballots for military and oversees voters. The deadline was moved up from thirty-six days to three months before the general election changing  the date from approximately October 1 to August 5.

As I understand it, in addition to getting the signatures in to the city (they needed about 1,200 valid signatures), the Accounts Office was required to go through the petitions to check the names and then the City Council had to take some sort of action. The charter organizers just did not allow enough time to complete  all of these requirements by the new deadline.

One thing helpful to the organizers is that apparently the signatures gathered so far will still be good when they are submitted for the next election.

New York State election law is very complicated. I cannot help but make the snarky observation that the advocates should have had the good sense to work closely with an attorney who specialized in this kind of law to avoid an error like this.

It is also worth noting that the organizers’ website Common Sense, Saratoga has not acknowledged the missed deadline.  This disinterest in transparency is an ongoing theme.

Another Wave Of Resignations from the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee

 I received this release from the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee. Charlie Brown and Jane Weihe had both chaired the city committee in the past:

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE / MEDIA ADVISORY

CONTACT:Kathryn Gorman

Saratoga Dems: City finances in jeopardy if Morrison elected

Saratoga Springs, NY, August 1, 2019 – More members of the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee resigned today, following the resignations on July 17, 2019 of five members who served on the SSDC Executive Committee. Ten additional people announced they are leaving, including: Jennifer Blanchard, Charles Brown, Frank Capone, Cynthia Corbett, Michele Feinstein, Nancy Goldberg, Kathryn Gorman, Janet Kuczynski, Michael Sharp and Jane Weihe.

Those departing the committee today made the following statement:

 As long-serving members of the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee, we have come to a point where we must choose the welfare of our City over party. We are resigning from the committee because we are unable to support the winner of the Democratic primary for Finance Commissioner, Patty Morrison. We intendfor this serious step to alert citizens of Saratoga Springs to our grave concern about the risk she poses to the sound management of the City’s finances, most notably the Budget. Based on our interactions with Ms. Morrison and the conduct of her campaign, we believe she is both unqualified and ill-suited for this office. Although we deeply regret having to leave the committee, this will free us to work for the candidates we are confident will best serve our City.

Media advisory: A press conference will be held:

1:00 p.m. today, August 1, 2019

High Rock Park, 112 High Rock Ave.

Saratoga Springs, NY

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