Saratoga PAC Tries To Re-Brand

Three area newspapers did stories on the failure of Saratoga PAC to elect most of their slate.  They interviewed Robert “Bob” Manz who is the chairman of the PAC and the CEO of D.A. Collins.  D.A. Collins is one of the largest construction companies in the area.

From the Gazette Newspaper:

While a lot of attention focused on PAC members’ support for allowing a resort-conference center to be built at Saratoga National Golf Club, Manz said that isn’t the group’s top issue.

Based on a resident survey the PAC did this summer, Manz said the top issues are the condition of the city’s water and sewer infrastructure, and the need to redevelop the South Broadway entrance to the city, along with a growing vagrancy problem.

From the Saratogian:

“It would be nice to have the elected officials in Saratoga focusing on the primary issues and working together to move those issues forward,” he said. “Our survey identified some key issues, such as the city infrastructure and the revitalization of South Broadway. We’ll advocate that the council focus on these.”

From WAMC:

He[Manz]  said the organization will continue reaching out to voters and “will now advocate for the priorities that more than 1,100 citizens told us need to be acted on by our city’s leaders with focus on improving our city’s infrastructure and revitalization of our South Broadway corridor.”

What I find interesting is Mr. Manz’s effort to spin the story away from Saratoga National Golf Course.  I expect that the feedback they are getting was that their emphasis on development in the city’s Conservation District proved to be a major liability.  I fully expect that their agenda is the same but they are shrewd enough to see that if they want to influence future elections they need to change their (dare I say?) branding.  Right now they are the big real estate and construction industry out to breach the country part of the “city in the country.”

In addition to cleaning up their own image in hopes of making themselves more appealing to the public they are shrewd enough to realize, I think, that they may be a liability to SNGC’s continued desire to expand. They know that too close an association with Saratoga National Golf Course’s campaign to build a resort may spook the politicians they are counting on.  Make no mistake, the PAC is continuing to use their very powerful network to lobby the trio on the Council, (Yepsen, Franck, and Madigan) that they hope will be their key to success.

Neighbors Mobilize To Oppose Bonacio’s Current Plan For Moore Hall Conversion

No Moore Hall

At its well attended second meeting, people from a number of neighborhoods surrounding Moore Hall (the former pink Skidmore dormitory on Union Avenue) met to strategize how best to deal with Sonny Bonacio’s current plan to convert the building into 53 “micro apartments.”

Some Background

The neighbors had previously attended a meeting of the Planning Board which had been asked by the Zoning Board of Appeals to advise them regarding Bonacio’s request for a variance on the minimum requirement for on-site parking spaces.  For whatever reason,  the Planning Board was not asked to advise on the other variance which would allow the project to go from fifteen units to fifty-three units.

The neighbors were advised to focus their comments on the parking issue in light of the ZBA charge to the Planning Board.  It was both interesting and consistent with the history of our Planning Board that we had to endure a lecture from Cliff VanWagner about how all discussion must be limited to parking. 

In fact, I was enormously impressed both by the turn out and by the performance of the members of our community who spoke.  Our speakers kept their presentations to the point.  People were both brief and articulate.  I have outlined their basic points in my email to Mr. Bonacio that I posted previously on this blog.  People at events like this can get quite emotional to the point sometimes that while one can have sympathy for them, one can still be embarrassed.  Not that evening.  I did not personally know many of the speakers but I was truly gratified to live in a neighborhood of such thoughtful and caring people.

After they spoke, we all then had to endure the discussion of the Planning Board members.  I have written about the makeup of this board so often that I will not go through it again in this blog.  Five of the seven members were appointed by Scott Johnson.  They represent the latest in a long line of real estate/construction appointments that are the legacy of a city dominated by this business network.

True to form they violated their own admonishments to the audience by talking at some length about what an outstanding example of “re-use” this proposal was.  They basically restated most of Mr. Toohey’s earlier presentation (of course he did not limit his remarks to parking either).   After a tedious and unfocused discussion on how great the project was when they were about to vote to recommend that the variance be granted, someone got up from the audience and pointed out to them that they had failed to once talk about the parking issue.

For several minutes, members of the Planning Board spoke derisively about people’s concerns over parking.  Mr. VanWagner, who always impresses himself with his own wit, pointed out to the public that many of them have been advocates for “The City In The Country” and since they live in the city they should be prepared to look for parking spaces. 

When another member of the public had the temerity to express frustration that the board appeared indifferent to the concerns of the community, we then had to endure lectures from Tom Lewis and Cliff VanWagner about the difference between listening to the public and agreeing with them.  They also went on at length congratulating themselves on the many hours they have spent as members of this board.

They then voted to support granting the variance.

If Sonny Bonacio wanted to build an eighty foot outhouse on Union Avenue, Cliff VanWagner would not only vote to approve it, he would attend the ribbon cutting.

The Neighbors Meet And Moblize  This Evening

So the neighbors met this evening with the attorney, John Hayko, who they had hired, to discuss preparing for the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting on Monday.  They also distributed signs for people to put in front of their homes.  The people who had circulated petitions reported on their success.

There still remained hope that Sonny Bonacio would address many of their concerns.

If you would like to support the neighbors efforts to get a better plan for Moore Hall, here is a link to an on line petition.  Link To Petition

Code Enforcement Officer Ends Crime Wave

The city’s code enforcement officer contacted one James Collins who was identified as the source of the electronic signs supporting Safford and Wirth positioned over the week end at three entrances to the city.  Mr. Collins is associated with one of the many subsidiary companies of D. A. Collins.  Robert Manz who is the head of D.A. Collins chairs Saratoga PAC.  Mr. Collins agreed to remove the signs which he did.  Kind of an undramatic end to the story but this blog tells it like it is.

Bonacio Responds

Sonny Bonacio  responded to my email shortly after I sent it but asked me not to post it.  He indicated that he would welcome answering questions from concerned neighbors if they contact him.  You can find a link to his email address at his construction website.

There is quite an organizing drive going on in the neighborhoods that will be impacted by his proposal for Moore Hall and I will be writing about the growing conflict in subsequent posts.

Link to SB’s email address

Safford’s Campaign Ads Ruled Unfair

From Today’s Saratogian

Safford’s campaign ads ruled unfair

by CHARLIE KRAEBEL and JENNIE GREY

SARATOGA SPRINGS >> Republican mayoral candidate John Safford was found guilty Nov. 2 of violating fair campaign practices over a mailer and a television ad criticizing incumbent Mayor Joanne Yepsen for taking political action committee (PAC) cash.

“On this day before Election Day, we have received a very decisive ruling on the unfair campaign practices of my opponent,” said Yepsen at a Nov. 2 press conference about the ruling. “His TV commercial has been spewing nothing but lies and falsehoods. The general hostility of these ads also led us to make a rebuttal video available online, as well as seek a ruling from the Fair Campaign Practices (FCP) for the Capital Region. The FCP is there to educate the public.”

The FCP was initiated in Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Schenectady counties in 2001 for the purpose of educating the public about misleading and unfair campaign practices.

A pool of 32 individuals from the four-county region is selected to hear complaints. These community representatives serve on hearing panels that determine the validity of complaints. To ensure a balanced, fair process for all sides, the local chairs of all the recognized political parties, or their designees, automatically become ex officio members of the FCP Hearing Panel and attend hearings.

FCP Chairman Rev. Dr. Maurice Drown said the organization reached its decision after receiving a formal complaint from the Democratic mayor earlier in the day.

But Bijoy Datta, a spokesman for Safford’s campaign, said he spoke to the FCP Monday afternoon and claimed the organization made its initial determination without seeing the ads in question.

“Yepsen’s campaign provided them only with excerpts that specifically excluded the source citations and explanations that were clearly on the advertising,” Datta said. “It’s the irony of ironies — she misled them in her complaint about our allegedly misleading advertising.”

Safford said, “We first brought out these numbers during the candidate forum, and we dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s.”

However, Yepsen campaign manager Will Sharry provided the Saratogian with a copy of the mayor’s complaint to the FCP, which had two images of the mailer in question attached.

In an email, Drown confirmed the committee’s original ruling.

“Following contact from the Safford campaign, during which I was told that today’s communication was the first they had received, I said we would review our notes and findings,” he wrote. “I also gave them the email address to which prior communications had been sent. Shortly thereafter, I received a call back with the message that they had found the prior communications, but that they still contested our conclusions. If there had been a failure to communicate on our part, that would have been fatal to our findings. However, our review led to reaffirmation of our previous findings.”

The FCP board stated it reviewed all the information and found Safford’s materials to be “egregious misrepresentations of facts, and Candidate Safford guilty of unfair campaign practices.”

In her complaint, Yepsen said Safford, who is the endorsed candidate of the Saratoga PAC, sent a mail piece and aired an ad accusing Yepsen of receiving more than $247,190 in campaign cash. The mailer reads, “Joanne Yepsen took in $247,190 in campaign cash from PACs, political committees and hidden donors.”

Yepsen’s complaint states the ads violated a fair campaign practices principle that tells candidates to not use any material or ad that misrepresents, distorts or otherwise falsifies a face or the facts regarding the candidate or opponent.

Yepsen said Safford was using campaign finance reports dating back to 2005 and for different offices, and was leading voters to believe she accepted this money during this election cycle. Yepsen acknowledged taking $47,300 from PACs, which included contributions when she ran for county supervisor and for the state senate.

Safford’s mailer does note that the total amount of cash dates back to 2005, and it breaks down the figures by donor category. But since the front of the mailer reads, “How much PAC money did Joanne Yepsen take?” — with a dollar sign in place of the S in “Yepsen” — the focus of the piece is clearly on the alleged PAC connection.

Back at the Oct. 27 League of Women Voters of Saratoga County candidate forum, Safford responded to a question about his opinion of the Saratoga PAC.

He said then, “I support the PAC’s point of view and am pleased with the citywide survey it conducted. But the committee hasn’t given me a penny — just the endorsement.”

In her complaint, the mayor also took aim at Safford’s claim that she received nearly $57,000 in “hidden cash” because state Board of Elections law does not require donors who contribute less than $100 to be identified.

“I am proud of our grassroots campaign,” Yepsen said. “We have hundreds of volunteers and 500 contributors.”

Safford said one main issue he and his supporters have with Yepsen is that she accepts money from union donors and then negotiates their contracts as mayor.

“PACs have a negative connotation,” Yepsen said at the press conference. “Many people really don’t like PAC money.”

She said she is proud to accept donations from the committees and groups that have supported her, which include Saratoga Springs Firefighters, New York League of Conservation Voters, Empire State Pride Agenda, Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Committee, CSEA, Saratoga County Labor Council, Communications Workers of America, Sheet Metal Workers Local 83, Northeast Carpenters and SEIU 1199.

Yepsen said she was proud of her own positive and truthful campaign for a second term as mayor.

“I am running on the issues and my record,” she said. “I’m the people’s mayor. I have gotten a lot of great positive responses from the voters. People don’t like negative advertising.”

Safford said, “I feel like American Pharaoh fighting down the rail. This is a real horse race.”