SARATOGA SPRINGS – The League of Women Voters (LWV) hosted their second ‘Meet the Candidates’ forum on Tuesday, October 27, at Saratoga Springs High School. With one week before Election Day on November 3, this was an opportunity for voters to hear the contrasting viewpoints of candidates vying for important offices in the city: Saratoga Springs Mayor and Commissioner of Finance.
The forum, which was moderated by Deb Peck Kelleher of LWV, began with statements from the unopposed candidates for the two County Board of Supervisor positions that represent the city. Matthew Veitch (R, C, I) recapped the initiatives he helped to bring about in his year as Chairman of the Board, including funds for trails in the city. Peter Martin (D, I) reviewed some of the services that the county (such as emergency and social services) provides to city residents. Both candidates briefly touched upon their priorities for the coming two-year terms and thanked their supporters.
In the race for Commissioner of Finance, the candidates are incumbent Commissioner Michele Madigan (D, WF, I) and challenger Ken Ivins (R, Ref) who is a former occupant of that position. Therefore, both candidates had compiled a record in office that could be scrutinized by their opponent, and lets just say that neither passed on an opportunity to do so throughout the segment. If you wish to view a video of the exchanges, LWV has posted the entire candidate forum on its website (as well as the first forum, with candidates for Commissioners of Accounts, Public Safety and Public Works), visit www.lwvsaratoga.org.
In addition to completely different perspectives on each candidate’s records while in office, the two candidates expressed differing views on water connection fees for developers, the best plan to provide increased parking for the Saratoga Springs City Center (both candidates used their ‘red cards’ – providing them extra time to speak on a given subject - on this question), civility at City Council meetings, and paid parking in general.
In the race for Saratoga Springs Mayor, the candidates are incumbent Joanne Yepsen (D, WF), seeking a second term, and challenger John Safford (R, C, I). There were several points of differences between these two candidates as well. In his opening statement, Safford stated that he hoped those differences would be made clear. He made his case around the fact that he was not a career politician and hoped to bring transparency and civility to the office. Mayor Yepsen cited her two years of accomplishments in office, 14 years of running her own business, and articulated a record that was centered around balancing growth and open space and doing so in a manner that was both inclusive and transparent.
The candidates differed on a variety of issues. Like the Finance candidates, they had different approaches about the best way to satisfy the City Center’s parking needs; and they also offered differing perspectives on many issues, including the Saratoga PAC, pending litigation against the city, investigating the sale of a contaminated parcel of land adjacent to the city’s landfill site, the Mayor’s role in city government, the Greenbelt and Saratoga National’s expansion plans.
Clearly, in both the Finance and Mayor races, voters are being offered a choice. It appears unlikely that many minds were changed this evening, but that is really not the point of these forums. All the candidate’s supporters did have plenty to feel good about at the end, and if it intensified more people’s intent to get out to the polls next Tuesday, then all parties can agree that the League has performed a valuable service.
Having said that, and as a veteran of attending several candidate forums, I would be remiss if I did not divert to discuss the structure of these programs. This is not meant to be critical of LWV and the fine, often unappreciated and certainly important work it does.
Throughout the evening, candidates, unfortunately, had to entertain questions on subjects that were improperly vetted and therefore not germane – such as Finance Commissioner candidates being asked their views on the Mayor proposing a tax on rainwater (they both looked perplexed before responding that they knew of no such plans). Also, the candidates and the audience were not well served on those occasions where several people submitted questions about the same topic (which would tend to indicate an increased level of interest); these were attempted to be combined “on the fly” by the moderator.
The League is wise to choose someone to moderate these forums that is a resident from outside the city, as that would tend to make that person more objective. But that same strength becomes a weakness when they are less familiar with a given topic. It is also clear that the moderator has a host of other important tasks (e.g.: enforcing timekeeping) and this task, as well as screening questions for relevancy, should be the responsibility of people who have some knowledge about a given topic and still be objective. The result, on this evening, was too often a vague, watered-down version of the question – (e.g.: “tell me your views about transparency”) that end up being too generic to be useful.