Opinion - Saratoga Springs Politics

The below blog posts are written by John Kaufmann.
These opinions do not reflect the views of Saratoga TODAY newspaper.

Tuesday, 14 November 2023 09:12

Some Post City Election Thoughts

By John Kaufmann | Saratoga Springs Politics

First and foremost is the acknowledgment of the high level of interest and thought demonstrated by the voters of Saratoga Springs in this year's municipal elections.

Consider that Schenectady has a population of 66,000, and 7,000 people voted in that city. Saratoga Springs has a population of 28,000, and 8,443 voted. So, both in absolute terms and in percentages, our city had an impressive turnout. Keep in mind also that there were only three contested offices this year, which usually would mean a low turnout.

The numbers in this blog are based on the unofficial results from the Saratoga County Board of Elections. The vote will not be officially certified until December 2, but little change is anticipated.

Party Fluidity

In this age of heightened partisanship, Saratogians showed they were comfortable looking at candidates regardless of party affiliation. The best example of this is first-time candidate Tim Coll, a registered Democrat who ran on the Republican and bipartisan One Saratoga lines. In spite of what was seen by many as a controversial choice to take the Republican line as a Democrat, Tim ended up carrying 24 of the 25 election districts in the city and was the third highest vote-getter overall after Supervisor candidates Matt Veitch and Michele Madigan.

There were also, I would say, an unprecedented number of endorsements crossing party lines. For instance, Tim Coll received endorsements from former Democratic Mayor Meg Kelly and former Republican Mayor A.C. Riley. In the Supervisor race, Democrat Michele Madigan was shunned by the Democrats although she appeared on their line (as well as the One Saratoga line) and was endorsed by former Republican Mayor Scott Johnson, who had often been her nemesis when they served together on the City Council. Michele was the second-highest vote-getter in the city. Coming in with the highest total was Republican Matt Veitch (also on the One Saratoga line), who was surprisingly endorsed by Democrats Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran and Pubic Works Commissioner Jason Golub in spite of the fact that two Democrats were running with them on their party's line. Interestingly the leader of the Democratic Committee Otis Maxwell publicly rejected Montagnino as their candidate the day before the election partly because he had endorsed Republican John Stafford. Go figure.

Saratoga Springs voters were also ready to look beyond the two major party lines to vote. Here are the tallies of votes on third-party lines:

  • Mathiesen - One Saratoga - 1420 votes
  • Tim Coll - One Saratoga - 732
  • Kristen Dart - Community First - 2396
  • Michele Madigan - One Saratoga - 1157
  • Gordon Boyd - Working Families Party - 395
  • Ron Kim - Working Families Party - 203
  • Matt Veitch - One Saratoga- 831

Kim's Unpopularity Among Democrats

Gordon Boyd, who, like Kim, ran on both the Democratic line and the Working Families Line, drew more votes than Ron Kim on both.

  • Boyd - Democratic Line - 3642
  • Kim - Democratic Line - 2969
  • Boyd - Working Families Party - 395
  • Kim - Working Families Party - 203

The One Saratoga Factor

The role that One Saratoga played in this election cannot be overlooked. Formed in 2019 by a group of dissident Democrats who left the Democratic Committee and led by former Democratic Chair Courtney DeLeonardis, this group has endorsed candidates in the past but has never had a ballot line. This year, they successfully petitioned to place candidates on the ballot and clearly played a role in the outcome of the election.

Consider the Mayor's race, where Republican John Safford won with 3,752 votes to Kim's 3,172, with Chris Mathiesen drawing 1,420 on the One Saratoga line. While it will be difficult to determine exactly how many who voted for Chris on the One Saratoga line would have voted for Kim if Chris had not had that line, many will certainly legitimately speculate this line made a difference in this race.

The role One Saratoga played in the Supervisor race is undeniable, however. Three candidates ran for the two Supervisor slots this year. The top two vote-getters win. Matt Veitch was the clear front-runner, with a total of 4,871 votes. Gordon Boyd clearly would have beaten Michele Madigan with his total of 4,037 votes had Michelle not been able to add 1,157 One Saratoga votes to the 3,307 she garnered on the Democratic line.

I think it's interesting to remember that the three Democrats who ran on the One Saratoga line all asked the Democratic Committee to consider them for endorsement. The Democratic leadership, in violation of their own by-laws, did not even allow them to address the full committee after being rejected by the nominating committee. Two of these candidates-Tim Coll and Michele Madigan- went on to be top vote-getters in this election, defeating the Democrats on the party's line; and Chris, many will feel, played an important role in defeating the Democratic candidate for Mayor.

The Daily Gazette's Problematic Reliance on an "Expert"

In the November 9, 2023, Daily Gazette, reporter Shenandoah Briere had a story attempting to analyze the results of the election. None of the factors discussed above were mentioned.

The poverty of the story is the logical outcome of the shallow coverage of city politics by the Gazette over the last two years.

The fact that she would choose Bob Turner as her expert to explain the election outcome in Saratoga Springs regrettably demonstrates how little she knows about the history of city politics and its players.

Turner is on the faculty of Skidmore College and chaired the ill-fated charter change committee in 2017.

Had she done a simple search of this blog for the word "Turner," she would have found numerous examples of Mr. Turner's fluid approach to facts and accuracy. Let's take just one example.

 During the 2019 campaign to adopt a new city charter, an anonymous site on the web popped up called "Common Sense Saratoga." It was the focus of numerous complaints for its opacity. Zuzia Kwasniewski asked Bob Turner on the Saratoga Unites Facebook page if he was behind the anonymous website, and he disavowed any involvement.

Subsequent to Ms. Kwasniewski's question and following numerous criticisms of the site, the site posted four names as its "founders." Bob Turner was one of the four.

In the October 31 edition of the Gazette, Ms. Briere provided Turner with a platform to opine about city politics. In that article, he claimed that he was entirely non-partisan. Mike Brandi, chair of the city Republican Party, advised Ms. Briere that Turner had donated to the local Democratic Party. He provided her screenshots from the New York State Board of Election documenting the amount and date of his donation. In her article, she wrote that she questioned Turner about the donation.

When presented with this information in a phone interview, Turner said, "I don't know where that came from. I never gave them money."

Daily Gazette November 7, 2023

More recently, in a podcast made just prior to the election, Miles Reed, the news editor of the Daily Gazette, also chose to interview Turner. During the interview, Turner told Reed that Brandi had apologized to him for his criticism in the Briere story regarding his donation.

I found this hard to believe, so I contacted Brandi, who was quite amused. He told me it was Turner who apologized to him, and he sent me an email from Turner that documented this. Turner wrote the following:

"I also owe you an apology. It turns out I did contribute to the local party.

Dr. Bob Turner email November 6, 2023

As Turner appears to be the expert the Daily Gazette relies on for its coverage of local politics, it comes as no surprise that their post-election assessment is simplistic to the extreme.

The Gazette's Myopic View of the Election

The Gazette article chose to reduce the last election to a one-on-one conflict between Mayor Ron Kim and Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino. The headline of the front page story reads: "'Mutual destruction': Kim, Montagnino tension led to re-election losses for both."

First, while the animosity between Kim and Montagnino was very real, it ignores that the conflict was not limited to these two. In fact, Finance Commissioner Sanghvi and Accounts Commissioner Moran were active allies with Kim. Both intemperately attacked Montagnino at the Council table, calling him a racist and a misogynist. This was not just a one-on-one conflict but more four-to-one.

Ms Briere's story that the source of public dissatisfaction was the conflict between Kim and Montagnino misses what most of the public saw. She and Turner seem strangely removed from the madness beyond focusing on these two men.

Central to this is the failure of Sanghvi, Moran, and Public Works Commissioner Golub to insist that Kim use his chairmanship to insist on civility. The poisonous behavior at the table was a group project. All four of them were central enablers in allowing BLM to turn our Council meetings into a cesspool of ugly invective.

For those of you willing to endure this stuff again, this video documents both the extreme level of madness and the passivity of Kim and his allies.


Turner tries to dismiss the dysfunction of this Council by pointing to prior Councils' conflicts. While other Councils, particularly under Val Keehn, were also often contentious, Bob Turner's statement that he thinks by comparison, "Today's city council seems unbelievably tame," is mind-boggling. Just for a start, prior Councils, no matter what the conflicts, always got the city's business done. This Council has the dubious distinction of being the only Council in the city's history as far as I know that twice had to abandon a City Council meeting without finishing its agenda. In fact at one meeting Council members had to huddle at the end of the Council table to pass the consent agenda so city employees could get paid before they quickly left the room. Both times Mayor Kim was unable or unwilling to control the Black Lives Matter activists who disrupted the meeting. And in the almost 50 years I have been observing and attending Council meetings I don't remember anyone ever saying until now that they were afraid to bring their child to one of these meetings.

Turner's Other Incorrect Statements

Turner also offered other observations that are demonstrably incorrect.

For instance, while it is true that John Safford hoped to capitalize on the split among Democrats between Kim and Mathiesen, Turner's assertion in the Gazette article that "...this was John Safford's explicit stated strategy of trying to get two Democrats running, one on this One Saratoga line to split the Democratic vote and enable the Republican to win" is simply absurd. Safford played no role in either man's decision to run. This is so obvious that it is rather stunning that Ms. Briere would repeat this.

Turner also misrepresents the purpose and goals of the Coll and Mathiesen campaigns. Take the characterization as to why Chris Mathiesen ran for mayor. The primary reason attributed to him by the article was supposedly his "dislike of how Kim and the City Council spoke about his handling of the controversial Darryl Mount case..." It does acknowledge, "...he also ran over the handling of behavior at City Council meetings over the past several months" but ignores the other issues Mathiesen raised, such as earlier bar closing times.

Likewise, Turner calls Coll's campaign "sort of ambiguous," ignoring the specific proposals Coll put forth during the campaign to address homelessness, panhandling, bar closings, short-term rentals, etc.

This Election Was About The Failure Of This Council To Properly Manage This City

As much as the political pundits would like to spin this election as a clash of personalities, the issues went much deeper. This election was about the public's rejection of how this city has been governed in the last two years.

The vast majority of accomplishments the current members of this Council take credit for were simply completing the initiatives of the previous Council who they continually complain about, and the list of their missteps is very long. It includes:

  • The destruction of the city's successful risk and safety management
  • The cost of millions of dollars due to the decision of our insurance carrier not to continue underwriting the city.
  • The chronic failure to adhere to the requirements of the New York State Open Meetings Law for the provision of FOIL documents.
  • The failure to properly fund the city's civil service commission.
  • The chronic failure of the information technology office to reliably record and post city meetings.
  • The multiple suits over a toxic work environment.
  • The inappropriate interference by the Public Safety Commissioner in police investigations.
  • The forced retirement of most of the leadership in the Police Department.
  • The failure to address the chronic homeless situation (It was Sonny and Julie Bonacio, former Mayor Meg Kelly, and Rise that got a homeless shelter up and running).
  • The gratuitous conflict between the city and the county District Attorney.

The Real Issue

Kim, Sanghvi, Moran, and Montagnino's constant campaign to be on television and in the media and to virtue signal rather than do the unglamorous work of efficiently running this city are at the root of why the public rejected the candidates put forward by the local Democratic Party.

The petty conflicts the public has had to watch are the byproduct of these politicians needing drama to get media coverage. Drama begets drama.

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