Displaying items by tag: charter vote

Thursday, 17 September 2020 13:08

Battle Lines Drawn: Charter Change Back on the Ballot

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Buckle your seat belts, the battle lines have been drawn. 

In November, on Election Day, city residents will be asked to consider a change in the only form of governing that Saratoga Springs has known since its inception as a city in 1915. The last time a citizen-led City Charter referendum proposed change, which took place in 2017, a tense nine-day post-election period was required to await the return of absentee ballots that would decide the winner. In the end, nearly 9,000 residents voted in all and the referendum to replace the long-standing commission form of governing was defeated by a total of 10 votes. 

That razor-thin margin in 2017 was a continuation of an ever-tightening vote differential in community-led proposals for change: a 2006 referendum proposing a change to a strong-mayor form of government was voted down by roughly a 62-38 percent difference, and a 2012 proposal was defeated 58-42 percent. 

This time around, the proposed charter reform calls for the creation of a six-person council whose members would be elected from six newly created neighborhood “wards,” a mayor elected by voters city-wide, and the hiring by the council of a city manager. 

Last week, a pro-charter change citizens campaign committee called Common Sense Saratoga, staged their kick-off campaign at High Rock Park. 

“Why am I here today? When I was in office, politics was the primary thing, unfortunately,” said Ron Kim, former city Public Safety Commissioner and currently a co-chair of Common Sense Saratoga. “Each of the commissioners protected their own turf. That’s not the way I wanted to operate, but that’s the way things were. Everyday citizens would meet roadblocks for the simple things,” Kim said.  “It was open to those who were connected, who had their own attorneys, who had a voice through the political end. That’s cronyism. That’s not representative government.” 

The current “Commission” form of governing features five council members – one mayor, plus four commissioners heading the departments of Public Safety, Public Works, Finance, and Accounts, respectively.  Each council member is responsible for administering their own department as well as serving as legislators. In this council of five, each of whom is elected to two-year terms, decisions are made by majority rule. 

Kim said the change in the form of governing would provide more accountability, representation and transparency. “City wide commissioners who manage bureaucracies don’t, as a first priority, represent people. They represent the department. I know. I was there.” 

Saratoga Works - a group opposing the charter change and in favor of maintaining the status quo, launched their first gathering two weeks ago. 

Led by co-chairs Connie Woytowich and Jane Weihe, the Saratoga Works group argue a change in Saratoga Springs’ current form of government would be risky during a time of a pandemic and subsequent economic crisis, deliver an “expensive version of charter change” and would politicize neighborhoods by dividing them into wards.

Kim and the Common Sense Saratoga group scoffed at criticisms that a ward-based system would pit neighborhoods in competition with one another as being “cynical” and argued that the ward system similarly aligns with most representative governments such as Congress and Senate representation. 

Addressing costs, he said swapping the salary and benefit package costs of the five councilmembers and their five deputies in the current form in favor of a city manager, a mayor, and six ward council members in the proposed reform would provide taxpayer savings. 

Saratoga Works argues that even as some city deputy or assistant salary costs would be saved, new workers would still need to be hired to conduct the work the current city employees are doing, increasing financial ramifications. 

The designated wards of the proposed referendum are as follows: “Inner East Side” Ward 1 -  Election Districts 4, 8, 9 and 12; “North Side” Ward 2 - Districts 1,2,3, 24 and 25; “Outer East Side” Ward 3 - Districts 5, 15, 17 and 22; “South Side” Ward 4 - Districts 10, 13, 14 and 23; “South West Side” Ward 5 - Districts 16, 18, 20 and 21; “West Side” Ward 6 - Districts 6, 7, 11 and 19. Each ward counts approximately 2,900 to 3,400 currently registered voters.

A total of 1,565 registered voters signed the petition to put the proposal on the ballot. If approved by voters in November, the measure is anticipated to take effect in January 2022.

The concept of a Commission form of government was founded in Galveston, Texas in 1901 after a storm ravaged that city, killing more than 5,000 people and creating the need for a useful way of post-disaster governing. It proved to be an efficient measure as well as a popular one. By 1912, 206 cities in 34 states had followed suit. Saratoga Springs adopted the commission form of governing shortly after it was incorporated as a city in 1915. Since its popularity in the early 20th century, however, many cities have since switched to other forms.

For more information about the pro-charter change referendum, go to: commonsensesaratoga.org. For more information about the group opposed to change of the city’s current form of government, go to: saratogaworks.org

Published in News
Friday, 09 November 2018 14:44

Saratoga Election 2018

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Similar to the higher-than-normal turnout of voters across the country Tuesday, the tallied number of locals casting ballots in Saratoga County on Election Day is expected to register among some of the highest in recent local midterm history. 

County-wide, more than 91,000 votes were counted regarding the 2018 vote - nearly 60 percent of active county voters, and dwarfing previous mid-term election tallies. Those elections - held in 2014, 2010 and 2006 – typically have returned 70,000 to 84,000 voters.

Those 2018 figures have yet to include absentee or affidavit ballots. When the Board of Elections officially certifies the vote, the tally could reach triple figures, which is typically in range with Presidential Election years.

The county Board of Elections is currently organizing data related specifically to city voters on Election Day 2018, but those figures are not yet available for comparison to previous years.

 

PROPOSAL TO CHANGE CITY CHARTER DEFEATED

In Saratoga Springs, a proposal to amend the City Charter was soundly defeated, with 6,537 votes against the change and 3,610 in favor. A second ballot question to further amend the Charter by providing two additional City Council members for decision-making purposes met a similar fate. 

“I respect the outcome and the will of the people and the votes cast,” said city Attorney Vincent DeLeonardis, chairman of the Charter Review Commission.

A 2017 City Charter referendum which proposed a greater change – to change the city’s form of government - was narrowly defeated last November, by a 4,458 - 4,448 vote. That Charter Commission was headed by city residents and conducted 16 months of study. This time around, the commission board was run by City Council members and city staff as selected by the mayor, and proposed more modest changes.

“The very subject of Charter is contentious in this city. It has a very long-rooted and deep history and I respect that,” DeLeonardis said Tuesday night.  “I respect that the debate over our form of government is going to continue, but I think there was some confusion over this round as to what was on the ballot. This year, the ‘form’ of our government was not on the ballot. It was just an effort to update and amend the current form of government we have and the form of government the voters decided to keep, just last year.”

DeLeonardis said he was pleased with the group’s effort in regard to public awareness and education, but that those efforts of providing information “had to compete with misinformation and disinformation.”  The status of any future study and public vote regarding the City Charter, DeLeonardis said, “is up to the people and up to the elected officials.”

    

DEMOCRAT, REPUBLICAN SEATS MAINTAIN STATUS QUO

In the 20th Congressional District – which includes parts of Saratoga Springs as well as Charlton, Clifton Park, Halfmoon, Malta, Mechanicville, Stillwater and Ballston, Democrat incumbent Paul Tonko bested GOP challenger Joe Vitollo by a near 2-to-1 margin.

 “I am very thankful and humbled for the support of the voters,” Tonko told supports at the Inn at Saratoga, where Democrats gathered on Election Night. “Whether they voted for me or not, whether they voted or not, I’m there and I want to bring us together in the 20th Congressional District to address the issues of our times.”

With Democrats set to regain control of the House in January, Tonko offered a glimpse of the party’s priorities moving forward.  

“We have pledged as a Democratic Caucus in the House, If chosen to lead the House of Representatives, we need most certainly to not repeal the Affordable Health Care Act, but to strengthen it, and to strengthen it in a way that absolutely includes protecting the pre-existing clause,” he said.    

In the 21st Congressional District – which includes parts of Saratoga, Galway, Greenfield, Milton, Moreau, Northumberland, Providence, Wilton, and some parts of Stillwater and Ballston – Republican incumbent Elise Stefanik defeated Democrat challenger Tedra Cobb by a 55.9 percent to 41.2 percent margin.

In the 43rd Senate District – which includes parts of Saratoga Springs as well as Greenfield, Halfmoon, Mechanicville, Moreau, Northumberland, Saratoga, Stillwater, and Wilton – Daphne Jordan – a prodigy of Kathy Marchione, garnered 63,540 votes to defeat Democrat Aaron Gladd – who secured 53,902 votes. The seat is currently occupied by Kathy Marchione, who received the GOP nod in 2012 after fellow Republican Sen. Roy McDonald voted to back gay marriage. 

At the Holiday Inn in Saratoga Springs where Republicans gathered on Election Night, Jordan thanked Marchione - “my friend and mentor” - as well as fellow Republicans Chris Gibson and Joe Bruno.

“I’m a mom, a former small business person and a community leader,” Jordan told supporters. “I’m a real fighter for upstate.”

In the 49th Senate District – which includes Ballston, Charlton, Clifton Park, Galway, Malta, Milton, Providence and parts of Saratoga Springs, Republican incumbent Jim Tedisco secured more than 58 percent of the vote to defeat Democrat challenger Michelle Ostrelich. 

Republican Mary Beth Walsh, running unopposed, secured the 112th Assembly District. The district includes Ballston, Charlton, Clifton Park, Galway, Greenfield, Halfmoon, Milton and Providence.  And Democrat incumbent Carrie Woerner retained her seat in the 113th Assembly District, defeating Republican challenger Morgan Zegers by a 28,199 – 21,737 vote tally.

“It truly takes a village to win a campaign and you are my village,” Woerner told supporters of the district, which includes Malta, Mechanicville, Moreau, Northumberland, Saratoga Springs, Saratoga, Stillwater and Wilton.

“I am so looking forward to working with my colleagues in the Assembly and my new colleagues in the State Senate…to fight for women’s reproductive health, to ensure quality health care, to once and for all fix the funding formula so our rural schools, our schools that have high rates of poverty - get the kind of funding they need,” Woerner said. “And to make sure that we have quality farms that are viable and continue to produce good, locally-produced nutritious food for all of us to eat.”    

Republicans Karen A. Heggen and Andrew B. Jarosh, retained their seats as County District Attorney, and county Treasurer, respectively, after running unopposed.

 

STATE

Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo was re-elected to a third term by statewide voters – although Saratoga County voters rejected Cuomo, instead choosing Republican Marc Molinaro with 54.5 percent of the vote to Cuomo’s 37.6 percent     

Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand was re-elected to the U.S. Senate, defeating Republican challenger Chele Farley by a 2-to-1 margin statewide, although in Saratoga County, that margin of victory was significantly closer, with Gillibrand securing 49,000 votes to Farley’s 40,900.  

Democrat incumbents state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul also won re-election; Democrat Letitia James was elected as the attorney general.  

According to the New York State Board of Elections, as of Nov. 1, Saratoga County counts 153,325 active registered voters. The breakdown: 39.2 percent are registered as Republicans, 27.5 are registered as Democrats, 25.1 percent registered voters opted for no specific party affiliation, and the remaining approximate 8 percent are comprised of members who designated their affiliation with the Independence, Conservative, Green, Working Families, or other party.    

In the city of Saratoga Springs specifically, the 2016 Presidential Election 14,239 city votes cast their ballot.

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