The March 16 elections in Saratoga County’s village of Ballston Spa will for the first time be nonpartisan, to the credit of both local Republicans and Democrats. Mayor Larry Woolbright cut to the chase in a story about the change by the Times Union’s Wendy Liberatore: “We call ourselves ‘A Village of Friends’ and then every two years when we have an election, we act like complete morons.”
Nonpartisan local elections make sense.
I want water clean, taxes fair, streets snowplowed; to know 911 will bring well-trained police or firefighters; places for kids to play; and downtown, the arts, and parks protected and supported.
I want representatives who are responsive, innovative, civil, forward-thinking, environmentally conscious, sensitive to local social and economic issues, consensus-building problem solvers. I want to know their positions, plans, and track record for community service.
For all of those things, the character and ability of the person is more important than their political party.
Saratoga Springs, whose voters elect both Democrats and Republicans, should consider a return to nonpartisan races, which is how city elections were set up when I became a reporter at The Saratogian in 1977. Though this system was new to me, it turned out it’s overwhelmingly common nationwide in municipalities large and small.
At the very least, the city’s two representatives on the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors ought to be the top two-vote getters in an open race for both seats, same as how school board members are elected.
Instead, candidates for Saratoga Springs supervisor must run on a party line specifically for Seat A or Seat B, even though the positions are identical. This is inherently unfair when the loser of Seat A gets more votes than the winner of Seat B. Better for the citizens to elect the top-two vote-getters in nonpartisan elections.
Whatever the municipality, having candidates run as individuals rather than on a party line won’t automatically make local government better. But I like the basic idea of focusing on people over party.
I won’t lie. A candidate’s positions on political and social issues beyond the usual scope of local government will matter to me, especially if all other things are equal. That’s still a matter of character more than party affiliation.
For now, I’ll watch with interest the upcoming elections and subsequent running of Ballston Spa as the county seat joins several other Saratoga County villages that hold nonpartisan elections.