I’ve long criticized Saratoga Springs’ form of government in which elected council members oversee specific aspects of City Hall, creating silos of administration. But the charter change now on the ballot would replace that shortcoming with one far worse – a ward system that would drastically reduce every city resident’s representation on the City Council and make elected officials less accountable.
I’m voting no.
The claim that residents would gain better representation with wards is false and grossly misleading.
The ward system minimizes our individual clout as voters. It eliminates council members’ accountability to all but the sixth of the city that elects them. We would get to vote for a mayor and only one of six council members, with no promise that even that one candidate – let alone the other five – would feel compelled to address the concerns of our particular neighborhood.
Ward Three stretches from the city neighborhoods around the Caroline Street School to the sprawling estates in the Beacon Hill Drive area off Meadowbrook Road and the rural developments north of Route 29 toward Wilton.
Ward Four would combine the South Side (everything south of Lincoln Avenue, including Jefferson Terrace) with all the Saratoga Lake and Lake Lonely developments, more than three miles and a world away.
Ward Six puts together the downtown West Side (including the Beekman Street arts district) with the more suburban housing around Buff Road.
You get the idea. Check out the map yourself.
Bottom line: Every citizen should be able to vote for all of the City Council members.
There are other reasons to reject this charter change. Promised cost savings are dubious as is the timing of the ballot proposal, with people unable to assemble to discuss the pros and cons, not to mention the city budget hole caused by the pandemic. And the idea of a city manager appointed to oversee all city operations makes sense — but not accompanied by the unnecessary creation of a full-time mayor as proposed.
I could get behind a new charter with an appointed city manager beholden to a City Council whose members answer to all Saratoga Springs voters.
This charter change would radically reduce our voice. Vote no.
We’re at the seventh anniversary of the day a Black man named Darryl Mount was chased by white police in downtown Saratoga Springs and ended up below a construction scaffold, dying nine months later from his injuries. A civil lawsuit brought by Mount’s mother against the city is still pending. A remembrance walk is scheduled for Monday.
An independent or internal investigation of the pre-dawn incident might have uncovered police misconduct — or could have cleared the officers of suspicion of wrong-doing in what they called an accident. Instead, the city refused to sanction an independent probe and lied about conducting an internal one.
No wonder at the Black Lives Matter march in Saratoga Springs this past June 7 you could see “Justice for Darryl” signs here or there, and that an event is planned for the Aug. 31 anniversary of the fatal chase. The nationally pervasive police culture of protecting your own, whether or not they deserve it, disrespects and endangers both the public and the officers doing their job with integrity.
I am not anti-police. It breaks my heart when citizens are the victims of the people sworn to protect them. And it also breaks my heart when officers who put their lives on the line are disrespected, demonized and murdered. Cases of egregious police misconduct seem few and far between in Saratoga Springs; not to jinx us, but it’s rare – as it should be – for shots to be fired in this city by citizens, let alone police.
I believe Black Lives Matter and I believe that most police officers are decent human beings.
A protest walk is a baby step toward cultural change. This summer, the state Legislature repealed section 50-a of the Civil Rights Law, which means the public can finally see police disciplinary records in New York. So today I formally requested documents related to conduct complaints against members of the Saratoga Springs Police Departments — including the officers involved in the 3 a.m. Darryl Mount chase back in 2013.
My interest in the Darryl Mount case is not new. As managing editor of the local newspaper, The Saratogian, at the time, I accepted the word of the police chief and his boss that they were doing an internal investigation into allegations of misconduct.
A few months later, planning to write a broader story about SSPD handling of misconduct allegations, I requested data on complaints between 2014 and 2018. The response came shortly thereafter, in May 2019, in the form of a press release-style statement from the chief loaded with raw data. It raised even more questions that I knew I couldn’t get answered, and I set it aside. Until today, thanks to the state’s repeal of 50-a.
The chief’s May 2019 statement reports that from 2014 through 2018, the SSPD dealt with almost 161,000 calls for service and more than 6,800 full body arrests. There were 134 force reports (only about 2 percent of total arrests) and 77 personnel complaints – that is, 77 internal investigations.
Of the 77 complaints (24 generated by supervisors and 53 by citizens), 18 were for rude behavior, 49 for “various police-related issues,” and 10 alleged excessive force.
Twenty-seven of those complaints against officers were sustained, the chief wrote: “Eight resulted in disciplinary action; two officers resigned prior to the commencement of disciplinary action; and seventeen complaints were closed with counseling or retraining for minor violations of policy.”
What was the outcome of the excessive force allegations? What disciplinary action was meted out against whom, and for what? Were there repeat offenders? Did resigning officers slip away with pensions and then go on to some other law enforcement job? Were any of the cited officers involved in the Darryl Mount case?
Let’s not speculate about what the records I’ve requested will show. The purpose isn’t to embarrass or harass good police officers, but to peel away the secrecy that taints them in the eyes of the public. I’ll keep you posted.
The Saratoga Springs mayor who sued the federal government to save the downtown post office, ran a Broadway bootery frequented by Skidmore students, and officiated at my marriage (twice, kind of) passed away Sunday, Aug. 23.
He was 91 and, truth be told, Raymond Watkin had a good run.
Ray will be buried Wednesday alongside his wife Joan, a talented artist who died in August 2013. Her work adorned the walls of their home, and he adored her.
Last time I spoke to him was on his 91st birthday in June. I meant to stop by to say hi. I didn’t. Least I can do it let the world know he hasn’t been forgotten.
When you go inside the 1910 post office on Broadway in Saratoga Springs, look around. Look up at the leaded glass skylight. Notice the murals on the walls from the 1930s. Admire the arches and architectural details remaining in one of the most elaborate lobbies of its kind in New York.
This historic gem exists because one local guy sued the federal government – and won.
That guy is Raymond Watkin, who turned 90 on June 9.
Watkin was mayor from 1974 through 1980. He was mayor when the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation was established and when the post office and other properties were designated components of a new Broadway Historic District. When Watkin couldn’t convince his City Council colleagues to step up, he personally sued the federal government — and literally stopped the destruction of the post office.
The turning point of downtown occurred during his tenure, as local and federal initiatives and investments began to restore and ultimately preserve Broadway storefronts, setting the stage for today’s thriving downtown.
At the time, I was a rookie reporter covering the city for The Saratogian, the daily newspaper. Back then the City Council elections were non-partisan, which seems fitting for local races, though no one loves to schmooze about politics more than Ray Watkin.
I don’t think I ever got a scoop out of Mayor Watkin, but he does have a special place in my heart. In 1978 he officiated my wedding – two days in a row. As our big day approached, Watkin informed us he didn’t have jurisdiction at our wedding venue in Albany. So my now-husband Jim picked me up at the newspaper and we went across the street to City Hall, where Watkin married us in a lovely, brief and intimate ceremony. He then performed the faux formalities the following day before more than a hundred unsuspecting family and friends.
Thought I’d share these couple of stories on the occasion of Ray’s 90th, to publicly thank him for a memorable marriage ceremony and for his legacy to the city.
The stately “Welcome to Saratoga Springs” statue of Native
Dancer surrounded by flowers where Union Avenue meets Congress Park was one of Marylou
Whitney and John Hendrickson’s many exceptional contributions to this city. I
go by it all the time, and I always think of Marylou and John, always meaning
to tell them both, thank you. Thank you for this beautiful gift.
I think I told them all of this before. But I meant to send
Marylou a note about it a few weeks ago, when I saw people posing for photos in
front of the statue, as I often do, year-round. I procrastinated, as I often do,
even knowing that Marylou was in failing health. Yesterday, on July 19, 2019, she
passed away at her home in Saratoga Springs.
I first met Marylou close to 40 years ago, when I became managing
editor of The Saratogian. My husband and I enjoyed her black-tie summer galas, attended
by a mix of local people, big names in racing, and assorted celebrities. Crowds
would gather in Congress Park outside the Canfield Casino to watch Marylou’s grand
entrances and try to spot some of the rich and famous guests. Saratoga Springs
was revived as a place to be in no small part because of Marylou’s parties,
beginning well before my arrival in the city, the Whitneys’ generosity and
their role in horse racing, and the sheer power of her personality.
My colleague at The Saratogian, Jeannette Jordan, whose
duties included society coverage, and her husband, Augie, hit it off with
Marylou. They’d frequently meet up for dinner at places like Winslow’s. “You
didn’t have to have money to be a friend of hers. She loved everybody and was
kind to everybody,” Jeannette told Times Union reporter David Lombardo (yes, my
Yet not everyone was kind to Marylou. Sometimes people would
complain to me that the newspaper had “too much” coverage of Marylou Whitney. I’d
explain they were mistaken to brush her off as merely a socialite, the wife and
later widow of the accomplished C.V. Whitney, rather than the philanthropist,
horse owner and lover, and keen businesswoman she really was. They didn’t understand
or appreciate how important she has been, for decades, to Saratoga Springs and
horse racing. She did plenty for this city — without seeking recognition.
Marylou was extremely gracious, generous, smart — and
funny. A few years ago, she and her husband, John Hendrickson, were driving on
Route 50 heading home when they passed my husband and me walking to a show at the
Saratoga Performing Arts Center (which, by the way, she helped create back in
the 1960s and supported for decades). Months later we saw them, and Marylou
leaned in to tell me, “If you need a ride to SPAC, let me know.”
Marylou and John, nearly 40 years her junior, married in
1997. Longtime friend Maureen Lewi yesterday told The Times Union: “No one
thought so in the beginning, but it was a match made in heaven. They both know
how to have fun and they both have such generous hearts.” Maureen is right. John
has truly been a loving husband and, as the need arose, a devoted caregiver.
Marylou and John have generously donated millions of dollars,
countless hours and hands-on leadership to continue to benefit the city –
enhancing Saratoga Hospital and other health care institutions (especially in
Kentucky); creating, funding, organizing and attending programs for the
backstretch workers at Saratoga Race Course; underwriting much of the celebration
of local thoroughbred racing’s 150th anniversary in 2013, including
the old-fashioned Floral Fete. This was one of the most amazing, heart-warming
things I ever saw in this city – some 40,000 people lining Broadway to cheer a
parade of dozens of people on homemade floats.
Today I’ll brave the heat to visit the Congress Park garden of long-stem, scented pink Marylou Whitney roses that John commissioned for her 85th birthday. Classic, like Marylou herself. I’ll stop for a selfie at Native Dancer’s “Welcome to Saratoga Springs.” And I’ll say thank you, Marylou. Thank you for this beautiful gift. Thank you for everything.
A horse walked into a bar and the bartender asked, “Why the long
“The longer racing season,” replied the neigh-sayer.
This year’s Saratoga Race Course season started eight days sooner
than the norm for the past nine years. Eight days too soon, I think.
The cachet of Saratoga’s racing season is due in large part to the
exclusivity of its limited engagement at the historic track. The Thursday, July
11 opening day felt like any weekday at the track.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy going to the track, and I’ve gone twice
already (though not for the whole day, which is just too long); I won with my late
dad’s favorite trainer, Linda Rice, on opening day and I saw hat contest participants
and brought home my picnic cooler give-away on Sunday.
I’m grateful to be living in a lively, thriving city, which hinges
to a great degree on the success of the New York Racing Association, which runs
Saratoga and the downstate Belmont and Aqueduct thoroughbred tracks. I
appreciate new seating options at both end of the Saratoga grandstand to lure
new and young visitors.
However, for me, living in walking distance from both the track and
Broadway, the earlier start was one more weekend of tourists taking over my
favorite restaurants and planning travel around anticipated traffic jams –
especially when the track coincides with big concerts at the Saratoga
Performing Arts Center, as was the case with the Dave Matthews Band on July 12
Not the worst problems in the world, I admit. But since a slow day
at Saratoga makes more money for NYRA than a good day at Belmont or Aqueduct, I
worry about continued lengthening of the Saratoga season. Total betting from all
sources for these first four days at Saratoga was $73.4 million, exceeding betting
on the first four days last year by more than $1.7 million.
In a tongue-in-cheek column in July 2016, the Times Union’s Tim
Wilkin wrote: “Saratoga used to be known as the August place to be as the meet
was 24 days, all in August. Then the light bulb went on at NYRA. Extend the
meet! It grew to 30 days in 1991, then 34 three years later. In 1997, it was up
to 36 days. In 2010, it hit 40 days. … Maybe they should run from the Fourth of
July to Labor Day.”
Now, without adding racing days, the season is a full week longer.
Instead of closing only on Tuesdays, the track will also be closed every Monday,
the least popular racing day, except for Labor Day.
Though the earlier opening for Saratoga was ostensibly because of
construction of an arena for the NHL Islanders on the Belmont property, who
wants to bet on the length of future Saratoga meets?
I want the track to do well and for related local businesses and
the local economy to benefit. I get that any inconvenience to local yokels is nowhere
on NYRA’s priority list. But I worry about the bigger picture – the risk of losing
the exclusivity that makes the Saratoga racing meet special.
When you go inside the 1910 post office on Broadway in
Saratoga Springs, look around. Look up at the leaded glass skylight. Notice the
murals on the walls from the 1930s. Admire the arches and architectural details
remaining in one of the most elaborate lobbies of its kind in New York.
This historic gem exists because one local guy sued the
federal government – and won.
That guy is Raymond Watkin, who turned 90 on June 9.
Watkin was mayor from 1974 through 1980. He was mayor when the
Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation was established and when the post
office and other properties were designated components of a new Broadway
Historic District. When Watkin couldn’t convince his City Council colleagues to
step up, he personally sued the federal government — and literally stopped the
destruction of the post office.
The turning point of downtown occurred during his tenure, as
local and federal initiatives and investments began to restore and ultimately
preserve Broadway storefronts, setting the stage for today’s thriving downtown.
At the time, I was a rookie reporter covering the city for
The Saratogian, the daily newspaper. Back then the City Council elections were
non-partisan, which seems fitting for local races, though no one loves to schmooze
about politics more than Ray Watkin.
I don’t think I ever got a scoop out of Mayor Watkin, but he
does have a special place in my heart. In 1978 he officiated my wedding – two
days in a row. As our big day approached, Watkin informed us he didn’t have
jurisdiction at our wedding venue in Albany. So my now-husband Jim picked me up
at the newspaper and we went across the street to City Hall, where Watkin married
us in a lovely, brief and intimate ceremony. He then performed the faux formalities
the following day before more than a hundred unsuspecting family and friends.
Thought I’d share these couple of stories on the occasion of
Ray’s 90th, to publicly thank him for a memorable marriage ceremony
and for his legacy to the city.
I plan to vote for incumbent
Michele Madigan in the June 25th Democratic primary for the Saratoga
Springs City Council position of Finance Commissioner.
Since taking office in
2012, when the city was in the red, Madigan has successfully managed city
finances and demonstrated leadership on projects to enhance city life.
During her tenure the
city has held the line on property taxes without service cutbacks, saved
significant sums by refinancing city debt and restructuring city health care,
and secured a highly favorable bond rating.
Madigan reaches beyond the department she oversees to move the city forward, as
a strong council member should.
For instance, she is
leading the way, with support of her council colleagues, to make Saratoga
Springs the first municipality in the state to set up a high-speed fiber-optic
network for residents and businesses. In 2016 she created a Smart City
Commission, bringing together major stakeholders from the city’s public and
More examples: She
oversaw development of a solar park on the previous landfill on Weibel Avenue that
saves the city more than $60,000 a year. She partnered with the state to fence
in dog park on Crescent Street off Route 9. She initiated
setting aside two city-owned properties for affordable housing built by Habitat
for Humanity. And during her watch, the City Council was key to preserving the Pitney
Farm, which has been transformed into extensive community gardens.
I don’t agree with Madigan on everything. Her primary opponent, Patty Morrison, correctly asserts that the structure of city government needs changing, and I’m confident this will soon happen regardless of who’s on the council. To her credit, Madigan has served the city well despite the limitations of the current structure.
With the Republicans not fielding a candidate, the winner of the Democratic primary is likely to win in the general election. I’m sticking with Madigan.
I thought the choices would be easy. I was mistaken.
The budget vote and school board elections are today, and I’m still torn about the candidates. If you live in the Saratoga Springs school district, you’re going to have to decide for yourself which of the seven candidates competing for three seats best match what you’re looking for.
I listened to all seven address myriad questions at a
forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Saratoga County at the high
school May 8, reviewed their responses to the questions on the league’s
website (an excellent public service), read the individual writeups in The
Saratogian, noticed lawn signs, reviewed mailings, noted the Saratoga Springs
Teachers Association endorsements, and chatted with one, Natalya Lakhtakia, who
knocked on my door when I happened to be home.
Based on all of the above, the two candidates I feel most strongly about voting for are Natalya Lakhtakia and Connie Woytowich. I came away from the forum impressed by their smart, direct, thoughtful answers, their approach to education issues, and their highly relevant professional and personal experience. They seem passionate and reasonable. By the way, they have opposite views about whether the district should bring back armed monitors (Woytowich says yes, with training and evaluations; Lakhtakia wants only active duty officers armed). I’d like them to win, though I pity the headline writer.
I’m wavering about my third choice.
Longtime resident John Kaufmann expressed my thoughts precisely
in a May 19 post on his Saratoga
Springs Politics blog, where he wrote: “Any of the candidates running for the three seats open on
the Saratoga Springs Board of Education would serve the district well. … All of
them care deeply about our schools, and it is to their credit that they are
willing to take on the very demanding job of being a school board member.”
Not one of the seven is a single-issue candidate. However,
three – Ed Cubanski, Dean Kolligian and Shaun Wiggins — are running as a team in
multiple mailings paid for by “Saratoga Parents for Safer Schools,” formed to
reverse the current school board’s decision to disarm school monitors. Woytowich shares that goal
but decided not to be associated with the group after it attacked candidate Heather
Reynolds as an “anti-school safety politician.”
respect Woytowich for this demonstration of civility for a fellow candidate. It’s
inane to claim that anyone on or running for the school board does not care
about the safety of the students and staff at our schools. To their credit, Cubanski,
Kolligian and Wiggins have not, as far as I could tell, spouted such nonsense.
Meanwhile, Lakhtakia, John Bruggermann, and Reynolds (the
only candidate with board experience, seeking her second three-year term) are more
quietly being touted by those who don’t want the monitors re-armed. It takes a
while to learn the ropes on a school board, and Reynolds’ investment and
willingness to stick with it shouldn’t be ignored.
Without any explanation that I could find, the teachers
union endorsed Kolligian, Lakhtakia and Bruggermann. Apparently neither the arming
monitors issue nor being an educator and union member were deciding factors.
Four of the candidates are educators – Reynolds, Lakhtakia,
Woytowich and Bruggermann. Most of the candidates have long track records in a
variety of community service roles, many involving children. There are
candidates of color. Three of the seven are women. All are invested in this
community, personally and professionally. I regret that I’m giving candidates
short shrift in this writeup.
City Council elections generally draw more attention than Saratoga
Springs School Board elections, even though our school tax bill is bigger than
the city bill. This year is different, but the issue isn’t taxes: It’s guns and
Who wants to do what, and why?
I hope to find out Wednesday at a candidate event scheduled
for 7 to 9 p.m. in the high school teaching auditorium. The League of Women
Voters of Saratoga County is hosting the event. The league also promises to
have info about the candidates on its website ahead of the May 21 school budget
and board member vote.
The other day the president of the school board resigned
immediately the other day without public explanation. His three-year term would
have ended in June; he did not seek re-election. He was one of members who
voted last fall to disarm the monitors who patrol the schools. It passed 5-4 and
sparked the current election challenges.
I’m torn about the gun issue. I think arming teachers is an
invitation for disaster, but trained officers could perhaps save lives. I want
to hear more. I want to learn who’s running and why – and what the candidates are
bringing to the table on matters other than guns.
Our democracy was created as an experiment, and so is the democracy-inspired
event you’re invited to sit in on Wednesday at Caffe Lena in downtown Saratoga
You’ve heard of TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Talks. Well,
on March 27, come hear LED Talks — League Embraces Democracy.
The League of Women Voters of Saratoga County put out a call for people
who’d like to speak for a few minutes (no notes allowed!) on various aspects
about making our democracy work. I’m intrigued by the varied backgrounds and
interests of the dozen people who were chosen and excited about the angles they
selected to address.
The two-hour, free event begins at 7 p.m. March 27; doors open at
6:30 and space is limited. I get off easy as facilitator; you and I get to
listen, learn and have fun.
The ground rules for the speakers prohibit the promotion of one
political party over another, but rather ask that they address issues and
solutions in a knowledgeable, interesting, and engaging way. In other words, we’ll
be keeping it civil, but not dull.
Speakers (who’ll be on stage between five and eight minutes each) include
award-winning storytellers, a beekeeper, educators, a well-traveled GE retiree,
healthcare professionals, and political candidates (successful and not). The speakers and their topics are:
· Margaret French:Coming to
· Kathleen Quinn:Not Just for Us
Hippies: What Cooperatives Can Teach Us about Democracy
· Michael Belanger:Taxation with
Representation: The Underpinnings of National Sovereignty
· Cynthia Cook:Democracy, Privacy,
· Eva Hawkins:Why Third Parties
Matter and Why They Should Get More Media Coverage
· Lezlie Dana:Democracy, Change,
and the Courage to Believe
· Kate Dudding: The Story of One
· Kathy Johnson: Liberty and
Justice for All
· Annarosa Mudd: De-escalating the
Fight: How Arts Help Compassion and Problem-Solving
· Tara Gaston:The First Rule of
Ballot Fight Club
· Norah Brennan: Time for
· Linda Salzer:We Must
is the third event in the League’s Democracy Series, and the first of its kind
in the very cool Caffe Lena at 47 Phila St. Food and beverages will be available
(their chocolate chips are to die for). Learn more at www.lwvsaratoga.org.