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The Saratogian Newsroom blog, complete with thoughts and commentary from our newsroom staff and regular posts on happenings around town.

Friday, May 29

Kim for Mayor

At their meeting tomorrow, the City Democrats are expected to endorse Ron Kim to run for Mayor in November's city-wide elections.

Other nominations are expected to include Supervisor Joanne Yepsen and Commissioner of Accounts John Franck.

Other nominees will include Kevin Connolly (to run for Public Safety) and Peter Martin (to run for Finance).

The Democrats do not yet have a candidate to run for Commissioner of Public Works, or the second Supervisor position.

Of course, this could all be turned on its head tomorrow, should committee members decide, as they have a right to do, to nominate candidates for additional from the floor of tomorrow's committee meeting.

As I pointed out earlier this week, John Franck is one person who could see a challenge from within his own party.

No matter how the Accounts race looks, it seems that the Democrats are poised to take a risk with Kim. While some bloggers are persistent in their distaste for the commissioner, he did handily win re-election over Richard Wirth in 2007. Although much has changed since then, it seems to me that Kim has retained his popularity among the police and fire unions, along with the left-leaning half of the city, and would there, in my estimation, be likely to win a third term as Commissioner of DPS.

I don't know Connolly, so I won't be so bold as to assess his chances, but I do think it's safe to say that the seat is now in play for both parties. Similarly, although Martin will face an incumbent Ivins in the Finance race, that seat too is in play.

So, there you have it: seven positions up for election. Two each seemingly safe for the Dems and Republicans (one supervisor each; DPW for GOP and Accounts for Dems -- even if it isn't Franck). That leaves us with three contested seats, with the balance on the council hanging -- in the balance. Hold your breath to see what happens...

Thursday, May 28

Beaver Pond Update

Check in with the Saturday paper for complete coverage, but know that there was no vote on Beaver Pond Village's preliminary subdivision approval at Wednesday's meeting. The board talked about it for a while, but decided they needed more time to consider the application before voting.

Once this vote is taken, the applicant will have more homework to do before returning with an application for final subdivision approval. After that step, the project could come to fruition.

Wednesday, May 27

It seemed like such a good idea...

Remember back in November when the City Council unanimously voted to approve a 0% tax increase?

I sure do, and so do, it was clear today, to the members of the council.

With the city now facing the prospect of millions in cuts and reductions in services that many residents have long considered right rather than privilege, council members are doing everything they can to distance themselves from that vote.

Of course, it's easy for me to say, because I don't pay property taxes in the city (or anywhere else), but a 2-3% increase in property taxes would most definitely taken the sting out of the current budget hole.

At the time, voting for a 0% tax increase seemed like a great idea, especially leading into an election year AND in the midst of a terrible economic downturn (which continues), but in doing so, the council may well have dug its own grave.

The council can hem and haw about how they thought budgeting or not budgeting VLT money would look to Albany, but the fact of the matter is that they have to have known that putting even a portion of that money in the budget was a risky move.

Now, this council is paying the price in the form of painful budget cuts.

It's hard to imagine any member of this council getting re-elected if personnel cuts are anywhere near as deep as Commissioner of Public Safety Ron Kim suggested today that they could be.

In the next month or so, we'll have to see if this council can pull a rabbit out of its collective hat.

On a somewhat lighter note, my colleague next-cubicle neighbor, Mareesa Nicosia, has just launched a new blog, which will deal with topics of business in Saratoga Springs. Check out In The Biz here.

Tuesday, May 26

Committee Meeting Drama

Anyone who finds local politics as fascinating as I do might consider attending Saturday's meeting of the City Democratic Committee. It's 9:45 a.m. at the library. The nominating committee is expected to announce the candidates it is recommending for endorsement by the party.

Seems simple enough, right? Nope. In manner that only the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee could come up with, the full committee has decided to take nominations for endorsements from the committee floor. All endorsements will be voted on by the full body.

What this means is that after careful consideration by the endorsement committee, the city committee could very well wind up endorsing a candidate who was not interviewed by any formal part of the committee. It also means that after agreeing to follow a process by which candidates would come before the nominating committee, the larger body has decided that it wants to reserve the right to throw the committee's suggestions out the window and name their own candidates.

John Franck, take notice.

Saturday, May 23

Rec Center Recycling

With the construction of the Indoor Recreation Center now substantially underway, I got a tip that the Department of Public Works had been ordered to conduct some demolition over at the site. This seemed odd, since the city had contract Bast Hatfield to do that work.

As it turns out, Commissioner of Public Works Skip Scirocco said his department removed some of the blacktop, which it sells to Pallette Stone, which, in turn, recycles the stone. This all results in some small revenue to the city. Bast Hatfield was going to land fill it all.

Similarly, DPW stored the basketball hoops and some other equipment from the site for later re-use. Call it creative demolition.

Friday, May 22

Budget season, take two.

City Hall is abuzz with one word: "budget."

Calls across the street today were met with harried responses like "How do you assure someone with this many cuts?"

Cuts are looming, of amounts to be determined. No department will be unaffected, and it is likely that city services will change on some level, although it is not yet clear how much.

See Tuesday's paper for a full analysis. (Actually, you'd better check Monday's paper too, it's not yet clear what day the story will run.) I thought we'd wrapped up the budget back in November, thanks to the state's own budget crisis, we are now seeing the budget revisited. Hopefully this will be the last time this year.

What a great way to start the holiday weekend.

Thursday, May 21

History comes to town

Just a quick heads-up, tomorrow afternoon I'll be meeting with Gideon Putnam, Henry Hudson, and General Burgoyne.

The three men are coming to town to help promote the city's July 4th celebration.

I'm hoping that these blasts from the past can shed some light on the identity of JFK's killer, the location of Amelia Earhart, and some other historical mysteries I've been wondering about.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 20

Keehn interviews

Val Keehn, former mayor, came before the city's Democratic endorsement committee, said Peter Tulin, the committee's chairman.

Tulin said that Keehn had not expressed an interest in running for a particular position, but that she was open to the committee's suggestions as to what position, if any, she might run for. The interview process is neccessary part of running for office with the endorsement of the city committee, so it seems as though Keehn took the step in order to keep her options open.

Of course, word from committee insiders is that the Democrats do not yet have a candidate to challenge Mayor Scott Johnson. To me, it seems as though the Dems may keep Keehn waiting in the wings for a possible run, should another candiate fail to materialize.

When I spoke with her last week, Keehn wasn't giving anything away, saying only that she wanted to keep her options open.

The Democrats have also interview Commissioner of Accounts John Franck and Supervisor Joanne Yepsen. The committee also interviewed Peter Martin, who is hoping to seek the finance office.

Tuesday, May 19

Who owns that old house?

On Tuesday, the City Council took up discussion of the home at 23 Greenfield Avenue, which saw some work to remove windows and some roofs last week.

Mayor Scott Johnson mentioned that work done back in early May was conducted without prior knowledge of the city, and the city had issued a stop-work order as a result. He said that his office had received calls about the home, but he did not know who the owner was.

Commissioner of Public Safety Ron Kim explained that the city does not have a mechanism in its code to bar a homeowner from demolishing a historic home.

The largest problem in this instance really does seem to be that no one knows who the owner is. As Kim pointed out, this matter, even though the city has been on the property and boarded up windows on the ground floor, has not been adjudicated, and that the property owner does have rights.

Kim has proposed a resolution to put stricter controls on demolitions, and the city council will hold a public hearing on the matter prior to their next meeting, at 6:40 p.m. This type of measure was requested by Samantha Boshart, executive director of the Saratoga Preservation Foundation, on the foundation's behalf.

Amejo Amyott, who is a neighbor to the building, had a more creative approach, suggesting that the city fine the property owner $5 million, and use the money to build a public safety building.

The home at 23 Greenfield Avenue has no protection, as it is not within a historic district, although it is considered a contributing structure, because it is adjacent to a historic district.

Friday, May 15

Bicycle Racing Returns to Saratoga Springs


SARATOGA SPRINGS — Anthem Sports of Cambridge is proud to announce the Marshal & Sterling Racing City Grand Prix cycling race on May 31 in Saratoga Springs.

The event will benefit Team Billy (, a local brain tumor research organization founded by Saratoga resident Ken Grey who's son Billy died of a brain tumor in 2001. The event is also the New York State Criterium Championship for 2009.

Marshal and Sterling Insurance is the 2009 title sponsor. Other major sponsors also include The Local Pub & Teahouse, The Saratogian, Bonacio Construction, and Blue Sky Bicycles of Saratoga Springs.

“I am thrilled to have Marshall & Sterling as the title sponsor for the NYS Criterium to be hosted in Saratoga Springs. This is a wonderful opportunity for the community to see some of the top cycling athletes from New York in person,” said Ken Grey, President of Marshall & Sterling Upstate. “It is also an opportunity for teenagers and young adults to participate in this unique sport that is a lifetime activity. The fact that part of the proceeds will be directed to the Billy Grey Research Chair is a bonus. Brain tumors are one of the leading causes of cancer deaths for young adults. Together we will defeat this terrible disease.”

Eight separate races for amateurs will be held in Saratoga Springs' West Side neighborhood, starting & finishing at The Local Pub & Teahouse on Grand Avenue; racers will compete over several laps on Grand Avenue, South Franklin Street, Ash Street, Walnut Street, Oak Street, and Elm Street which will be closed to regular traffic from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Anthem Sports is also the organizer of the Tour of the Battenkill held each April in Cambridge which has become the largest cycling race in the United States. Races are open to all, including a kids races for children 9 and under, to be held at 12:45. Registration information and the event schedule can be found at

For more information on how you can help fight brain cancer, please refer to the National Brain Tumor Society site:

Thursday, May 14

Democratic murmurs

Now that the Republican ticket is starting to take shape for the fall elections, rumors are beginning to surface about the process-oriented Democrats.

Word from City Hall is that former Mayor Val Keehn is considering a run for office. What office, you ask? No word yet.

Reached today on her cell phone, Keehn said she was considering a run for office, and that she had taken some steps to enable her to do so, should she decide she wants to seek a city or county post. But, she did not say which post she was considering, and added that she has not yet been interviewed by the City Democratic Committee.

Commissioner of Public Safety Ron Kim said that he expected to make an announcement in the coming weeks, but declined to say what post he would seek. In reaction to Mayor Scott Johnson's announcement on Wednesday, Kim said he noticed that the press release did not include any reference to the recreation center, which has been Johnson's most-ballyhooed project, and possibly the one least popular with city residents.

Commissioner of Accounts John Franck has said many times that the Democrats can re-take control of the city government if they find a way to work together. As the blue ticket begins to take shape, I think we will see how unified that party can really be...

Wednesday, May 13

More Beaver Pond

Two odd things came to my attention today, both in relation to the proposed Beaver Pond Village subdivision. There wasn't a lot of space in Thursday's paper, so neither made it into my story, but will be in whatever follow-up I write tomorrow.

1) Commissioner of Public Safety Ron Kim and Assistant Fire Chief John Betor submitted letters to the Planning Board and to the press stating that the city does not have adequate public safety resources to serve the city at its current size, let alone an increasing population. In his letter, Kim said he hoped the City Council would consider expanding public safety departments if development continues.

Although Beaver Pond still needs at least two more affirmative votes, it did receive significant support last night.

2) Board member Michael Perkins has recused himself from considering the project. Why? Because Assemblyman Jim Tedisco wrote a letter in which he urged the board not to approve the project, and because he contributed to Tedisco's failed congressional campaign, and assisted with campaign efforts.

Perkins had voted in favor of this project at every stage. Although he says he was taking himself off of the application to avoid the appearance of impropriety, it appears to me more likely that he does not want to fall out of favor with Tedisco.

Don't forget, Planning Board members are political appointees.

Monday, May 11

Republicans announce candidates

The city GOP committee announced it's slate of candidates for November's elections after their committee meeting earlier this Monday evening.

As expected, all four Republican incumbents will seek re-election (Mayor Scott Johnson, Commissioner of Finance Kenneth Ivins Jr., Commissioner of Public Works Skip Scirocco, and Supervisor Matthew Veitch). All four have been endorsed by the committee.

In addition, the GOP committee endorsed Richard Wirth, who is going to make a second bid for Commissioner of Public Safety.

Here is a statement from GOP city chairman John Herrick:

“The candidates that we’ve endorsed have a great vision for Saratoga Springs,” said Herrick. “In addition, since Republicans gained control of the City Council, we’ve seen continued prosperity for the City, but just as importantly, we’ve seen civility and cooperation that never existed the previous two years under a Democrat majority.”

In 2007, Republicans won four of the five races they contested, and said in the release that they hope to continue the momentum in 2009.

Although the GOP could opt to endorse additional candidates later this month (petitions to run for office are not due until mid-June), at this moment, it appears that Democratic incumbent Commissioner of Public Safety Ron Kim (if he decided to run for re-election) will be the only Democrat to face an election challenge.

Democrat Joanne Yepsen holds the second Supervisor seat, and will run for a third term. Commissioner of Accounts John Franck will also seek his third term.

*No post Tuesday, as I'm taking a personal day to work on a passion project.

Saturday, May 9

That old house

I've been getting a lot of calls on the home at 23 Greenfield Avenue that some person purchased, and may or may not be facing demolition.

The brick structure, built in 1865, abuts the North Broadway residence of Michele and Ron Riggi, and although Michele flatly denied knowing about work at the home on Thursday, Pat Kane, chairman of the Design Review Commission, told me earlier today that he has it on good authority that the Riggi's, or a corporation they control, has purchased the building.

Michele did not return a message a left for her on Friday.

Another caller told me that the Riggi's had previously tried to purchase and demolish a home just to the north of their's, in order to increase the size of their yard.

Property transactions are public record, and I expect we'll know who the owner is beyond a doubt on Monday.

Of all the people I've spoken to, there are varied reactions. Some, like Kane, feel that it important this building be preserved in some way. Others feel that the owner, whoever it is, is entitled to do as they please with their private property. Still others take a middle ground, arguing that the owners can do whatever they want, so long as they go through the proper channels and reviews.

We will continue to follow this story as it unfolds.

Friday, May 8

Bicycle Boulevards

Which came first, the bike lane or the bicyclists?

Tobin Alexandra-Young, a painter and dedicated bicycle commuter, and member of the Saratoga Healthy Transportation Network, has been working for the past 18 months on making this city a safer place to commute on a bicycle, because, as Tobin says, he doesn't like to encourage people to ride a bike, because he feels the streets aren't safe enough.

How do you make the streets safe? By creating a network of on-street bike lanes and bicycle boulevards. To see Tobin's proposed map, visit this link. The map has been online for about two weeks.

The cost of creating these is not as important as the need to build a ground swell of support, says Tobin. The major cost in creating bicycle boulevards is in laying down stencils and stripping to help educate drivers on the need to share the road.

The first step in making all this happen, Tobin says, is gauging public interest, and soliciting support. So, check out the map, and let him know what you think.

Let's hope this is the last 420 follow-up

I'm in a real slump here, but I think I'll be able to pull myself out tomorrow, in time to leave you well-informed for the weekend.

For tonight, I'd like to share an outside link with you. We in the newsroom all read, with great interest, the new issue of Metroland, which contains another article on that whole 420 thing.

I feel somewhat vindicated by the article, as Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy acknowledges that it was inappropriate to call our numbers inaccurate because they differed from estimates by Skidmore College Campus Safety.

The article is interesting, and features interviews with Managing Editor Barbara Lombardo and others interested in the story.

Check it out here, scroll down, it's the second story.

Wednesday, May 6

City Center

It seems possible that the City Center Authority is making some concessions in regard to the City Center.

Details here. Check back tomorrow for complete coverage.

Tuesday, May 5

Changing majority?

At tonight's City Council, the most contentious item that actually saw a vote was a measure to increase the budget of law firm Harris Beach in the work they did defending the city in the matter of the DEC fine.

There was some debate over the merits of spending that much money on attorneys, and some questions about whether the law firm had truly done that much work (about 240 hour's worth).

At the end of the debate, the measure passed with a party-line vote: Republicans Johnson, Ivins, and Scirocco voted "yes," Democrats Kim and Franck voted "no."

Later, while discussing a budget resolution brought by Ivins, Franck and Kim once again seemed to hold the same view. While there was no vote on the item, it was clear that both the Democrats would have been on the same side of the issue, if there had been a vote. Although, it was looking like Scirocco would have also voted their way, and Johnson said he would abstain.

Why is that significant?

While this council has seen a significant number of 3-2 votes over the past several years, many of them have seen Scirocco and Kim forming the minority, with Franck joining the balance of the Republicans in the majority.

It's getting to be election season, and some have suggested that the city Democratic committee doesn't want to endorse John Franck. So, I wonder if it's possible that this shift in allegiances represents a signal of contrition on Franck's part, a signal that he's ready to play ball with Kim, in hopes of an easier election cycle.

Who can blame they guy? He wants to keep his job, but the prospect of a primary can't be too appealing.

For his part, Kim said he was willing cooperate when Franck brought forward a discussion of coin-drop fundraisers. Kim had previously raised objections to coin drops, on the grounds that he felt they violated a state law, but after Franck presented a legal analysis to the contrary, Kim said he would favor seeking a legal opinion from the Attorney General, and would work with Franck to reach an interim decision on coin drops.

John Franck said to me over the winter that if the Democrats put their internal issues aside, they could repeat their 2007 sweep of city elections. Perhaps this is the first sign of the party circling the wagons.

Friday, May 1

Miffed over 420

We here are still talking about 420, the pot smoking "holiday" observed at Skidmore and thousands of other college campuses last Monday. Why? Because we've been accused of exaggerating the number of participants in the event.

Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy met with Skidmore officials and others on Thursday, and after the meeting, he told other media sources that "some reports of the event were exaggerated." The article then notes that in conferring with "college security officials, Saratoga Springs police and others who witnessed what appeared to be overt smoking of marijuana reported that about 20 students participated in the event."


First of all, it's been my understand all along that Saratoga Springs Police did NOT witness the event, because they were not called to campus on the afternoon of 4/20. Were they there or not? I've been consistent of my defence of the police, arguing that they can't be blamed for not arresting people when they were never alerted to the commission of a crime, and I will continue to do so -- as long as they were not, in fact, on campus.

Skidmore College Campus Safety? We know they were there, we took photos of them driving by. They defended their in actions by saying students would put the weed away if they approached students. Maybe so, but surely if these keystone cops had bothered to get out of their trucks and walk across the South Park green, the students would have dispersed, and gone on with their pot smoking in their dorm rooms, happily out of sight. Remember campus po: you're job is not just to site violations of rules, but to break up situations that might lead to such violations. Please also remember that The Saratogian was on campus with permission from the college's Media Relations department.

Gee, if I were a campus safety officer, I think I'd be able to figure out that a big cluster of kids smoking or drink or whatever isn't the best public face for a college, and that it'd be a good idea to break it up, if for no other reason than the appearance. Sure you might not be able to charge anybody, but at least you've broken up a "potentially dangerous" situation. How many house parties does campus safety bust up on any given night for exactly that reason. How is this any different?

To get back to the exaggeration bit; Murphy is saying, Campus police is saying, and (according to Murphy) the city police are saying, that the number of participants has been exaggerated. They say they've looked at photos that consisted evidence to that effect. I'd like to know what photos they're looking at, and I'd like to see those photos. If they're basing their pronouncement solely off of the photo we printed on Tuesday, 4/21, they should know that those photos were never intended to portray the entire gathering, just a small part of it.

Furthermore, they should know that both our reporter and photographer who were on the scene and walking among the students -- unlike any of the alleged "witnesses" -- are both very confident in the number we originally reported (about 100).

Finally, as I've said to everyone I've talked to about this, when I was at Skidmore, 100 students getting high on the green on 420 would have been very poor turnout. I don't know if the student body is less partial to drugs than it was a few years ago, of if rain kept most of the smoking activities inside, but either way, I hope that Murphy and all those in law enforcement realize that this is involved more than 20 students, even if they feel the need to minimize it for the sake of giving the appearance of working to protect and maintain public safety.

Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.