The Saratoga Springs mayoral candidates in their own words – The Daily Gazette

Saratoga Springs has long been known as the city of “Health, History and Horses.” 
Over the past few years, however, it’s become equally known for political strife in City Hall, a mounting problem with homelessness and a string of combustive racial-justice demonstrations.
With this backdrop of controversy, election season has been especially charged this year. At the center of it all is a contentious three-way race to replace Mayor Meg Kelly, a two-term Democrat who chose not to seek re-election.
The contest features three candidates with varying degrees of civic involvement, government experience — and baggage, some political, some personal.
Previous: Saratoga Springs mayoral candidates all carry baggage; Articles on each
On the Democratic line is former Public Safety Commissioner Ron Kim, who has faced accusations from Republicans that he doesn’t actually live in the city and criticisms over the handling of some of his private law firm’s business matters (unpaid rent and workers compensation insurance in arrears).
On the Republican ticket, political newcomer Heidi West, a lifelong Saratogian and longtime downtown business owner, has been criticized for joining some neighbors in a lawsuit to prevent the city from moving forward with a new fire station on the city’s East Side – before dropping from the petition shortly before going public with her run for mayor. 
And independent mayoral hopeful Robin Dalton, a one-time Republican who serves as the current commissioner of public safety, has been in the crosshairs of criticism over the city police department’s handling of Black Lives Matter protests and issues. She also filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy earlier this year in the U.S Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of New York.
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Despite the controversies, all three candidates say they are the best person to help the city emerge from a stormy few years.
The Daily Gazette gave each of the candidates a chance to respond to the same series of questions. Here are their responses: 
Ron Kim, 62, Democratic
What would your top priorities be as mayor and how would you work to implement them?
My first priority as mayor will be to rebuild trust between Saratogians and the elected officials who represent them. I’ve already begun this effort by listening to residents across the city at “Saratoga Listens” events, and I will continue to do this when I am elected mayor. I will also complete the construction of the new East Side Public Safety Station, a project that my opponent Heidi West sued the city to prevent its construction. I’ll implement a plan to not only build this crucial project, which I’ve long supported, but also to cost-effectively staff and equip the new station. Finally, I will also make it a priority to secure state and federal funds to improve our city’s infrastructure. From day one, I’ll use my relationships with state and federal officials to help direct stimulus funds to infrastructure projects that will benefit all Saratogians, from new affordable housing to installing bicycle lanes.
What should city officials do in the continued effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic?
As mayor, I will make sure that Saratoga Springs is part of the solution to ending this pandemic that has caused so much damage both to public health and to our city’s economy. City Hall needs to be proactive in its efforts to combat COVID-19, which is why as mayor I’ll support a vaccine mandate for all city employees. This measure, similar versions of which have already been adopted by numerous municipalities as well as the federal government, will help keep Saratogians and visitors safe. I’ll also empanel a committee of local residents, businesses, and non-profit organizations to develop a plan for future pandemic-like emergencies, so the next crisis does not catch our city off guard as this one did. As mayor, I will make sure we not only stop the damage COVID-19 has visited on our community, but we will also produce a sensible, smart plan for the future.
What kind of development and construction is important for the city’s future and how should the city balance development with the desire to retain the city’s historic character and charm? 
Our city is growing fast, and this presents opportunities as well as challenges. Smart, focused development is key to ensuring the continued health of our city, but we must not let the interests of big developers overshadow other priorities. As mayor, I’ll support new, energy-efficient construction in the inner core of our city, especially the construction of the new affordable and workforce housing, that allows “essential workers” to live in Saratoga Springs. At the same time, I’ll make sure that our greenbelt is protected from non-rural residential development. Our city’s green spaces and historic buildings are a key part of what makes Saratoga Springs so special, and as mayor I’ll ensure our city’s historic character is maintained.
What should the city do to help bolster the city’s economy over the next two years? 
First, as mayor, I will be Saratoga Springs’ No. 1 promoter for smart, sustainable businesses, looking for an attractive small city to locate their business. Second, and closely related to the City’s attractiveness to smart, sustainable businesses, I will seek state and federal funding to improve and upgrade our infrastructure to make it easier for new businesses to locate in Saratoga Springs. I’ll also work directly with local small businesses as they recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, meeting regularly with business leaders to determine how City Hall can best help them thrive. Finally, and most importantly, I will make sure that the city offers a mix of low-income and workforce housing that allows employees to live AND work in Saratoga Springs.  
As mayor, how would you work with city commissioners to ensure smooth and effective governance in the city?
City Hall must work together to accomplish important goals, and lately we have seen a breakdown in trust and in cooperation between departments. As mayor, I’ll work hard to make sure all members of the City Council work together to serve the public. I’ll set a tone of respect and civility both in public meetings and in private, working to make sure that even commissioners with sharp differences of opinion can work together to solve problems with the city’s best interests in mind. Only by listening to each other and working together can we ensure the smooth and effective governance Saratogians deserve.
What do you make of the arrests and charges against protesters in the city and how do you think the city officials and police should respond to future protests in the city, including instances where protesters actively block traffic? 
As the former Commissioner of Public Safety, I view these regrettable actions as a fundamental failure of leadership. The lack of dialogue between city leaders and protesters is what caused the unprecedented levels of discord we see today. As mayor, I’ll rebuild trust among groups throughout our city, so we don’t get to this point. One concrete way I will do this, is by ensuring there is finally an appropriate, independent, and transparent investigation of Darryl Mount’s death. When I am mayor, I will call upon the Saratoga County District Attorney or if she is unwilling to do her job, the NYS Attorney General or failing that, seek City Council authorization to appoint a Special Counsel. One way or the other, we will have answers about Darryl Mount’s death if I am elected Mayor.
At the same time, I believe the actions taken by police against protesters speaking out for racial justice may constitute a violation of these protesters’ constitutional rights, and as mayor I will make sure that any responsible individuals are held accountable. As mayor, I’d respond to future protests by inviting advocates to speak directly with city officials to voice their concerns, so City Hall can work directly with them to find solutions.
Previous: Saratoga BLM activists, supporters continue to press officials on arrests
How would you work to strengthen community trust in the city’s police department and city government and ensure the equal treatment of all of the city’s residents and visitors? 
In recent years, Saratogians have witnessed a breakdown of trust between the community and city leadership, including the police department. The next City Council will need to work together with each other and with residents to ensure that Saratoga Springs is a safe city that works for everyone. Just as I did as Commissioner of Public Safety, I’ll make sure as mayor our first responders have all the resources and training they need to do their jobs well and to ensure that our city is safe. I’ll also support the implementation of the Civilian Review Board (CRB) recommended by the Police Reform Task Force, to ensure transparency, accountability, and neutral arbitration in disputes between the community and the police. Finally, as noted above, if elected Mayor, we will have an independent, thorough investigation of the death of Darryl Mount. Only through this three-pronged approach can we both keep our city safe and restore community trust.
Heidi Owen West, 55, Republican
What would your top priorities be as mayor and how would you work to implement them?
Bolstering and protecting our city’s recreation department; strengthening public safety; expanding green and open space preservation; streamlining and modernizing our zoning and approval processes; focus on customer service for our residents. That is a complex and layered response, but generally, as I have during my 30 years building my small businesses, it’s about this: how to solve problems, finding solutions and figuring out a way on how to complete the process.
What should city officials do in the continued effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic?
What kind of development and construction is important for the city’s future and how should the city balance development with the desire to retain the city’s historic character and charm? 
This is all spelled out in the UDO (Uniform Development Ordinance) that looks to be passing, which addresses this very complex subject. Let’s focus on the development of the urban core and set up protections for the greenbelt.
What should the city do to help bolster the city’s economy over the next two years? 
Customer service. City Hall should be supporting and lifting up the small business community any way they can. They should be our biggest cheerleaders and supporters. City Hall should work with local civic organizations that do so much for our city. The more we can build a positive and healthy relationship with those organizations, the stronger and more thriving economy we’ll have. We also have to make sure we are there and fully support our flagship tourist attractions.
As mayor, how would you work with city commissioners to ensure smooth and effective governance in the city?
Bringing people to the plate in search of solutions. I’ve been doing this for over 30 years as a small business owner. If the solution is the goal, then you have to put the steps in place to get there. You have to put the right people in place to help achieve that goal. You have to motivate and inspire. Professionalism at all levels will be a hallmark of my tenure as mayor.
What do you make of the arrests and charges against protesters in the city and how do you think the city officials and police should respond to future protests in the city, including instances where protesters actively block traffic? 
I have not reviewed case files. I have not been called as a juror. I have not spoken to witnesses. I am not in elected office. It would be improper for me to comment at this time.
How would you work to strengthen community trust in the city’s police department and city government and ensure the equal treatment of all of the city’s residents and visitors? 
We can all appreciate the need to continue to improve. I will always be open and recommend innovative ways to collaborate and have our police department and citizens work together to move our city forward together. 
Robin Dalton, 41, independent
What would your top priorities be as mayor and how would you work to implement them?
I am running for mayor because I believe we need someone who knows firsthand the challenges the city is facing now. I will put my unique experience leading the pandemic response to work leading the council through the end of the pandemic and ensuring the completion of important projects. My top priorities will be completing fire and EMS station No.3, establishing consistent, reliable, and accessible channels of communication to and from City Hall, finalizing the creation of a yearly drop-in shelter for our city’s most vulnerable, and growing our recreation programs to provide greater quality of life for all residents.
What should city officials do in the continued effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic?
As the Commissioner of Public Safety, I have been extremely focused on keeping residents, city staff, and visitors protected from the COVID-19 virus. Through legislation, outreach, and education, we have taken steps including mask mandates in city buildings, department encouragement to get vaccinated, and holding virtual forums to answer questions. As we recover from the pandemic, the city must continue to follow the direction of the state government and stay vigilant.
What kind of development and construction is important for the city’s future and how should the city balance development with the desire to retain the city’s historic character and charm? 
The city must protect our greenbelt and ‘city in the country’ feel, two cornerstones of our city’s history and character. I believe we need to have construction that is limited to the urban core, is consistent with the 2015 comprehensive plan, and has thorough input from the community. I would also evaluate the implementation of inclusionary zoning to bolster our affordable housing and increase our city’s economic diversity.
What should the city do to help bolster the city’s economy over the next two years? 
The pandemic has shown how reliant Saratoga Springs is on our tourist economy. I will work to coordinate with the emerging Tech Valley in Upstate NY to provide good paying jobs for new graduates, implement inclusionary zoning to ensure there is access to affordable housing so those who work here can live here, boosting our small businesses and tax base while promoting a more diverse city economy. A component of my platform for Mayor is to establish a role in City Hall for new and emerging businesses and entrepreneurs, someone who can help navigate individuals through the channels of City Hall and assist minority and women-owned businesses develop in Saratoga Springs.
As mayor, how would you work with city commissioners to ensure smooth and effective governance in the city?
As mayor I will continue keeping all lines of communication open to all council members, and look to bring everyone’s viewpoint, expertise, and department together on major city issues. As mayor I will also strive to run respectful council meetings, where politics and personal issues are left at the door and city business is the main and only focus within City Hall.
What do you make of the arrests and charges against protesters in the city and how do you think the city officials and police should respond to future protests in the city, including instances where protesters actively block traffic? 
The right to free speech and to protest is one of the most sacred rights we have as Americans. I acknowledge that tensions are high and that our city needs to build an additional layer of trust between police and the community. The City Council passed in March of this year a 50-point plan to address the very issue of public safety policies and procedures and I have been working to implement these points, including a civilian review board for Saratoga Springs. As Mayor I will continue working to advance and implement these points.
Previous: Saratoga Springs mayoral candidates all carry baggage; Articles on each
Previous: BLM activists and Saratoga Springs mayor criticize proposed police review board
Previous: Saratoga BLM activists, supporters continue to press officials on arrests
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