Welcome to the City Desk, your one stop for all the political news affecting Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County.
Wednesday, March 5
Saturday, March 1
Playing it close to the vest
City officials also confirmed that they had received plans for the proposed expansion at the Saratoga Casino and Raceway, but would not make them available for public viewing.
Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco said Friday he was sponsoring a resolution drafted by Saratogians Against Casino-style Expansion opposing locating a full-scale gaming facility in the Spa City.
“I want a strong resolution that says ‘no’ to any expansion over there,” Scirocco said Friday. He is not interested in waiting until the state issues its Request for Applications that will outline exactly what a full-scale casino would entail. “If we want to have any impact we need to move now.”
He was making some changes to the drafted SAVE resolution, but said it largely coincided with his views on the subject.
At the same time, Mayor Joanne Yepsen also sponsored a resolution, but wouldn’t specify Friday exactly what it said and it was not released as part of the preliminary City Council agenda. Friday afternoon at about 3:30, the resolution was still being circulated in City Hall looking for edits, additions and comments from the City Council.
Yepsen said Friday that she expected the two resolutions to be merged. When asked if they were mutually exclusive, she said “Oh gosh no, they’re very similar.”
Scirocco said he would be willing to merge the two resolutions, provided it took a strong stance against expansion.
City Council members Michele Madigan and John Franck said Thursday they would prefer to wait for the RFAs to be released from the state, and Commissioner Christian Mathiesen said that while he was personally opposed to casino gambling in the state, he would accept a modest expansion at the casino provided it came with city oversight and provisions to protect city interests.
Still, he said he supported bringing the SAVE resolution to the table, though “I don’t agree with all of their concerns.”
Friday, city officials also confirmed they had received plans from the Saratoga Casino and Raceway showing the expansion they have planned, but they did not make the plans available for public review.
City Attorney Sarah Burger said the city only had one copy of the plans and “we are looking at it.”
When pressed to allow the documents to be reviewed, she said “would you like to go into my office and take the documents off of my desk to look at? Or any of these other desks for that matter?”
Shortly thereafter, Yepsen said “we’re not trying to not be transparent” but they could not let the plans leave City Hall. She then said they could be reviewed, but City Planner Kate Maynard was not available and Yepsen did not know where the plans were.
Saratoga Casino and Raceway is not required to get approvals from the Planning Board or city in order to move forward with its expansion.
Friday, February 28
The other Green man of the 21st *Updated*
Unlike his Green Party competition, Hassig said he doesn't believe he can win this election. "I'm in it to win it in 2020," he said, echoing himself in 2012 when he first ran for Congress. "I'm not going to win. No Green Party candidate is going to win. The purpose of this campaign is to get media attention on the issues." He said without his influence, "Fracking would have never been discussed at all (in 2012)."
Don't tell that to Funiciello, though, who said "This isn't an issues campaign. I'm in it to win it."
Here are Hassig's major campaign issues, as he relayed them to me:
1- Stop hydrofracking in the US entirely. "If we don't have a healthy environment, no matter what else we do we're sunk."
2- Free healthcare for all Americans.
3- Free education to all Americans through graduate school. "It's such a basic necessity. People shouldn't have to incur huge debts and drag them down. Our country can afford this."
4- Free organic food for all Americans. "Our country shouldn't be just about getting people what they have to have, but about giving the country wonderful things."
5- He wants to pay for the last three with taxes on "financial instruments... Any time you are making money off of selling money."
6- A jobs program that promotes more teachers (for the free education) more doctors (for the free healthcare) and more farmers (for the free organic food).
7- Get out of the World Trade Organization and renegotiate Free Trade agreements.
As for other political issues Hassig has seen: in 2012 when he ran for the seat, Hassig was denounced by the Green Party for comments he made on immigrant labor on North Country farms, particularly dairy farms.
“I do not want Mexicans on the farms of St. Lawrence County, or the farms of Clinton County, or the farms of Washington County — any of these farms,” Hassig said, according to North Country Public Radio.
"I'm not a racist. I don't have a racist bone in my body. I didn't think about racism (when I said it). I said it straight from the heart. The reason I said 'I would like to see them get their asses kicked out of here' is because it is not good for the American people, for American farming and for American cattle."
He said dairy farming is a complicated business and when the boss speaks English but the workers only speak Spanish, it can create issues. "I do not approve of immigrant laborers who do not speak English working on American dairy farms."
Plus, he said, it takes jobs way from Americans.
But he said he forgives the Green Party for denouncing him, despite it being "pure bad behavior, (since) they weren't interested in my explanation."
Originally, the blog post stated:
As for his Green opponent, Funiciello, Hassig said he is the product of the Green Party becoming elitist. "There is a caste system here in America," he said, and the Green Party is putting a business man over a "grassroots activist."
But Hassig said that is not what he meant.
"I said that the Green Party leadership, meaning Gloria Matera, Michael O'Neil, and Peter LaVenia did not like me because they were elitists and I was a person from the lower levels of American society.
I do not have any reason for believing that Matt Funiciello was recruited by the Green Party leadership to enter the NY-21 race. I certainly did not say that the Green Party was putting a businessman over a grassroots activist. Your article makes me appear to have a negative attitude toward Mr. Funiciello. I have a positive attitude toward him."
He did, in fact, have a positive attitude toward Funiciello when I spoke to him. He also said he believed the Green Party establishment was becoming elitist, however, at one point he also said Green voters were more likely to support Hassig, as a "grassroots activist."
*End of Update*
The state's Green Party co-chair said the party will not be endorsing either candidate before June 24 primary.
Meanwhile, Funiciello said he doesn't believe Hassig was a serious candidate, since he dropped out before the 2012 election to endorse Democrat Bill Owens.
"That was a mistake," Hassig now says, and that he did it at the time because Owens' opponent (and current candidate) Matt Doheney was "such total fracking cheerleader" and he considered Owens "the lesser of two evils."
Despite the two Green candidates' differences, they both agree the Green primary will be good for the party. "I like the idea of more Green issues being brought up and more people talking about them," Hassig said.
Wednesday, February 26
In a Reader’s View submitted to The Saratogian, the city council member argues that the casino would threaten downtown businesses, the City Center as an event space and the Saratoga Racecourse through competition.
“Our racetrack charges admissions and patrons pay to park; how will the racetrack fare against the free admission, parking and beverages that the casino offers?” he asked, and though I’m sure no one was ever kept out by the $3 admission, his point is taken.
“By allowing a casino resort into our city we are giving up any say or control and we are inviting subsidized competition to unfairly challenge our historic racetrack, downtown, and city center and will likely disrupt the quality of life and uniqueness that we are charged with protecting as elected officials.”
He isn’t the first City Council member to submit Reader’s Views on the subject. In January, both Michele Madigan and Christian Mathiesen submitted their views, though neither took as definite a stance as Scirocco did.
Two common themes flow through all three of their arguments: more development at the Saratoga Casino and Raceway create a small, manufactured casino complex with shops, restaurants and a hotel for downtown establishments to compete with; and the city needs more control over what goes on at the casino.
“Without some control and oversight over what could eventually be built in our city, it will be difficult to support expanded casino gambling within our boundaries,” Madigan wrote in her letter.
Mathiesen wrote something a little more firm, and also invoked the need for guaranteed money from the state as a hosting community.
“Without ironclad guarantees of annual income for the city and county, consistency with our comprehensive plan and city council and land-use board control to limit the Saratoga Casino and Raceway to a moderately expanded stand-alone facility, I cannot support their proposal.”
Mathiesen and Scirocco’s thinking was the same on that point too.
Scirocco said, basically, that the money that the city could take in as a host community can’t be counted on, pointing to state money for hosting Video Lottery Terminals the city saw evaporate in 2009 and with it, funding for 10 cops and as many firefighters.
Of course, all of their discussion of whether to allow a casino may be a moot point, regardless, since as he points out: “Unlike Massachusetts, the New York State Gaming and Development Act was written without home rule; meaning that the Massachusetts voters have the power to veto any proposed casino resort in their community and we do not.”
Saturday, February 15
Southworth makes it a crowd
That makes her the third candidate running for that spot (including Hugh at least).
Farley represents the 49th Senate District, which encompasses the western half of Saratoga County, all of Fulton and Hamilton counties, as well as portions of Herkimer County and Schenectady County, including the city of Schenectady. The district has 76,126 registered Republicans, 57,437 registered Democrats and 10,313 Independence Party voters.
He is the longest-seated state senator, having coasted to his 19th senate victory in 2012 against Democrat Madelyn Thorne with about 59 percent of the vote. (61 percent of the Saratoga County vote).
The two look as though they will be squaring off again this year, with Thorne already scooping up the Saratoga County Democratic endorsement, but the two will have a little company in the race this year.
Southworth was chair of the Saratoga County Independence Party until last year. She is now a registered Democrat, but said she was running even without the party's endorsement.
"I've never been one to be a part of the political machine. It is very important in my eyes that people have a choice when they go to vote."
She made her announcement on 1160 WABY's Phil Barrett Show Saturday morning and then we spoke on the phone afterward.
Southworth has been endorsed by the Democrats in the past, but this time she said she would be running without that nod, though she will be interviewing with Hamilton County Democratic Committee. Saratoga County Democratic Committee Chair Todd Kerner said Southworth was present during the Thorne interview and never expressed any interest to him in running for the office.
After six years as Ballston Town Supervisor, she opted not to pursue a fourth term, instead making a brief run for Saratoga County Clerk last year (she said she was running in March and withdrew in May).
Southworth ceased that run after saying she had 150 people call and tell her she should run for state office.
"It made me sit back and think 'what is happening in state government,'" she said. "The people need someone who will use common sense, be an independent voice and stand up for what's right for the people."
She said she will focus on jobs, taxes, the environment and education, as well as "trickle down taxes" where the state pushes new mandates on to local governments without economic support.
Southworth encouraged anyone who wants to talk to her about the issues, her campaign or anything else to call her on her cell at 441-6548.
And in case you are interested, here is a video of the endorsement interviews we held with Farley and Thorne a couple of years ago.