UPDATED 11/8/17 10:48 a.m.
Saratoga Springs voters have selected a new mayor. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports Democrat Meg Kelly will succeed her boss — outgoing mayor Joanne Yepsen.
In a city with a long history of switching between Democratic and Republican mayors, Meg Kelly held the office for Saratoga Springs Democrats.
After serving as Deputy Mayor under outgoing Democratic Mayor Joanne Yepsen since July 2016, Kelly will remain in city hall under a new title for the next two years.
Yepsen declined to seek a third two-year term.
Kelly thanked her supporters Tuesday night at Democratic headquarters.
“I think we were door-to-door. We were grassroots. I had social media going. I had the younger kids working with me, the high school and college kids. I think it was a fabulous and collaborative group that just made it work,” said Kelly. “We worked really, really hard. We came into the game late and we did it. We worked hard.”
Kelly defeated Republican Mark Baker 54 to 45 percent, according to unofficial returns.
Baker, the former longtime president of the Saratoga Springs City Center, was disappointed with the results but positive about the tenor of his campaign.
“When you run for a race and you’re involved there are choices, and you know that,” said Baker. “One person is going to win. And this evening that did not pan out for me. But I have absolutely no regrets for running. We ran a campaign that was upbeat, positive, based on principle, and I think we did a great job with it. In fact, I know we did a great job with it.”
Baker congratulated his opponent.
“I wish her well. It’s going to be a job…serving in a public office is always difficult. I think there’s going to be a number of challenges going forth. I’m hoping that she can bring the consensus that I know I could have brought forth from the other council members to get some things moving.”
Also on the citywide ballot, Democratic county supervisor Peter Martin was elected to succeed Chris Mathiesen as the next Public Safety Commissioner. He defeated Republican Donald Braim.
“We’ve got some good years ahead for Saratoga Springs, so let’s all do a little celebrating,” said Martin.
Mathiesen, also a Democrat, is retiring.
Replacing Martin on the county board will be Democrat Tara Gaston.
“I’m just incredibly excited and honored and humbled that as someone new to politics that the people of Saratoga Springs have chosen me to represent them,” said Gaston.
Republican Matthew Veitch will keep his county supervisor seat.
John Safford, who was defeated in his bid for county supervisor, had words of encouragement for his fellow Republicans. Safford also lost a bid for mayor in 2015.
“Candidates sitting in this room, and people that you know, we need to get the candidates that can win. And you know them. You know them. We just cannot be…we can’t be complacent about this. And we can’t let the fact that we’ve lost something stop us,” said Safford.
Commissioner of Accounts John Franck and Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, both Democrats, and Republican Commissioner of Public Works Anthony “Skip” Scirocco were re-elected to the Saratoga Springs city council after running unopposed.
Even with Kelly’s victory, uncertainty was hanging over Spa City politics after voting — a ballot question to overhaul the city’s charter and establish a new governing model was too close to call and will depend on absentee ballots.
Since the City of Saratoga Springs was incorporated in 1915, the community has held onto its unique commission-style form of government through multiple reform efforts over the decades.
But that may be about to change, depending on the outcome of a ballot question to change the city charter.
Of the 8,356 who voted on the charter change question, the YES votes were leading by 48. The decision will now depend on absentee ballots.
If the charter change is affirmed, in 2020 Saratoga Springs will change its current governing structure, where five city councilors also serve as department heads, to a council-manager system.
The new system would include seven city councilors including a full-time mayor and an appointed city manager.
Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission chair Bob Turner, also a professor at Skidmore College, was on pins and needles late Tuesday.
“I told my family that on November 7th it would all be over and it seems like it may not be. And my students’ papers are going to have to wait a little bit longer to be graded.”
Turner said it could take between 10 and 14 days for all absentee ballots to be counted.
Richard Sellers, a member of the anti-charter change group SUCCESS, said he wasn’t surprised by the close vote.
“I would rather be up 48 than down 48 but it’s within the realm of possibility for the charter to be turned down,” said Sellers.
The charter question dominated city politics for months. The city’s mayoral candidates took opposing sides on the measure.
Debates and forums in the weeks leading up to Election Day drew crowds of curious Saratogians.
Controversy continued right up to Election Day. Three members of the city council who ran unopposed questioned the Charter Review Commission’s financial review of the plan that was mailed to homes. They also pressured the group in support of charter change called It’s Time, Saratoga to reveal its funders.
It’s Time, Saratoga confirmed that it was funded by the International City/County Management Association.
The group then called SUCCESS a “who’s who list of Saratoga, made up primarily of builders, developers, and bankers.”
The heated opinions are unlikely to cool down soon.
Early Wednesday morning, Turner wrote on Facebook that the Charter Review Commission has hired an outside attorney and plans to meet with the Saratoga County Board of Elections to discuss the vote.
"This is like Florida 2000. We plan on zealous[ly] representing the people of Saratoga Springs who voted for the new charter," wrote Turner.