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Saratoga Springs mayoral candidates debate in virtual forum

Heidi Owen West, Ron Kim, and Robin Dalton
Lucas Willard
From left to right: Heidi Owen West, Ron Kim, and Robin Dalton

Three candidates for mayor of Saratoga Springs debated this week with Election Day fast approaching.

The League of Women Voters of Saratoga County hosted a virtual forum this week with three candidates seeking to become the Spa City’s next mayor. Democratic Mayor Meg Kelly is not seeking a third two-year term.

Participating in the event recorded on Monday and released Tuesday were entrepreneur Heidi Owen West, who will appear on the Republican and Conservative lines, Democrat Ron Kim, a former city public safety commissioner and attorney who will also appear on the independent Resilient Saratoga line, and the city’s current Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton, who left the Republican Party earlier this year and is running for mayor on the independent Saratoga Stronger Together line.

Maxwell Rosenbaum, whose name will appear on the Working Families Party line, did not take part.

The three other candidates spent the hour-long forum answering a set of 10 questions and speaking about the issues most important to them.

West, who operates three downtown clothing stores, said she would bring a private-sector mindset to city hall. She said voters are looking for a change.

“They want a city council that can work together and they want problems solved. It’s time for, actually, a fresh perspective in city hall. It’s time to stop the drama, it’s time to be honest, it’s time to come together and work toward real solutions that all of us can live with in our community,” said West.

Kim, who spent four years as public safety commissioner, said Saratoga residents want to be listened to.

“I’m the only candidate who has had the experience and plan to rebuild trust, protect our local democracy to make sure we create a safe, vibrant city that works for everyone,” said Kim.

Dalton, who has served in her role since 2020, touted her experience in navigating city government through COVID-19 and political independence. The ex-Republican denounced the city’s political parties.

“They are putting up candidates that are here for all sorts of other political opportunities to promise rainbows and sunshine, when those of us working in the trenches who understand how city hall works are here for solutions – real solutions, not just hollow promises – real solutions for every Saratogian,” said Dalton.

Answering the first question, about communicating top issues to city residents, West said her top concern is public safety. In a city that has seen protests – and the recent arrests of racial justice advocates – the Republican and Conservative Party candidate said she wants to lean on a history workplace collaboration to bring residents together.

“So we need to heal relationships, especially between the community and public safety and the police department, and work together and make sure all voices are heard,” said West.

West said she would like to see more conversation between city officials and the public outside of regular council meetings. She said she would support a Community Review Board.

Kim, who has criticized the current city council for not acting quickly enough on police reform and the implementation of a CRB, said he’s already fostering conversation. The Democrat hosted a “Saratoga Listens” event in July and wants to hold regular neighborhood forums.

Kim criticized the current city council’s lack of communication with Black Lives Matter demonstrators, and pointed to a stalled proposal to hire a mediator to negotiate with advocates.

“Having a mediator for the purposes of talking to your residents is not a good idea, it’s an admission of failure. And basically that’s where this current city council is, and it’s disappointing to see that they’re actually thinking about having taxpayer money devoted to getting a mediator so they can talk to the residents,” said Kim.

Dalton said clear channels of communication between the city and residents have been “glaringly absent.”

On public safety, Dalton said she originally opposed a civilian review board but reconsidered. She pressed for a framework to establish a CRB during Tuesday night’s council meeting. In a later question specific to public safety, Dalton pointed to an envisioned community policing model.

“Right now, before the city, I have a budget proposal in that would establish a community engagement department within our police department that would work from September through June that would engage in community policing in a way that I have heard our community ask for and need so desperately. Then, during the track season and summer months, they would be able to put on patrol later at night, throughout the day, so that we could bolster our police force downtown when we do bring in these large-scale crowds,” said Dalton.

With late-night violence leading to shots fired, a stabbing, and a death downtown this year, all three candidates said they would support a 2 a.m. closing time for bars that normally operate until 4 – an action that must come from the County Board of Supervisors – though West said she would not prefer a “mandate.”

Dalton and Kim pointed to the importance of the planned third emergency station on the city’s east side. West, who was initially involved in a neighborhood lawsuit against the project, previously told WAMC she is “all for” the project on NYRA-owned property.

The candidates also discussed issues of homelessness and affordable housing, tourism and sustainability, open space and development, support for small business and more.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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