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Candidates for Saratoga Springs county supervisor meet for virtual forum

Shaun Wiggins appeared in a League of Women Voters forum this week
League of Women Voters of Saratoga County/Zoom
YouTube, image capture by WAMC
Shaun Wiggins appeared in a League of Women Voters forum this week

The candidates for county supervisor in Saratoga Springs met for a virtual forum this week.

Saratoga Springs’ two elected supervisors are vying to keep their seats for another two years, while six will appear on the ballot contest for county board.

Four of the candidates appeared in the forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Saratoga County: Republican incumbent Matthew Veitch and Democratic challenger Shaun Wiggins, and Democratic incumbent Tara Gaston and Republican challenger John Safford.

Two candidates who will appear on the Working Families Party line, Bruce Altimar and Gabriel O’Brien, did not take part. Both candidates, former Republicans, forced and won a three-way June primary as part of a larger political push by conservatives to occupy traditionally progressive lines in low-turnout primaries. Gaston, the endorsed WFP candidate, received only two votes in the contest against Altimar and O’Brien, who received 21 and 19 votes, respectively.

First to speak in the virtual forum was Democrat Shaun Wiggins. A businessman and former CIA officer, Wiggins also chairs the Spa City’s Community Outreach Committee. The only person of color running for supervisor, Wiggins touted his years of experience in the public and private sectors.

“I approach with respect. Coupled with respect is how I relentlessly search to find common ground with those who share little commonality. I’m a consummate professional who strives to seek out and find the best solutions to the smallest and greatest challenges,” said Wiggins.

Republican Matt Veitch has held his position on the county board for 14 years. He pointed to his years of government experience and said he wants to continue his work to keep taxes low and preserve open space.

“I am chairman of the Government Review and Efficiency Committee as well as the Building and Grounds Committee. I’m proud to represent Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County on committees at both the state and national-led county associations. I will work together with other elected officials to serve the needs of the residents,” said Veitch.

Tara Gaston is running for a third term. The Democrat says she continues to work toward goals set out four years ago to challenge a “comfortable” county government.

“My focus was on making sure that you were a part of your government, and that it was accountable to you. Some of my goals were instilling a culture of planning, growth, and accountability in a system all-too-often stagnant – a truly open and responsive government,” said Gaston.

John Safford, a Republican and former mayoral candidate, is mounting a second run for supervisor. A veteran who has campaigned on assisting the homeless, he manages several homeowners’ associations.

“There’s a saying that all politics are local, well, managing a homeowner’s association is about as local as it gets. On a daily basis I respond to people’s needs, I resolve disputes, I deal with financial matters, interpret codes and regulations, and I get interactions that are often intense and personal,” said Safford.

The candidates were asked a series of questions about their approach to county government. Asked about the biggest issue facing the county, Veitch said it was the county’s rapid pace of growth and development.

“One of the things I’ve been working on since I’ve been supervisor is trying to have the county push itself more toward the open space agenda, the trails agenda, try to maintain the quality of life as we can while maintaining the growth economically that we’ve had, which of course helps to keep our taxes low,” said Veitch.

Gaston says county government has suffered from a lack of planning for the future and needs to become more resilient.

“We are growing very quickly, and our infrastructure can’t follow it,” said Gaston. “And that’s both buildings and how and where we house people, including our population that is either unhoused or on the verge of becoming unhoused, but also individuals moving in from other communities. We’re already seeing climate refugees from New York City and the East Coast, including Massachusetts, who are moving to our area,” said Gaston.

Safford agreed with Veitch’s concern for growth, and agreed with Gaston about seeking ways to grow the economy that aren’t based on tourism.

“And if you’ve followed any of the things that I’ve done over the last number of years here, I’m very, very much focused on encouraging entrepreneurship in Saratoga Springs but now obviously in the county as well, so I see that as a positive way to approach this growth issue,” said Safford.

Wiggins said the county’s growth requires more strategic planning.

“A good job is being done now, but we need to move faster to make sure that we have the proper people in place and infrastructure in place for our healthcare, for environmental health, and so forth and so on. But also, let’s look at the attention that’s going on right now because of the differences in population so there’s a lot that needs to, really, be dealt with early on as opposed to waiting for things to happen,” said Wiggins.

A recording of the forum is embedded below:

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.