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City council Democrats endorse challenger to incumbent colleague, creating new wrinkle in Saratoga Springs Public Safety race

A door in Saratoga Springs City Hall
Lucas Willard
A door in Saratoga Springs City Hall

Four members of the all-Democrat Saratoga Springs city council have endorsed a challenger to their incumbent colleague, adding a new twist to the race for city Public Safety Commissioner.

Earlier this week, four of the five members of the Saratoga Springs city council and outgoing county supervisor Tara Gaston formally announced they would support independent candidate Kristen Dart over Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino. Republican-endorsed and One Saratoga candidate Tim Coll, a fellow registered Democrat, is also running.

Campaigning on her own Community First line, Dart entered the race after the primary season. But city hall officials are cheering Dart’s bid.

“I'm really proud of that endorsement. I think it shows the relationship that I've been able to establish and maintain with them as a community leader that they trust in bringing my leadership to the table with them,” said Dart.

Montagnino, who is seeking a second two-year-term, remains the city Democratic Committee’s endorsed candidate.

WAMC asked committee chair Otis Maxwell if the endorsement of Dart by the four other city commissioners complicates things for the party.

“The answer to that is no,” said Maxwell.

In July, the city Democratic committee elected not to pull its endorsement of Montagnino and instead sent the commissioner a letter of concern. That letter, signed by Maxwell, reads in part, “the aggressive way you have handled confrontations with members of Black Lives Matter in Saratoga Springs and with other members of the City Council has caused unnecessary ill will, and run counter to the stated mission of the SSDC.”

Dart’s criticisms of Montagnino have been similar.

But since the letter was sent, Maxwell told WAMC, he thinks Montagnino has acted as a “productive and proactive Public Safety Commissioner.”

“The city council meetings have been much calmer and more productive. They've been able to get together and approve a number of important things,” said Maxwell.

On Saturday, three days before the Dart endorsement event, the party remained somewhat divided over Montagnino. Maxwell said committee members took votes on providing $1,000 to the contested endorsed candidates. Maxwell said the vote on Montagnino was not unanimous, but he still received the support of a majority of committee members.

For his part, Montagnino says he’s been upfront about his moderate political philosophy as a “Kennedy Democrat” since first approaching the city Democratic committee ahead of his first bid for city council two years ago.

“I don't believe that there should be a requirement of a purity test in order to be a member of a party. And I'm very pleased to see that the Democratic city committee, now majority of the Democratic city committee, are in my corner on this. Not because they agree with everything I have to say, but they agree with the notion that we are a big tent party and that there are multiple points of view here,” said Montagnino.

Dart doesn’t think the endorsement by sitting city officials will damage the local Democratic party.

“I'm not worried about dividing Democrats, because I think what people care about most is a vision that moves the community forward,” said Dart.

With the backing of Mayor Ron Kim, a former public safety commissioner, Dart says her experience in municipal government in Rhode Island and in city police reform efforts make her the right candidate for the role. Kim and Montagnino have clashed repeatedly this term.

Asked for comment, GOP-backed Coll responded with an emailed statement that reads:

“I have spent the summer meeting with constituents and listening to their concerns. Many have been supportive and I am hopeful that I will be elected this November,” said Coll.

Meantime, Republicans think the apparent divisions within the Democratic Committee over Montagnino’s endorsement will benefit their candidates.

City Republican Committee Chair Mike Brandi…

“We generally require that people on the committee that we support our endorsed candidates. And if you don't do that, you know, you run the risk of being removed from the committee. It's, you know, important to put up a unified front and to elect, to put forward candidates who can rely on that the party support and vice-versa,” said Brandi.

In addition to endorsing Coll, the city GOP committee is supporting Republican mayoral candidate John Safford over Democratic Mayor Kim and former City Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen, a Democrat endorsed by the One Saratoga platform. Republicans are also backing incumbent longtime supervisor Matt Veitch for re-election.

Three Democrats on the City Council, Public Works Commissioner Jason Golub, Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran, and Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi, are running unopposed.

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.
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