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Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee pulls support of public safety commissioner on election eve

Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee Chair Otis Maxwell speaking at a press conference Monday.
Aaron Shellow-Lavine
Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee Chair Otis Maxwell speaking at a press conference Monday.

Democratic officials in Saratoga Springs pulled their endorsement of embattled Commissioner of Public Safety Jim Montagnino this morning. 

The Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee announced Sunday it would rescind the endorsement over a mailer from Montagnino’s campaign and the first-term incumbent's endorsement of a Republican mayoral candidate.

The mailer links independent candidate Kristen Dart to Black Lives Matter activists.

Taking aim at the first-term commissioner at an outdoor press conference Monday, city Democratic committee chair Otis Maxwell said the mailer was the last straw in a long list of grievances many committee members have against Montagnino.

“Well I’m disappointed, it’s a pattern," explained Maxwell. "You know, we endorsed Mr. Montagnino in February based in his accomplishments in his first 12 months. By the summer we’d gotten enough concerned about his actions that we had a private meeting with him to discuss our concerns. And we did not dis-endorse him, but we sent him a letter of concern saying ‘please, we’d like you to try to behave in a more civil way.’ And this is the exact diametric opposite of that, so it’s been a long time coming.”

Otis said the committee did not conduct a formal vote to remove its endorsement of Montagnino, but wanted to make as strong a statement as possible before Election Day.

The mailer in question features a photo of Dart and depiction of Saratoga BLM organizer Lex Figuereo speaking during a demonstration. Critics have called the flyer racist, something Montagnino denies.

Dart, who identifies as biracial, spoke at the press conference.

“So, I wasn’t going to speak today because I have long held that party business is party business." Dart continued, "but I want to be clear, that that mailer made it so that we raise this idea that Black people are nothing but angry. That’s what that mailer did, and that’s why it’s racist. It lifted up the tropes that Black people cannot be fully human and express their emotions.”

Dart — who chairs the city’s Civilian Review Board and served on the city’s state-mandated Police Reform Task Force — is running on the Community First line.

Last week, Montagnino endorsed Republican mayoral candidate John Safford over Democratic incumbent Ron Kim, a fellow former public safety commissioner with whom Montagnino has publicly feuded. Montagnino calls the mayor and one-time ally unfit to lead the city.

In response to the Democratic committee's request that he return a $1,000 campaign contribution, Montagnino refused and said he would instead donate $1,000 of his own money to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial museum.

Speaking with reporters at the Committee’s conference, Montagnino stood by his claims that Saratoga BLM is a "hate group" that poses a threat to public safety.

“They come to city council meetings, now in the history of the city a council meeting had never been shut down by protestors," said Montagnino. "Even during the height of the problems in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the pandemic, the summer of 2020, the summer of 2021. Council meetings had been volatile but never actually shut down. And Saratoga BLM shut down the Feburary 7th meeting and they shut down the subsequent meeting.”

Montagnino has sought low-level charges against demonstrators who have disrupted city council meetings, moves that have drawn criticism from fellow Democratic city council members. The New York State Attorney General’s office is currently investigating past city officials’ interactions with racial justice activists.

Montagnino also labeled a recent rally in support of Palestine held by Saratoga BLM as being “pro-Hamas,” a characterization that is disputed by members of the organization.

Members of Saratoga BLM staged their own press conference immediately following the Democratic Party officials, saying their views are being misrepresented by Montagnino. BLM organizer Alexus Brown said the October rally was held to call for a cease-fire in the ongoing war with Israel.

“Saratoga BLM chose to use our platform to center impacted people and we are proud to say that we created a space for Palestinian, Isreali, Jewish and Muslim people to take to the mic and share their stories with the people of Saratoga Springs," said Brown. "We ended the night with an interfaith prayer and vigil for people to reflect, mourn, and pray for a better world.”

The other members of the all-Democratic city council already broke with Montagnino in September to back Dart’s insurgent bid.

Also running in the race for Public Safety Commissioner is Tim Coll, a retired FBI agent who will appear on the Republican and One Saratoga ballot lines. All three candidates are registered Democrats.

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