It’s a three-way race for two open county supervisor seats in Saratoga Springs. Republicans are seeking to take back a position currently held by a Democrat. But lately, the contest between two of the candidates has focused on a priority issue: homelessness.
The Republican party has endorsed two candidates in the race for the two open seats on the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors – 12-year incumbent Matthew Veitch, who will also appear on the Conservative and Independence lines, and newcomer Stephen Mittler, who will also appear on the Libertarian and Conservative lines.
Mittler is looking to unseat Tara Gaston, the only Democratic and Working Families Party candidate.
Gaston, who is running for a second two-year-term, says there’s more work that she’d like to see done: climate resiliency, and improving technology and transparency at the county level.
“While I’ve been helping with that some, I’d like to see the county as a whole and all supervisors be held to a different set of standards. And obviously, the Code Blue mandate, the county has not done as much as they need to,” said Gaston.
Under a New York state mandate, counties must have a Code Blue emergency shelter in operation starting each November 1st. Shelters of Saratoga, which operates a Code Blue program, was forced to find a new temporary location this year. The City of Saratoga Springs helped locate a building, just off Route 9 in the Spa City, but remediation work is taking longer than expected. City leaders are hoping the county can also provide assistance.
Mittler, who says he is a non-affiliated voter, is making homelessness a focus of his platform, too. Recently, Mittler spent three days and two nights on the street, documenting his experience on social media.
“My thoughts are that we need to be able to provide shelter from South Glens Falls to the Twin Bridges, from Sacandaga Lake to Schuylerville,” said Mittler.
Mittler praised former Democratic Mayor Joanne Yepsen for working to establish Code Blue Saratoga in 2013, and current Democratic Mayor Meg Kelly for working on the issue with the county.
But he said at the county level, he believes he would work better with the county board – which is mostly Republican.
“Tara set up a Code Blue subcommittee, which one would think was responsible for making sure that Code Blue was established for 2019, and that didn’t happen,” said Mittler.
Gaston criticized Mittler’s street videos, characterizing them as exploitative and insensitive to an already vulnerable population.
“Taking pictures of people in vulnerable situations when they’re asleep, when they’re outside saying, ‘Hey, here is a person and all their worldly belongings, they’re asleep and this is where they are…that is extremely dangerous to me,’” said Gaston.
Gaston this week wrote a letter outlining her concerns. Mittler responded line-by-line, saying in part that he purposely did not identify anyone. He also stated that he was concerned Gaston “would presume to know the intent of my heart, or anyone's efforts to understand ways to deal with this priority challenge in Saratoga Springs.”
Gaston said she was not criticizing Mittler’s choice to educate himself on those who experience homelessness.
“There’s freedom and he can learn how he wants to, but that’s not going to stop me to help bring that perspective to say, ‘Hey, let’s step back to think about what we’re actually doing here,’” said Gaston.
Mittler added his other campaign priority is public safety for children, including additional school resource officers.