Saratoga County

Saratoga Springs mayor’s race focuses on planning, rec center

Mayor Scott Johnson, stressing progress and financial stability during his first two terms, is being

Mayor Scott Johnson, stressing progress and financial stability during his first two terms, is being challenged by Brent Wilkes, a Democrat who thinks the city needs a new, clearer vision for the future.

Scott Johnson

AGE: 56

BALLOT LINES: Republican, Independence, Conservative

EDUCATION/EXPERIENCE: Graduated from Syracuse University; law degree from University of San Diego Law School; retired lawyer; two-term mayor of Saratoga Springs

PERSONAL: Married with one son

Brent Wilkes

AGE: 59

BALLOT LINES: Democrat and Working Families

EDUCATION/EXPERIENCE: Graduated from University of Massachusetts, Amherst; master’s in public affairs from University of Connecticut, Storrs; president, Northeast Association Management Inc. in Latham

PERSONAL: Married with one daughter and two stepdaughters

“We need to plan better, we need to have a more strategic vision,” Wilkes said. “We need to open up government and the mayor needs to communicate more directly with the citizens.”

Johnson, a Republican, said he and the City Council have made “real progress in the past four years.” He said he has reached across party lines to accomplish such things as the city’s new indoor recreation center and a 180-car parking deck proposed where the city’s Woodlawn Avenue parking lot is currently located.

The mayor serves a two-year term. The salary is $14,500 per year.

Wilkes is a member of Saratoga Citizen Inc., a non-partisan group seeking to change the city charter from the long-standing commission form of government to a more modern city council/city manager system.

The current City Council has been reluctant to place the charter change issue on a city election ballot, despite several attempts by Saratoga Citizen to bring about a vote.

Wilkes said his campaign is not about charter reform. However, if elected he said he would try to place the question of changing the city’s type of government on the ballot so the voters can decide.

“The mayor needs to listen to what the people want,” Wilkes said.

Johnson has fought attempts to place a charter change referendum on the city ballot. He said Saratoga Citizen failed to include a financial impact statement on their petitions to place the charter issue before the voters.

A state Supreme Court justice ruled that such a “fiscal note” was not necessary and Saratoga Citizen had enough signatures on its petition to place the issue before the voters. The city is appealing this decision and the charter change referendum will not appear on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Johnson said he is a full-time mayor despite the modest part-time pay. Wilkes said his commitment, if elected, would be to spend sufficient time “to do the job.”

Wilkes said his campaign will cost about $40,000. Johnson said he expects his campaign committee will spend between $30,000 and $40,000 when all costs are tallied.

Johnson said the new city indoor recreation center on Vanderbilt Avenue has been a clear success since it opened more than a year ago.

Wilkes said the indoor center “is a good idea that was poorly executed.”

He said the location is wrong, there isn’t enough parking, and there are no showers in the locker rooms. “It came in under-budget but is a substandard facility,” he said.

He said the city’s promises that the operating revenues would pay for the center “are not even close.”

Johnson said he never said that the center’s operating revenue would cover the center’s debt service, which is $400,000 per year. “The revenue will ultimately cover the operational costs,” he said.

Johnson said the center has attracted numerous basketball, volleyball and other indoor sports tournaments that rent the facility, including at least 12 just last winter. So far this year 20 tournaments have been scheduled and this number is climbing.

Wilkes has also criticized the city for spending too much money on outside legal services when the city has its own city attorney and assistant city attorney.

Johnson said he was raised in Saratoga Springs. He said he has had a successful career as an attorney before becoming mayor.

“My fiscal conservatism and a proven track record of making hard decisions separate me from my opponent,” Johnson said.

Wilkes, who grew up in the Boston area and has lived in Saratoga Springs for the past five years, said planning for the future is important.

“As a city, where are we headed in the next five, 10, 20 or even 100 years?” Wilkes asks. “We should know and that is a priority for my administration.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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