Saratoga Springs

Yepsen addresses constitutional rights

Saratoga mayor delivers State of the City
Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen delivers the State of the City address on Monday.
Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen delivers the State of the City address on Monday.

Mayor Joanne Yepsen wasted no time before addressing national politics during her fourth State of the City address given Monday at the City Center.

In the wake of President Donald Trump’s executive orders that temporarily bar refugees and citizens of seven Muslim nations from entering the country, Yepsen started the address by telling a packed meeting room that “our constitutional rights” are not Republican or Democrat.

“They are the rights held by all Americans, and we should honor them above all else,” she said. “My fellow Saratogians, I stand here today as a mother, a daughter, a friend, a neighbor and as your mayor to say, most emphatically, the only rights that should matter to all of us are human rights.”

The way we treat our fellow human beings “defines our community,” she said.

“And as the national scene swirls around us, and, at times, may turn us virtually upside down, I want to tell you today that I am more confident than ever that the state of Saratoga Springs is strong,” she said.

Human rights were a theme throughout the Democratic mayor’s hour-long address, in which she outlined accomplishments, challenges and future plans for the city of nearly 28,000. She also announced the creation of a Human Rights Commission “charged with unifying our efforts, providing education, offering programming and advocacy resources.”

Yepsen was introduced by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who called her “one of the greatest mayors in our state.”

“I love how you wear this community on your sleeve,” Hochul said.

In turn, Yepsen thanked Hochul and Gov. Andrew Cuomo for “keeping our state inclusive, welcoming and unified.”

Yepsen went on to note local cases of bigotry and discrimination, in the form of graffiti and Internet postings, that have occurred in recent months. She read a report by Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen, who said there are “indications that racism and intolerance may be on the rise here in our city.”

“Swastikas and white supremacy blogs are appearing,” Mathiesen wrote. “We have a responsibility to do whatever is necessary to educate our youth about the history of slavery, racist policies, anti-Semitism and the terrible impact of these on innocent people and on our world in general.”

Yepsen said she was proud to receive a unanimous vote for a humanitarian resolution she brought before the City Council in response to such activity, and commended Saratoga Springs Superintendent Michael Piccirillo for his quick response to an anti-Semitic Instagram page that targeted high school students.

“I’m proud of the democratic leadership who determined they weren’t going to just write letters, but get out in the community and literally clean up the graffiti,” she added.

In response to several groups organizing in opposition to the apparent hate and bigotry, Yepsen said, the Human Rights Commission will be formed.

“I feel it’s important we stay united and stand up strong to uphold our values and not be divided, as many communities in our country clearly are today,” she said.

Yepsen also emphasized the city’s lack of affordable housing, and pointed to a study commissioned by the Housing Authority that found 33.5 percent of Spa City apartment tenants are spending more than 30 percent of their annual income on rent.

“The definition of affordable housing is changing,” she said. “It’s not just Section 8 housing anymore, it’s people like you and me who are getting priced right out of our community.”

Yepsen said there must be more housing constructed that the city’s workforce can afford. She said she looked forward to hearing more input from the Saratoga Builders Association, which recently joined the city’s Housing Task Force.

She added, “Another tool we have in our tool box is an Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, and l do hope our City Council has the political will to make that ordinance law for the sake of thousands of residents and potential residents.”

Yepsen cited a long list of accomplishments in 2016, including the city’s investment of $1.13 million to permanently preserve the Pitney Farm property as farmland — “the biggest commitment we have ever made to preserving open space.” 

She also highlighted her appointment of Francine Vero as the city’s first-ever female City Court judge, replacing 18-year City Court Judge Jim Doern, and thanked Doern for his “excellent years of dedicated service.”

And she recognized Tony Izzo,  the city’s assistant attorney who was filming the address at the center of the room’  for 30 years of service “well beyond” his job description. 

Yepsen highlighted several grants awarded to the city, including $1.13 million in state Regional Economic Development Council funds for the completion of the Saratoga Springs Downtown Connector Trail.

She also said the city is making strides to end homelessness, briefly outlining a six-point plan.

“The plan includes communications to educate and engage our entire community, continued services to reduce homelessness in our city, a permanent home for Code Blue, and a sustainable community policing effort for our vibrant downtown,” she said. “Assigning police on foot downtown has helped tremendously.”

Yepsen recalled last year’s State of the City when she announced she would be appointing a Charter Review Commission to review the city’s charter. She offered her “sincere thanks” to the 15-member group, which has proposed a council-manager form of government to replace the current commission form and plans to hold a Special Election on May 30 — though a majority of the council wants the vote to take place in November.

“They have been meeting since June and I’m sure they will be reporting to the public with their ideas soon,” she said.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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