SARATOGA SPRINGS — Four-term Saratoga Springs Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan faces a challenge in Tuesday’s Democratic primary from Patricia Morrison, currently a member of the Saratoga Springs Board of Education.
Morrison, a product marketing manager with CommerceHub in Albany who has also worked for multi-national companies, said she has the business background to manage the city’s $47 million operating budget, and wants to challenge what she sees as a closed atmosphere in city government.
She was a supporter of the city charter change that voters narrowly rejected in 2017, one that would have done away with the city’s commissioner form of government, and her supporters include backers of that change like former mayor Joanne Yepsen. The proposal called for a weaker City Council, with a professional city manager overseeing day-to-day operations of the city.
“For some time now I’ve been disappointed with the City Council’s lack of leadership and commitment to the community,” Morrison said. “There’s been virtually no long-term planning.”
Morrison said construction of a new emergency medical/fire station on the city’s east side, infrastructure upgrades and new downtown parking solutions have all been delayed because of what she considers short-term thinking. “We have short two-years and need a more progressive form of government,” she said.
Madigan, who is seeking a fifth two-year term as the city’s chief fiscal officer, said she’s running on her record of accomplishments, including no tax rate increases during her seven years developing the city budget.
“I’m running on strong budgetary management,” Madigan said. “The city is in strong fiscal health. I’ve done seven budgets, and we haven’t raised taxes. The job of the finance commissioner first and foremost is chief operating officer.”
Madigan opposed the 2017 charter proposal because she didn’t believe its fiscal analysis was accurate, but she isn’t necessarily opposed to the city establishing a more conventional form of government, such as a strong mayor-city council government.
“I think the commissioner form of government has served the city well, but that’s up to the voters,” she said. “I actually think a strong mayor government would work well for this city.”
Madigan noted that she has spearheaded several progressive initiatives, including the installation of nearly 8,000 solar panels at the former city landfill, and contracting for a fiberoptic cable system to be built in the city, probably in 2020.
“I’m probably the most green commissioner the city has ever had,” Madigan said.
Morrison said she would look at restoring a water connection fee developers used to pay, and she doesn’t think the commissioners — legally part-time employees — should qualify for lifetime health insurance coverage through the city.
“The community is concerned about the pace of growth, infrastructure and green space,” she said.
Morrison earlier this week criticized Madigan for benefiting from a fundraiser at the home of Matthew Jones, the attorney who represents Saratoga Hospital. The hospital is seeking a zoning change — which is not yet before the City Council — that could allow it to build a medical office building bordering a residential area near the hospital. Many neighbors oppose the building.
“I’m not anti-growth, I’m for smart growth, and I’m not for pay to play,” Morrison said.
Madigan said the hospital project itself wouldn’t come before the City Council, though the zoning change would have to. “I take issue with the baseless accusation that my vote has been or ever will be for sale. I appreciate the broad support I have received across city demographics, but that support by no means has an impact on decisions and votes I make as a member of the City Council,” Madigan said in a written response.
Madigan acknowledges she gets a lot of support from Republicans and business interests. Republicans did, however, put up a candidate to challenge her in the election but members of Morrison’s campaign challenged his petitions and got him knocked off the ballot.
“I’m a lifelong Democrat. The city Democratic Committee supports me. I’m the most green and progressive commissioner the city has ever had,” Madigan said.
Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s Democratic primary, Madigan will have the Working Families and Independence parties ballot lines in November. Should she lose the primary, Madigan said she will continue forward on those lines.
Polling places will be open from noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Republicans did not put up a candidate against Madigan this year. They did in fact put up a challenger, but members of the Morrison campaign challenged his petitions and got him knocked off the ballot.