SARATOGA SPRINGS — City Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton, who quit the Republican Party in January over discomfort with its “extreme” national positions, said Wednesday she plans to run for mayor this fall on a new independent ballot line to be called Saratoga Stronger Together.
Dalton said she is running for mayor because someone who is already experienced with the issues the city has faced over the last two years is needed in the mayor’s job, and neither party’s nominee has that experience. With Democratic Mayor Meg Kelly not running for re-election after two terms, the Republicans have nominated businesswoman Heidi Owen West, a novice to politics, and the Democrats have nominated attorney Ron Kim, who served as public safety commissioner from 2006 to 2010.
“There is no time for a learning curve,” said Dalton, who in her first time as public safety commissioner has dealt with the pandemic and its economic fallout, as well as the pressures for reform of the city Police Department following national protests last year over police killings of unarmed Black people. There is a state mandate for all communities with police departments to conduct police reform and reinvention studies.
“I think we have a really good plan for implementation [of police reforms],” she said before a press conference held outside the Canfield Casino in Congress Park. “What we need is time and patience, and they have been in short supply.”
On Wednesday, Dalton didn’t officially announce her bid for mayor, but her name will appear on the Saratoga Stronger Together petitions that will be circulating between now and May 25, seeking to establish an independent ballot line for the November election.
Also appearing on the Saratoga Stronger Together petitions are local businessman Adam Israel for finance commissioner, Democrat-endorsed incumbent Saratoga County Supervisor Tara Gaston, and Colin Klepetar for accounts commissioner. Klepetar is active in Sustainable Saratoga and other community groups. Candidates for public safety commissioner and public works commissioner could still be added to the slate.
“It is a new option and a new path forward for the city that is free from partisan politics,” Dalton said. “There is room for every voice, regardless of affiliation with political parties.” She said the new party’s hallmark will be “civility and respect,” even when people disagree.
With Dalton’s decision to run for mayor rather than for re-election as public safety commissioner, four of the five City Council seats will be open. In addition to mayor and public safety commissioner being open, Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan and Accounts Commissioner John Franck aren’t seeking re-election.
Saratoga Stronger Together candidates will need a minimum of 305 legitimate signatures to get on the ballot, but hopes to secure at least twice as many by the May 25 filing deadline, in anticipation that the mainstream parties will challenge many of the signatures once they are submitted to the county Board of Elections. Anyone regardless of their party enrollment can sign an independent petition, as long as they are a voter registered in the city and haven’t previously signed any other candidate’s petitions.
Because the pandemic still makes gathering petition signatures door-to-door problematic, the group is asking people interested in signing their petition to contact saratogastrong.com and say they want to sign, and someone from the party will be in touch. There also may be some street-corner petition collections.
Charlie Brown, a former chairman of the city Democratic Committee, said he is supporting the independent effort. “It is something we are seeing around the country, something not based on partisan politics,” he said.
While the city’s police reform plan has been the most recent high-profile point of controversy, Dalton said the biggest issue facing the city is re-establishing a sustainable local economy, following the devastation the COVID-19 pandemic did to the city’s restaurant and hospitality industries last year, when gathering restrictions were widespread and few people travelled during the summer tourism season. Saratoga Race Course ran, but without the fans who provide lifeblood to the summer city.
“I think we have to rely less on the tourism economy,” Dalton said. “We don’t want to be in a position like this again. We need more of a year-round economy.”
Israel, whose family owns a number of properties in the city and who has a background in finance, described himself as a former “moderate Republican,” and said he believes many people are no longer comfortable with the extremism — at least on the national level — of the two major political parties.
When asked about Dalton’s plans, Saratoga Springs Republican Chairman Chris Obstarczyk offered only a brief, non-critical comment. “We just wish her all the best in her campaign,” he said, without elaborating.
City Democratic Chairwoman Sarah Burger said it is very difficult for candidates to run for political office without major party backing, and noted that the Democrats decided not to endorse Dalton for public safety commissioner following her falling out with the Republicans.
“I wish her the best of luck, but I don’t know that it’s a winning strategy,” Burger said. “I’ll say I think Ron Kim is the best candidate for mayor.”