The League of Women Voters of Saratoga County on Tuesday announced a series of scheduled candidate forums to be held in October – forums that have been difficult to schedule.
The Saratoga league, which each year hosts candidate forums and produces a voter guide ahead of local elections, announced six scheduled candidate forums between Oct. 4 and Oct. 21.
The forums begin with a joint forum for Saratoga Springs mayor and county supervisor candidates on Oct. 4, which will include the three main mayoral candidates: current Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton, who is running as an independent; former public safety commissioner and local attorney Ron Kim, who is running as a Democrat; and local business owner Heidi Owen West, who will appear on the Republican ballot line.
While all of the Republican candidates other than incumbent Public Works Commissioner Skip Scirocco did not initially respond to the Saratoga league’s request to participate in the candidate forums, Charlotte Druschel, the league’s point person in organizing the forums, on Tuesday said the Republican candidates have said they will participate.
West confirmed on Tuesday that she planned to participate in the forum.
The Republican candidates had not responded by the league’s Sept. 9 deadline but have responded after an Albany Times Union article earlier this month highlighted the lack of Republican response, Druschel said Tuesday.
“I think we are going to get most of them,” she said of the candidate. “I think pretty much all of the Republican candidates have responded.”
The schedule also included the following forums:
- Saratoga Springs commissioner of public works, Oct. 7
- Saratoga Springs commissioner of finance, Oct. 15
- Town of Saratoga supervisor and council member, Oct. 18
- Saratoga Springs commissioner of accounts, Oct. 19
- Town of Charlton council member, Oct. 21
The forums will be recorded virtually with no audience on the scheduled days and then recordings will be posted to the league’s website and Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms. Community members interested in submitting questions for the forums can email [email protected] at least two days prior to the forum and include the name of the pertinent race in the subject line.
The league’s Tuesday announcement did not include a date for a forum for Saratoga Springs commissioner of public safety. Druschel said the scheduling details for that forum were still in the works, and both the Democratic and Republican candidates on Tuesday confirmed they planned to participate.
Jim Montagnino, a former judge and court attorney running as a Democrat for the public safety position, said that he communicated months ago his intent to participate in any forum and that he has offered to make it to a forum scheduled at any time.
“Any place, any time, I will make myself available,” Montagnino said. “I would like for voters to be informed about my background and experience, particularly because it’s a stark contrast to my Republican opponent’s background and experience.”
Montagnino’s Republican opponent Tracey LaBelle on Tuesday confirmed that she had committed to the candidate forum, adding that organizers were still working on finding a specific date and time for the event.
“I am looking forward to discussing the future of our city and how we can restore civility and respect back into Saratoga Springs,” LaBelle said Tuesday. “As a Saratoga Springs resident and a mom, I believe it is very important for residents to hear what candidates’ goals and platforms are.”
Montagnino for weeks has asked for assurances from candidate forum organizers that he would be granted a platform regardless of whether his opponent agreed to participate. Before LaBelle committed to the forum, forum organizers told Montagnino that they have a policy to not hold any “empty seat” debates with just one candidate participating – pointing to a statewide league policy against such single-candidate forums.
Prior to LaBelle’s commitment to participate, Montagnino had argued that it would be unfair to deprive him of a platform to communicate to voters because an opponent refused to participate.
Druschel said she recognized the frustration of a candidate not being able to participate due to their opponent not participating but said there was no flexibility on the policy.
“It’s very unfair,” Druschel said of a candidate willing to participate not being allowed if their only opponent refuses to participate. “I know he will be very unhappy if we can’t get this thing scheduled, and I don’t blame him.”
The issue may now be moot, though, with the Republican candidates promising to participate.
Local Republican leaders have still sought to discredit the league as a neutral arbiter in hosting the forums, pointing out that the vast majority of the local league’s members are registered as Democrats.
In a statement on Tuesday, Chris Obstarczyk, City of Saratoga Springs Republican party chair, specifically highlighted the number of contributions to “Democratic causes” that Druschel has made in the past six years and said, “the League of Women Voters is a partisan organization despite its claim to the contrary.” But, he added, the party’s slate of city council candidates “are ready, willing and able to debate in any format.”
Druschel countered the criticism against the League of Women Voters by highlighting the work the volunteer organization does offering all candidates a chance to participate in forums or respond to questionnaires in an effort to provide election information to voters.
“We never ever as an organization have supported any one party or any one candidate or opposed,” she said. “The league does support certain policies and we do have events about those policies, but the forum is an event where we don’t express our opinions at all, it’s an opportunity for the candidates to express theirs – nicely.”
Saratoga Today newspaper has also scheduled two nights of Saratoga Springs candidate debates on Oct. 12 and Oct. 21.