BALLSTON SPA – Mayor Christine Fitzpatrick says Frank Rossi Jr., her Republican opponent in next week’s special village election, is more interested in being an “influencer” than serving the village, and when things aren’t going his way, he’s apt to threaten to sue the village.
Rossi, on the other hand, said Fitzpatrick and the Board of Trustees’ reliance on grants, their collective ineptitude on handling infrastructure challenges such as water, and their apparent insistence on having the last word during public meetings have all combined to frustrate residents.
The special election will be held March 15 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Eagle Matt Lee Fire Co., 35 Washington St. and Union Fire Co., 319 Milton Ave. It will decide unexpired terms for both mayor and a seat on the board of trustees.
Fitzpatrick, a Democrat who lives on Chapman Street, and Rossi of Saratoga Avenue, are vying to serve out the remaining year of former Mayor Larry Woolbright’s term, which expires in April 2023.
Democrat Kamran Parwana and Republican Bernadette VanDeinse-Perez are running for trustee.
In addition, a ballot question asks voters to move village elections from March to November.
The referendum was spearheaded by Fitzpatrick, who said it’s more sensible to join other communities in voting in November. It would also be cheaper, she said, because the village could ask the Saratoga County Board of Elections to run elections, instead of the village managing them itself.
Fitzpatrick has been on the village board since 2019. She ascended from deputy mayor to become the village’s first female mayor on Nov. 8, after Woolbright resigned in October.
It’s Rossi’s first run for public office, although the attorney and developer has been a longtime participant in the village’s governmental proceedings.
Rossi said he was surprised and moved when Woolbright unexpectedly endorsed him and his running mate, VanDeinse-Perez, last week.
In an interview, Fitzpatrick said her primary objective as mayor would be to maintain the village’s fiscal integrity – after she was part of a regime that helped right the village’s financial ship.
Fitzpatrick asserts that the village wasn’t deliberate in its actions until 2019. Before then it was reactionary.
“If something broke, they fixed it – but they never did a lot of planning. And since 2019, we’ve done an economic development plan, we’ve done a pedestrian and bicycle master plan,” she said, adding the village received a brownfield opportunity award grant, while Fitzpatrick was instrumental in the village being awarded a records management grant.
Fitzpatrick said the village wasn’t even eligible for many grant programs because its finances weren’t in order, nor had it conducted training around issues like discrimination and harassment.
“This is never done by one person,” she said. “When you ask me what I have accomplished, I’ve accomplished things working as a team.”
Fitzpatrick said she has more than 35 years of experience in management and operations leadership for public, nonprofit and private organizations.
She also suggests that she has the better “temperament” to serve as mayor. She said her strength is “working with people and getting people to pull in the same direction,” and she’s experienced in negotiations with the village’s unions.
“I have the patience to see things through,” she said. “In many of [Rossi’s] situations, if things aren’t going the way he thinks they should be going, he’s threatens a lawsuit. He has never sat on any committee. He has never held public office. He has never been on any of our committees or any of our boards.”
Fitzpatrick also points out that she has no conflicts of interest, while she suggested that might not be the case if Rossi is elected.
“I’m a 35-year resident of the village of Ballston Spa, and the only thing I own is the house I live in. I have no outside interest. There’s no outside influences on me. I’m doing this as a service to the community in which I live, and really because I feel the necessity of giving back to the community. That may sound corny, but that’s actually the reason I’m doing it.”
She said Rossi owns or has a hand in “considerable property in the village,” and “there are going to be situations in which he’s going to have to recuse himself.”
Fitzpatrick, who’s fought past efforts to bring big box retail stores such as Walmart to the village, rejected being painted as anti-development.
“I am pro development – but for the kind of development that Ballston Spa needs, which is development that’s in the character of Ballston Spa,” she said.
Rossi, in an interview, said his experience measures up to Fitzpatrick’s.
“I’ve been involved with local government, especially in the towns of Milton, Ballston and village of Ballston Spa since 2011 with respect to municipal approvals, and even dealing with individual board members on a variety of issues throughout time, especially about land development type things and zoning,” he said.
He has also been involved in village concerns about water and sewer.
Rossi’s family owns land in Ballston Spa where a Hannaford grocery store is located.
“I was pretty much overseeing all that stuff along the way – with water, sewer and road,” he said, calling it a “good baptism by fire” in local government.
He dismissed Fitzpatrick’s description of his experience.
“From what I understand she has a career in teaching and HR – in healthcare type of issues,” he said. “She doesn’t have what I would call a governmental kind of background.”
While campaigning, Rossi said he’s encountered many people who roll their eyes at the present administration’s reliance on grants – instead of a bigger plan of how to get things done financially.
“For her to sit there and try to pick out my experience level or preparation level for the job is kind of laughable,” Rossi said, “and I really don’t appreciate it. I’m a teacher, too.”
Rossi also accused his opponent of mischaracterizing his business interests.
“I own no land personally. I own a condo in New York City that used to be my residence when I was working down there. My mother and I are partners on that…
“My family owns land, and the only thing left to develop in the village of Ballston Spa that we have is our three buildings at the Mohican Hill, Phase 2 of the project, and those are already approved,” he said of the apartment units. He said the family is waiting for the price of construction materials to fall before they embark on finishing the project.
Rossi said the only matter for which he’d have to recuse himself is dealing with the fire department since he has family in the department.
And he rejected the notion that he is litigious.
“I’ve never sued anybody in Ballston Spa,” he said. “I have had zero litigation on behalf of anybody that I have signed my name to since 2007.”
However, he acknowledged that his family has threatened to sue when he felt village officials “crossed lines” involving the apartment buildout.
“Sometimes you have to use strong language to get people to stop doing things that they shouldn’t be doing. That said, I have never sued, ever.”
Rossi suggests the current board needs coaching in management of the water system.
“They’ve done nothing to the point that I’ve gotten lectured by them at [a recent] village meeting about the ‘misinformation’ going on, on social media about water. And then the next night, when they’re in a budget workshop, they realized they didn’t even do their health clean out that they were supposed to do for this entire past fiscal year.”
Moreover, Rossi said he would like for the board to post all village water studies on the village website, as people have had to resort to filing Freedom of Information Law requests to get the information.
“What are they hiding, and what’s the truth at the end of the day?” Rossi asked.
He said the lack of transparency is in line with the board’s “elitist” attitude.
“It’s a ‘we may be too stupid to understand it’ kind of tone that they take with that stuff, and it really is a slap in the face to the residents.”
If elected, Rossi said he would target the village’s aging fleet of public works equipment, and he would make it easier to redevelop blighted properties.
“There’s some pieces that are 29 years old,” he said of the DPW equipment. “None of it’s new. It’s all double digit or worse in terms of years.”
Rossi said he’s concerned about the future of Rickett’s Cleaners, which is being torn down by the state’s Superfund.
“Christine Fitzpatrick and her administration proposed a [shadow] moratorium last year to stop redevelopment except under their specific list of demands,” Rossi said.
“We have people interested in redeveloping those sites, which needs to happen,” he said. “They look horrible… But that [shadow moratorium] chases away redevelopment and chases away the dollars and developers because they don’t know what’s next or what to expect here.”
Rossi said he understands Robert’s Rules of Order dictates how boards run meetings in New York.
But he said the present board violates the spirit of public meetings.
“It’s frustrated a lot of residents that want to understand what is going on with a lot of issues that affect them right now,” he said. “So that kind of elitism and need to have the last word on all this stuff is really hurting the village and the spirit of the village right now.”
Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.