SARATOGA SPRINGS — Unendorsed Democratic candidates and past party honchos in the Spa City are up in arms over what they’ve labeled a diluted endorsement process.
Long-time politicians and former city officer-holders Michele Madigan and Christian Mathiesen, in addition to newcomer Timothy Coll, are leveling criticism at a Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee subgroup for refusing to let them pitch their case before the full committee for a final endorsement vote on Feb. 18.
Approved to speak in front of the 42-member body were the ones ultimately endorsed by the subgroup: all four city commissioners, Mayor Ron Kim and county supervisor candidate Gordon Boyd. Coll, a public safety commissioner hopeful, is mulling over his political options while Will Borschers subsequently withdrew his bid for accounts commissioner.
“It’s done and it doesn’t mean that Chris and Michele could not run — which they are,” said city Democratic Chairwoman Patricia Tuz, regarding the two respective mayoral and supervisorial candidates. “It just means they feel they were shut out of the process and I don’t blame them.”
Ex-finance commissioner Madigan, ex-public safety commissioner Mathiesen and Coll all requested to speak.
“It would have been more democratic and more open had we been given that opportunity because I always thought that our committee, as opposed to the opposing party, was the committee that stood for those values,” said Mathiesen, a Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee member from the mid-1990s to 2008.
While convinced that the outcome likely would’ve been the same, Tuz deemed the exclusion discourteous. It seemed as if there was “nobody else to vote on” other than the candidates presented, she noted.
Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee officials are anticipated to standardize the process within the months ahead. Narrowing down the list based on quantity or severe party disloyalty, Tuz said, would’ve been excusable.
The top city party official blamed the nominating committee’s discretion on loose bylaw guidelines.
“That was not fair and those systems need to be re-looked at because this cannot happen again,” Tuz said.
Nomination committee leader Patricia Morrison has defended the procedures as fair and equitable. Her committee, she said, even accepted a post-deadline questionnaire submitted by Madigan and accommodated an interview for her three days before the endorsement meeting.
The subcommittee interviewed each applicant.
No party member motioned to nominate another candidate and all interviewees were discussed by the five-member nomination committee at the Saratoga-Wilton Elks Lodge conclave on Feb. 18, according to Morrison.
“We understand that people aren’t going to be happy, but their unhappiness should not be reflected that this was not fair and equitable,” Morrison said.
Sarah Burger, chairwoman from 2019 to 2021, is among a number of former party leaders at odds with recent Democratic Committee actions.
“For the committee, the danger you run as a party leader by not allowing the committee to hear from the candidates, is you run the danger and the risk of making yourself irrelevant,” Burger said.
In the last city election two years ago, multiple interviewees were brought before the committee, including six mayoral hopefuls. Only one recently re-registered former Republican candidate was turned away.
- Burger became local chairwoman in 2019 following a leadership exodus as the committee voted to swap Madigan’s endorsement for primary victor Morrison. Running on multiple third party lines, the finance department incumbent ultimately prevailed.
Madigan, along with then-Democratic Mayor Meg Kelly, stood in front of the Saratoga Springs Republican Committee banner on election night. In an early November photo from that year, then-Republican Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton campaigned with both Democrats, all of whom the city GOP supported on social media.
Kelly and Madigan didn’t seek re-election in 2021, opening the door for Kim and Minita Sanghvi to fill their respective seats with wins on Election Night.
Under this year’s screening standards, applicants with any history of electoral support from the GOP or disinterest in backing opponents post-primary were disqualified.
“The committee heard the reasons why the candidates weren’t brought forward,” Morrison said.
“And they all agreed with the reasoning, so there was nothing that wasn’t shared and understood. We had choices,” Morrison added.
Charlie Brown, city Democratic chairman from 2011 to 2017 and Madigan supporter, described the former finance commissioner’s decision to stand in front of the GOP banner on election night in 2019 as not the “smartest thing in the world” nor a reasonable disqualifier from the party’s endorsement.
With two slots open for Democrats on the GOP-dominated Saratoga County Board of Supervisors, Madigan and Boyd face an unobstructed path to the general election unless another candidate jumps into the picture.
“I would have been equally happy if the full committee had interviewed all of the candidates, but they didn’t,” said Boyd.
Democratic Supervisor Tara Gaston is the only city incumbent opting against another term. Republican Supervisor Matt Veitch has held the other line since 2007 — the last vestige of elected GOP power in the Spa City since Public Works Commissioner Anthony Scirocco Sr. died last year.
Saratoga County Democratic Committee Chairwoman Martha Devaney entered the Democratic Committee’s endorsement meeting space on Feb. 18 and stayed for roughly 10 minutes. This election cycle, Devaney has attended similar events in Wilton, Moreau and Clifton Park.
The county head remembers being introduced, hearing brief speeches from the floor and Tuz asking her to leave.
“My response to Pat was that while I respected that it was the committee’s choice to have a closed meeting, I felt that it was incumbent on her and her role as committee chair to do what’s best for the committee and the democratic process,” Devaney recalled.
The county chairwoman graciously left, Tuz remarked.
Former city chairs Jane Weihe (1986 to 1998), Brown, Courtney DeLeonardis (2017 to 2019) — all supporters of Madigan and Mathiesen — say they all allowed county party officials to attend endorsement meetings. Former county leader Todd Kerner confirmed he was invited to attend spanning 14 years as a party executive.
“I find that appalling,” Kerner said about Devaney being asked to leave.
Tuz said she believes that endorsement meetings should only be open to voting members, but to her, Devaney’s right to attend is something of an open question.
Mathiesen and Madigan highlighted their discontent with the process during a formal joint ticket campaign launch outside the steps of City Hall last week. Coll, in an email, described his emotions as “disappointed” and “frustrated.” Meanwhile, Borschers, the former accounts commissioner candidate, hasn’t had any qualms with the Democratic Committee.
“They [vet] potential candidates first before the ‘big interview’ for a reason, so I get where they’re coming from on that,” said the former accounts commissioner applicant. “I’m not unhappy with their decision.”
Following his withdrawal from the race, the 27-year-old hopes to start a political action committee to support Democrats of his choosing and potentially run again in the years ahead.
Borschers is a long-time friend of Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino and served as a canvasser during the Democratic candidate’s 2020 campaign. Montagnino earlier this year encouraged Borschers to secure an endorsement interview for Dillon Moran’s current seat.
“He’s got a strong ethical character and the kinds of things I think are lacking in certain other candidates,” said Montagnino.
Moran declined to comment on the matter. Borschers would not comment about the sitting accounts department head.
The only intra-party electoral battle currently in the city is between Kim and Mathiesen. June 27 is the primary.
Should Kim lose, Tuz believes endorsing Mathiesen would be the best step for the committee.
“We would, right? Because he’s a lifelong Democrat,” said the city chairwoman. “I know that about Chris Mathiesen — he’s been a lifelong Democrat. It’s unfortunate that he ran against an incumbent and in two years it could all be different.”
Tyler A. McNeil can be reached at 518-395-3047 or [email protected]. Follow him on Facebook at Tyler A. McNeil, Daily Gazette or Twitter @TylerAMcNeil.