Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen found himself being grilled by city residents and outsiders alike Thursday at a candidate forum hosted by the Saratoga County League of Women Voters.
The incumbent Democrat seeking his second term in office was confronted by the mother and aunt of Darryl Mount Jr., a 21-year-old Malta man who sustained serious injuries after a fall that occurred while he fled from city police last summer. Patty Jackson of Malta — Mount’s mother — asked whether Mathiesen would establish a civilian review board as a recourse for complaints against police.
Moments later, Mathiesen was criticized by Polly Saunders of Ballston Spa — Mount’s aunt — who questioned why he was “politicizing” the incident. She cited comments Mathiesen made at a recent City Council meeting in which he urged voters who want an independent inquiry into Mount’s accident to vote for his Republican opponent, Richard Wirth.
“That is wrong,” she said during the forum at Saratoga Springs High School. “This should not be a political debate while someone is fighting for his life.”
Mathiesen disagreed with this characterization and reiterated that he sees no need to further probe the accident. A parolee, Mount was in a group involved in a pre-dawn scuffle when he scaled scaffolding near an alley behind 422 Broadway and fell roughly 20 feet to an area near the outside patio of Gaffney’s Restaurant.
“I have said that isn’t necessary, that I have full trust in the investigation our police have conducted and there were no inconsistencies whatsoever,” he responded. “It’s a very sad incident, it’s a terrible accident. The entire department feels very badly about what happened there, but we certainly aren’t the ones politicizing it.”
Wirth said he sees no problem calling for an outside investigation. He suggested taking complaints against the department to the Saratoga County District Attorney’s Office for review.
“When you have a situation in the city, you can call on an outside agency and we can see what their findings are,” he said.
Wirth, who was voted out of office in Mathiesen’s first run for public safety commissioner in 2011, also disagreed with his opponent’s plan to staff fire trucks with one less firefighter. He said reducing the staffing level to three firefighters would ultimately place crews at risk.
“Having four men is very important,” he said. “I would not go with three men.”
Mathiesen said his plan revolves around opening a new station on the city’s east side. With three stations staffed, he said the city would have nine firefighters responding to calls, rather than the four it has today.
“This is a way of being able to serve the city a little better, while at the same time keeping our expenses down,” he said “We’re not reinventing the wheel here. This is relatively common.”
Though the public safety commissioner’s discussion was the liveliest, the candidates for three other seats on the City Council also squared off during the forum. Michelle Madigan, the incumbent Democrat running for finance commissioner, was the only candidate who isn’t facing an opponent.
Bill McTygue, longtime director of the city Public Works Department, quickly went on the offensive against Skip Scirocco, the incumbent Republican commissioner who unseated his brother in 2007. McTygue blasted his opponent for his handling of the city’s water infrastructure, singling out a water deal he made with the town of Wilton based on a “verbal commitment.”
“This exercise alone represented a serious breach of the public trust,” said McTygue, who criticized Scirocco about the deal last year.
Scirocco said he’s accomplished more with less — fewer workers and a smaller budget — than the administration of Thomas McTygue. He said his six years in office has been marked by progress.
“So while my opponent points to a few wrappers, some weeds and some steps that could use some paint, I rolled up my sleeves and fixed a generation of infrastructure problems that were left neglected by my predecessor,” he said.
Democrat John Franck, who is running for his fifth term as accounts commissioner, pledged to remain a “fiscal watchdog” on the council and said he has no plans for a city reassessment. The senior member of the City Council also said he’d continue to advocate for a change in the state’s tax code so condominium owners would pay their fair share of taxes.
Republican challenger John Arpei said he also has no intention of having a revaluation. If elected, he pledged to listen to the will of residents before making decisions.
“I don’t represent a party, I don’t represent an individual. If I am elected, I represent the people of the city of Saratoga, regardless of party,” he said. “And I need to hear those voices before I make those decisions.”