Both mayoral candidates accused their opponent Thursday night of accepting campaign contributions that represented a conflict of interest.
Aside from these allegations, there were few sparks during the League of Women Voters forum at Saratoga Springs High School, where about 100 potential voters listened to pitches from Deputy Mayor Shauna Sutton, a Republican, and Saratoga County Board of Supervisors representative Joanne Yepsen, a Democrat.
The first question of the night arose from Sutton’s ongoing criticism of Yepsen for accepting the endorsement and a $1,000 political contribution from the local Police Benevolent Association.
Yepsen defended the support and said she was proud of all her endorsements, including those from U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and the Independence and Working Families parties.
“I am nobody’s puppet,” she promised, before turning the table on Sutton and contending her list of contributors was riddled with potential conflicts of interests, referring to business groups that have lined up for Sutton.
Undeterred, Sutton reiterated her opinion that Yepsen shouldn’t have accepted money from the police officer’s union because the next mayor will have to negotiate a contract with them.
“It’s a conflict of interest,” she said, “there’s not a doubt in my mind.”
The next question put Sutton on the defensive, as a questioner was skeptical about savings the city realized when it consolidated health insurance companies while she was deputy supervisor. Sutton defended her claim it resulted in $440,000 in savings last year, a figured Yepsen described as misleading.
Regarding the future of the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority board, which has been criticized in the past for its spending and poor response to a bedbug problem, Sutton waffled on her ability or desire to make changes, but Yepsen argued she had the ability to make changes and said she would meet with each board member individually, if elected.
Both candidates were opposed to instituting paid parking in the city and agreed it would be a mistake to sell the last remaining public parking lot on Broadway, the Collamer lot, until alternative parking is available, like the City Center garage.
Much of the debate focused on the style of the next mayor, with both candidates promising an open door and inclusive practices.
Sutton contended her six year as deputy mayor prepared her to succeed her boss and that Yepsen didn’t grasp how the office worked. Yepsen countered that she knew what it meant to answer to a city of constituents and not just one person, adding that deputy mayor is a completely different job than mayor.
Before the mayoral candidates squared off, Democrat Peter Martin, Republican Ken Ivins and incumbent Republican Matt Veitch laid out why they should be elected to the city’s two spots on the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors. The major issues they addressed were how the county will respond to the statewide casino referendum and whether the county should collaborate with the Saratoga Economic Development Corp. in the future.
Martin, who is the acting Saratoga County clerk and the underdog in the race because of the county’s Republican enrollment advantage, took the most defined positions of the evening on almost every issue.
Regarding SEDC, with which the county is severing ties after 30 years, Martin argued for continuing the relationship next year, using funds not spent on developing a strategic plan for work with SEDC. Ivins also said he would like to partner with SEDC in the future, but said he understood why the county had made a break. Veitch said he was supportive of the county’s new direction, while stressing he didn’t initiate the change.
The candidates were not united on how the county should proceed if the state constitution is amended this fall to allow for seven new casinos, including one possibly in the Capital Region. Veitch was the only candidate who said the county should act quickly if the amendment is approved to show a sign of support for a casino coming to Saratoga Springs. Ivins said the county should move slowly and take steps to ensure casinos won’t endanger local racing interests, while Martin said the county should hold local hearings before it acts.
In their closing arguments, Ivins touted his background in finance and practical experience, Veitch promised to be an independent vote and Martin said he would help maintain the partisan balance.