Joanne Dittes Yepsen became Saratoga Springs’ 20th mayor on Wednesday, promising to take an active role in keeping a “Las Vegas-style” casino from being built in the city.
Whether a full-service casino will come to Saratoga Springs has become a controversy since the state’s voters in November legalized live table gambling, though the local majority was against it.
Saratoga Casino and Raceway is one potential location, but Yepsen said it doesn’t need the “bells and whistles” of Las Vegas, even if full-table gaming comes there.
“I look forward to working with all sides to reach an amenable solution,” Yepsen said in remarks after she and other City Council members took their oaths of office.
About 300 people attended the swearing-in ceremony held at the Canfield Casino, at which City Court Judge Jeffrey Wait administered the oaths. Yepsen was accompanied by two of her three children, and her 90-year-old mother, Frances Dittes.
In her remarks, Yepsen said she was particularly concerned about whether a convention center would be included in the expansion being planned by the Saratoga Casino and Raceway, which is located on the south side of the city two miles from downtown. She fears such a facility might compete with the downtown City Center, which hosts conventions and other events throughout the year and draws visitors into stores and restaurants.
“We need to keep downtown strong. That’s a real priority for me,” Yepsen told reporters after her remarks.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has yet to release specifics for how casino sites will be selected by a state gaming commission.
“In many ways, since the passage of Proposition 1, Saratoga Springs is at the mercy of New York state,” Yepsen said. “But that does not mean that our community should play a role of the victim, to the contrary …”
Yepsen, 55, is a Democrat who has been one of the city’s representatives on the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors for the last eight years. She succeeds Scott Johnson, a Republican who decided not to seek re-election after serving for six years.
Yepsen will serve a two-year term, after defeating Johnson’s deputy mayor, Shauna Sutton, in last November’s mayoral election.
Yepsen said she will be proactive in addressing the city’s problems, citing her involvement in the efforts in recent weeks that established Code Blue, a temporary shelter plan for housing the homeless on the coldest nights. It was started after a homeless city woman died while sleeping outside.
“Code Blue was overdue and needed to be done, and we did it. Code Blue is an example of coming together to create a needed solution to a problem,” Yepsen said.
In 2014, Yepsen will lead a City Council that has a 4-1 Democratic majority, up from 3-2 the last two years. She promised government transparency, an “open door” policy, and to push for new policies that will promote sustainable development in the city of 26,000.
Yepsen said she will expand on those policies and give her ideas for celebrating the centennial of the city (as a city) in 2015 when she gives her first State of the City address Jan. 28 at the City Center.
On Wednesday, Yepsen officially appointed Joseph Ogden, a state budget analyst, as her deputy mayor, and Sarah Burger as the new city attorney. Plans for those appointments had been announced earlier.
Yepsen earned praise from speakers ranging from Stewart’s Shops President Gary Dake to U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam.
“I’ve known Joanne for quite some time, and I’m impressed by her desire to make a difference,” said Tonko, who spoke during the ceremony.
Also sworn into two-year terms were the four City Council members who were re-elected: Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen, Public Works Commissioner Anthony Scirocco, Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan and Accounts Commissioner John Franck.
Supervisors Matthew Veitch and Peter Martin, the city’s representatives on the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors, were also sworn in.
Yepsen is one of two new female mayors in the Capital Region. Former Albany city treasurer Kathy Sheehan was sworn in earlier Wednesday as mayor of Albany, where she is succeeding Jerry Jennings.