SARATOGA SPRINGS -- With less than a week to go before Election Day, some of the City Council races in Saratoga Springs have proven both nasty and divisive.
Fissures within the city's Democratic Committee were highlighted after Patricia Morrison narrowly defeated incumbent Democratic Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan in a June primary, and are part of the political landscape as the two prepare to face off again in the general election.
The primary outcome prompted a dozen members of the Democratic Committee, including most of its leadership, to quit so they could support Madigan's bid to seek re-election on the Independence and Working Families ballot lines. At least one person who remained on the committee says they faced what they perceived as a threat of retaliation from Madigan.
On Oct. 17, Democratic Committee member Scott Solomon, a downtown business owner, along with city resident Rick Thompson, sent a complaint to the state Board of Elections, saying Madigan "bullied constituents" and engaged in a "clear abuse of power."
Their complaint is based on two emails Madigan sent to Solomon in early October, after learning that Solomon was hosting a fundraiser for Morrison at the restaurant Siro's, which he co-owns. The emails were sent from Madigan's personal account, not her city account. In the second message, Madigan said she would no longer offer Solomon any assistance as she had in the past. As recently as July, emails show Solomon sought and received Madigan's help with a State Liquor Authority issue, as he sought to open a new restaurant.
"You can get in line like everyone else," Madigan wrote him on Oct. 11. "I'm sorry I considered you a friend. I hear you have a lot of code violations by the way. Enjoy."
Madigan said Wednesday that she called Solomon after sending the email and apologized, and believed he had accepted the apology. "I got angry. I am human and I lashed out," Madigan said. "I called him and apologized."
Solomon did not respond to a request for comment.
Madigan acknowledged it's been a difficult campaign year, though in appearances and mailings she said she tries to focus on her record in eight years as commissioner. "It's been a very stressful year for me. I'm a Democrat. I've been a lifelong Democrat," she said. "Everything has been zeroed at me."
Some elected Democrats, meanwhile, are crossing party lines to endorse Republican Robin Dalton for public safety commissioner over Kendall Hicks, who has the Democratic Party ballot line but did not get the support of the Democratic Committee. Either Dalton or Hicks will replace Democratic Public Safety Commissioner Peter Martin, who did not seek re-election.
Mayor Meg Kelly, Madigan and former public safety commissioner Chris Mathiesen, all Democrats, announced this week that they are endorsing Dalton, a real estate specialist with Roohan Realty who also created and manages a website, The Saratoga Social. She has volunteered with the Saratoga Hospital Foundation, Saratoga Sponsor-A-Scholar, and other organizations.
“I’ve seen Robin in action; her passion for our community is infectious," Kelly said in a news release. "Her ability to solve problems, build consensus, work across the political aisle -- all for the sake of improving our great city -- is humbling."
The announcement did not reference Hicks, a combat veteran of Afghanistan who is retired after a 30-year National Guard career. But his opponents -- including the state Republican State Committee, which sent a mailing -- have alluded to a 2013 arrest in Gloversville on domestic assault charges, even though the charges were dismissed when the case went to court. Hicks maintains the charges were false.
More recently, social media accounts supporting Dalton's campaign have released letters a woman who was in prison serving time for a child pornography charge wrote to Hicks about their personal relationship. Hicks said he never saw the letters because he was on active duty, and they weren't forwarded by his then-partner.
"This is not really dirt," said Hicks. "They are letters someone wrote me from prison. I supported her because it was the right thing to do. It's taking a page out of the national campaigns ... this is borderline racist." Hicks, who is black, added, "I spent 30 years in the military, I never touched a drug."
Hicks said he fell out with some on the Democratic Committee when he supported Morrison, but the campaign has been uglier than he expected.
"It is the nastiest thing we've seen in long time, and we've seen it right from the beginning," said Hicks, who is making his first bid for public office. He said he wants to bring accountability and transparency to the office that oversees the city's Police and Fire departments.
In other races in an unusually active city election year, Kelly is being challenged for mayor by Republican Tim Holmes, who is running without the backing of the Republican Committee; and Democrat Dillon Moran is challenging Republican incumbent Anthony "Skip" Scirocco for public works commissioner. The only incumbent running for re-election without an opponent is Accounts Commissioner John Franck, a Democrat.
The council currently has a 4-1 Democratic majority.