Mayoral debate turns heated in Saratoga Springs
SARATOGA SPRINGS Ron Kim and Scott Johnson held nothing back Thursday night, attacking each other on the indoor recreation center, the condition of the police station and other hot topics.
The mayoral candidates sparred in the second act of a forum at Saratoga Springs High School sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Ken Ivins and Peter Martin, candidates for commissioner of finance, debated in a tamer session earlier in the evening.
About 125 people attended, several asking the candidates questions as part of the event.
Johnson, the Republican incumbent, told voters he had made good on his 2007 campaign promise to keep taxes low and spoke about the $1.6 million 2010 capital budget, which is the lowest in recent years.
He defended his beginning work on the $6 million indoor recreation center on Vanderbilt Avenue, repeating that the previous City Council had already borrowed the money and selling back those bonds would have meant the city would waste $1.5 million.
Kim contended that the project should have been abandoned even though it would mean losing money.
“I think Mr. Johnson would be the only one [still] investing in Bernie Madoff based on this logic,” Kim quipped.
Kim, a Democrat who is currently commissioner of public safety, said as mayor he would revisit the downtown transportation plan done a few years ago and the city comprehensive plan that was shelved two years ago. He attacked Johnson for calling “illegal executive sessions” during City Council meetings and spending too much on outside attorneys.
Johnson struck back by saying Kim failed to do “easy fixes” on the city police station that could have avoided a complaint brought by female officers that will require the city to pay out $80,000.
“I think it’s mismanagement. I think it’s neglect,” Johnson said. “That is simply turning a blind eye.”
“That takes a bit of, I think, audacity,” Kim responded.
Both men were prepared with the facts of each other’s perceived failings.
Johnson cited the date in 2007 when a fuming Kim left the council table abruptly after not getting his way in a vote on a new public safety buildinig.
Kim named the dates when Johnson voted for the under-construction indoor recreation center, which Kim cites as the chief failure of Johnson’s administration. Johnson listed the number of times — six — that Kim voted for the recreation center before changing his mind in the summer of 2008.
Johnson sidestepped a question about his deputy, Shauna Sutton, allegedly leaving an irate phone message on a resident’s voice mail but denied a charge by Kim that Sutton was stirring up rumors that former Mayor Valerie Keehn would be Kim’s deputy.
For his part, Kim said Keehn doesn’t want the job and he hasn’t decided on a deputy. Johnson said he would appoint Sutton again if re-elected.
Johnson demanded an answer to Kim’s campaign mailer promise to keep taxes low without cutting essential services, and Kim responded by repeating the proposal that he supports from local developer Sonny Bonacio to buy a plot of city-owned land on High Rock Avenue for $4.5 million.
Also on Thursday, Martin and Ivins faced off on the city budget, which one of them will oversee next year as finance commissioner.
Martin, a Democrat challenging Ivins for the post, said he would bring vision and long-term planning to the job.
“The current administration has gone a little astray,” Martin said. “We can, however, correct the course of this ship.”
A former lawyer for Ayco, Martin said he learned enough at the financial services firm to be an effective commissioner: “I know how to do this, and I am not daunted by this work.”
Ivins defended his proposed 2010 budget, which would cut 40 city jobs and levy a nearly 8 percent tax increase, as the best option for taxpayers.
“My employer is the city taxpayer, and every decision I make is with you in mind,” he said.