Saratoga County League of Voters to Host Candidate Forums in October

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The Saratoga County League of Women Voters on Tuesday announced a series of scheduled candidate forums to be held in October – forums that have been difficult to schedule.

The Saratoga League, which holds candidate forums each year and produces a voter guide ahead of local elections, announced six candidate forums scheduled for October 4-21.

The forums will begin with a joint forum for Saratoga Springs County Mayors and Supervisors Candidates on October 4, which will include the top three mayoral candidates: current Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton, who is running as ‘independent; former Public Safety Commissioner and local lawyer Ron Kim, who is running as a Democrat; and local business owner Heidi Owen West, who will appear on the Republican ballot line.

While all of the Republican candidates other than incumbent Public Works Commissioner Skip Scirocco did not initially respond to the Saratoga League’s request to participate in the Candidate Forums, Charlotte Druschel, the league’s contact person for the organization of the forums, said Tuesday that Republican candidates had said they will participate.

West confirmed on Tuesday that she plans to participate in the forum.

Republican candidates had not responded by the league’s Sept. 9 deadline, but responded after an Albany Times Union article earlier this month highlighted the lack of a Republican response, said Druschel Tuesday.

“I think we’re going to have most of it,” she said of the nominee. “I think almost all of the Republican candidates responded.”

The program also included the following forums:

  • Saratoga Springs Public Works Commissioner, October 7
  • Saratoga Springs Finance Commissioner, October 15
  • Supervisor and Councilor for the Town of Saratoga, October 18
  • Saratoga Springs Auditor, October 19
  • Member of the City of Charlton Council, Oct. 21

The forums will be recorded with virtually no audiences on the scheduled days, and then the recordings will be posted on the league’s website and on Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms. Community members interested in submitting questions for the forums can send an email [email protected] at least two days before the forum and include the name of the relevant race in the subject line.

The league’s announcement on Tuesday did not include a date for a forum for the Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner. Druschel said details of the programming for that forum were still pending, and Democratic and Republican candidates confirmed on Tuesday that they planned to attend.

Jim Montagnino, a former judge and court attorney who is posing as a Democrat for the public security station, said he communicated months ago his intention to participate in any forum and proposed to go to a scheduled forum at any time.

“Anytime, anywhere, I will make myself available,” Montagnino said. “I would like voters to be informed of my background and my experience, especially because it contrasts sharply with the background and experience of my Republican opponent.”

Montagnino’s Republican opponent Tracey Labelle confirmed on Tuesday that she had made a commitment to the candidates’ forum, adding that organizers were still working to find a specific date and time for the event.

“I look forward to discussing the future of our city and how we can restore civility and respect to Saratoga Springs,” LaBelle said Tuesday. “As a resident of Saratoga Springs and mom, I think it’s very important for residents to hear what the goals and platforms of the candidates are.”

Montagnino for weeks asked the organizers of the candidates’ forum for assurances that he would be granted a platform, whether or not his opponent agreed to participate. Before Labelle engaged in the forum, forum organizers told Montagnino it was their policy not to hold “empty seat” debates with only one candidate participating – underscoring a league policy at the statewide against such one-candidate forums.

Prior to Labelle’s commitment to participate, Montagnino argued that it would be unfair to deprive him of a platform to communicate with voters because an opponent refused to participate.

Druschel said she recognized the frustration of a candidate not being able to participate due to her opponent’s non-participation, but said there was no flexibility on policy.

“It’s very unfair,” Druschel said of a willing candidate who is not allowed if his only opponent refuses to participate. “I know he’ll be very upset if we can’t organize this thing, and I don’t blame him.”

The question may now be moot, however, with Republican candidates promising to participate.

Local Republican leaders have consistently sought to discredit the league as a neutral arbiter in hosting forums, noting that the vast majority of local league members are registered Democrats.

In a statement Tuesday, Chris Obstarczyk, Chairman of the Republican Party for the City of Saratoga Springs, specifically highlighted the number of contributions to “democratic causes” that Druschel has made over the past six years and said: “the League of Women Voters is a partisan organization. despite its contention to the contrary. But, he added, the party’s list of city council candidates “is ready, willing and able to debate in any format.”

Druschel countered criticism of the League of Women Voters by highlighting the work of the voluntary organization offering all candidates a chance to participate in forums or answer questionnaires with the aim of providing electoral information to voters.

“As an organization, we have never supported or opposed any party or candidate,” she said. “The league supports some policies and we have events on those policies, but the forum is an event where we don’t express our opinions at all, it’s an opportunity for the candidates to express theirs – nicely.”

Saratoga Today newspaper also scheduled two evenings of debate on the Saratoga Springs candidates on October 12 and 21.

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