Saratoga Springs mayoral candidates package: Heidi Owen West

Saratoga Springs voters will have a litany of candidates to sort through this fall when deciding how to fill a slew of guaranteed vacancies on the city’s commissioner-led city council, including a new mayor.

While the powers of the mayor in Saratoga are uniquely limited by a system that elevates the authority of area-specific commissioners, the mayor commands city council meetings and serves as the public face of one of the Capital Region’s highest-profile cities.

Current Mayor Meg Kelly opted not to run for a new term this fall, opening the field to be filled by the city’s current public safety commissioner, a former public safety commissioner or a longtime local business owner.

The election slated for November comes as the city grapples with an ongoing pandemic, economic challenges, a roiling racial reckoning and concerns over public safety. And the candidates looking to lead the city – independent Robin Dalton, Democrat Ron Kim and Republican-endorsed Heidi Owen West – all come to the race with their own history, including legal and financial histories.

Today’s paper includes stories about each of the candidates, drawn from a review of local, state and federal records.

Heidi Owen West, running for Saratoga Springs mayor on the Republican line, joined a group of her neighbors in July 2020 suing to prevent the city from moving forward with a new fire station on Henning Road – before dropping from the petition shortly before going public with her run for mayor.

West, her husband, and four other residents with houses on the southeastern corner of Fifth Avenue filed a petition opposing approvals the city granted to enable the project to move forward at the site, a parcel owned by the New York Racing Association as part of the broader racecourse complex.

West and the other residents own properties that back up onto the parcel now identified as the future home of the city’s next fire station, a project that city officials have long said is necessary to more effectively provide emergency services to residents living on the city’s eastern ridge. 

The petition sought a judicial decision to “annul, vacate and set aside” the city council’s decision to adopt an easement agreement with the state enabling the fire station project to move forward at the NYRA site, alleging the city did not conduct a proper environmental review of the site or consider other impacts to the community. The NYRA site will be leased to the city for 100 years at no cost.

“Each of the petitioners will be uniquely affected by the easement agreement and construction of the proposed fire/EMS facility on the subject property,” plaintiffs wrote in the petition. “The easement agreement and proposed fire/EMS facility creates an increase in the type and intensity of uses that are currently present on the subject property.” 

Even before the petition was filed in court, West in April 2020 submitted public comments to the city council, asking the council to table a motion to adopt the easement agreement and outlining concerns she had about the fire station project. 

In her comment, West wrote that she was concerned about the risk of noise pollution for the health of her family as well as the risk it could have on the horses that train and are housed in the area. She also said she worried that construction of the fire station could negatively impact the historic feel of the area. 

“This project will permanently alter the character of the area in which it will be built,” West wrote in the comment. “As a resident living in close proximity to the proposed site I have serious concerns about how this will affect my family both physically and emotionally.”

On March 11, though, West alone discontinued her involvement in the case. Four days later, she announced she was running for mayor with the endorsement of the Republican committee; West identifies herself as a political independent. The case was ultimately dismissed by a judge and just one of the original plaintiffs has sought to appeal the decision.

West said that she did adopt a new position on the fire station after deciding to run for mayor. (West said she was not available for a phone interview due to a personal matter but responded to questions in writing.) 

“I did have a different opinion on the fire/EMS station being built directly behind my home as a private citizen,” West said in her response. “But as soon as I decided I wanted to lead my city as its mayor, I was then representing 28,000 residents and not just my neighborhood.”

West said that she has “always supported providing emergency services to the eastern ridge,” noting the area’s growth and promised to continue the project at the NYRA site if elected.

“As the singular option presented to the public, and with the partnership with NYRA and the free land that comes with it, it’s important our city sees this project to completion,” West said. “As mayor, I’ll continue the great work (current mayor) Meg Kelly has done to see this project through.”

West’s opponents in the mayoral race, though, have argued it was hypocritical of her to switch positions on the fire station and criticized her initial opposition to what they said was a much-needed, life-saving facility.

“It didn’t slow the process down but I found it really disheartening,” Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton, who is also running for mayor, said of the residents’ lawsuit. “To deny that enormous community life-saving emergency services simply because they didn’t want something in their backyard. That’s simply unconscionable.” 

Dalton said she thought it was clear that West dropped off of the suit for political reasons. 

“Obviously, she realized it wouldn’t be politically advantageous to take a stand against the third station,” Dalton said.

Ron Kim, the Democratic candidate for mayor, said it is critical that a mayor of the city looks at the interests of the city as a whole and that he would not have opposed the construction of a fire station near his home.

“I think that part of being mayor is looking beyond your own self-interests, and so I certainly wouldn’t have taken that step because a fire station is such an essential part of our public safety infrastructure,” Kim said. “So I don’t understand why she took that action.”

He said voters should judge for themselves the timing of West dropping out of the suit, adding that he doesn’t want the project to be delayed going forward.

“I think everyone will have to evaluate the sincerity of that one day you are against it and the next you are running for office and you are for it,” Kim said. “What I certainly hope doesn’t happen is we delay it any further because it’s an absolute necessity.” 

Dalton said the city council could vote to accept a bid for a general contractor for the project as soon as this month and that she planned to propose in the coming budget process to begin hiring new firefighters who would be able to staff the fire station once it’s complete.

“We are far beyond just having the location,” Dalton said. “We are full speed ahead.”

Dalton said emergency service providers cannot respond to the eastern part of the city as quickly as they should and said providing a new station is critical to the residents of that part of town.

“Emergency response times to that population are much higher than the recommended times to execute life-saving measures,” Dalton said. “People in that area aren’t able to access EMS, paramedics and firefighters in enough time that their lives can be saved and that’s unacceptable.”

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Categories: News, Saratoga County

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