For those Saratoga
residents who fail to show up to the
City council meetings, you deny yourself the pleasure of experiencing the
passion of your fellow Saratogian’s. You also miss out on the cranks who never
fail to miss these meetings. (Saratoga
has many cranks that make the meetings entertaining.)
Case in point: If you didn’t make the meeting last night
you missed local crank Phil Diamond who had the audacity to admonish Finance
Commish Michele Madigan for ‘writing a letter to Albany’ regarding the casino
She shot back, “I can write a
letter to anybody I want to.” When he attempted to admonish her again he was
verbally beaten into submission by Commissioner Madigan
who said she was done with the conversation regarding the matter. Diamond
slinked back to his seat. Those are the kind of encounters that animate an
otherwise boring council meeting.
But last nights meeting was no ordinary
meeting. Everyone who was in attendance and there was well over 250 people who
packed the third floor Music Hall of the City Hall came to hear the decision
regarding the proposed Casino expansion. The public comment period lasted well
over an hour and tempers flared on both sides of the issue.
This Casino issue is proving to be
the ultimate Stakes Race regarding the future of Saratoga.
The two thoroughbreds running neck and neck in
this race of the century are of course Destination Saratoga, the pro-casino
horse and the SAVE Saratoga anti-Casino expansion horse. There hasn't been this kind of excitement in this town since the
rivalry of Affirmed and Alydar.
Both camps have an invested
interest in their city but for entirely different reasons. Destination Saratoga's focus is on economic stability and SAVE SARATOGA's focus is the quality of life in the town.
The Destination Saratoga folks have
corralled the Saratoga Gaming and Raceway workers to come out in support of the
expansion and the additional jobs it will bring to the community.
Mike Taber, a long time employee of
Saratoga Gaming and Raceway spoke during the public comment period, “On behalf
of all the players [customers he has waited on] they love it there!” He then
asked the council to “Say yes to this [Casino expansion] and don’t say No!”
Another speaker warned of ‘putting
all our eggs in one basket.’ And he was also critical of the way NYRA has run
things, claiming that NYRA is currently facing a $12 million tax penalty.
Charlie Samuels, a SAVE Saratoga
acknowledged that the city council members were in a rather stressful position
with this resolution and said, ‘this is an emotional issue that isn’t going
away.’ He implored the council to reject the resolution and if they did, “We’ve
got your backs,” said Samuels.
Native Saratogian, Gary Chapla
remembered when shops in Saratoga
downtown were boarded up and vacant. “We could have a world class destination”
pleaded Chapla. ‘ Ten years ago the nay sayers said crime was going to come in
when they built the Racino, it never came and it’s still not here,’ said
Local politico Gordon Boyd and
chair of Destination Saratoga said that he has lived in Saratoga Springs
for the past 43 years. “We
[Destination Saratoga] are volunteers, we are NOT lobbyists.” Boyd said the
Casino expansion is in the best interest of the city. He also accused SAVE Saratoga
‘making things up.’ Boyd also referenced an ex-blogger who frequently made
things up about the city council members.
Former Democratic Committee chair
and local resident and anti-propagandist Al Turkeimer cut through the emotional
rhetoric and stated that he and others she be concerned that the Gaming Commission
and Skip Carlson in particular is not beholden to the zoning laws everyone else
is obligated to abide by. He briskly stepped away from the microphone to
Another speaker for the Destination
Saratoga camp, a woman who has worked at the Racino for the past ten years
pointed to real problems in the community such as the drug and alcohol related
chaos that the Phish concert predictably brings to town every summer and she
spoke of the continual problems that persistently plague Caroline Street
. “It’s pretty clear where
the problems are.”
At almost ten o’clock last evening
the resolution was rejected by all council members. Mayor Yepsen told the
audience of how she and the rest of the council has spent countless hours
researching this issue and reading Readers Views, letters to the editor,
talking with residents on both sides of the issue. “My goal is to create the
strongest local economy,” said Mayor Yepsen. She also acknowledged that she and
the rest of the council members are powerless to change the law.
It was during the public comment
period that Theresa Capozzola reminded the audience that the lobbyists for the
Gaming Commission have already spent $64 million on the proposed Casino
expansion. They aren’t going to go away quietly.
It was recently brought to my
attention that the property that belongs to Sheik Muhommad on Nelson Avenue
quietly rezoned and this property isn’t the only example. [This property was actually rezoned in 2009] However, Saratoga Citizens might want to
start showing up to some of these Planning and Zoning meetings.
rejection of the resolution doesn’t end things. I dare say this is only the
beginning. As Bette Davis once said, “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be
a bumpy night.” Indeed.