Albany Times Union
For first time in years, a race for Saratoga supervisor
Two candidates for top job describe their visions for the town
The historic town is headed for a historic election.
For the first time in at least the past two decades, voters will have a choice for supervisor — Republican incumbent Tom Wood, who wants to continue to bolster the town’s farming traditions with some development, or Democrat Paul Murphy, who seeks to preserve all the fields and forests as well as transform its villages into economic engines.
Here’s what the two men, who are also seeking support for their party’s slate of Town Board candidates, have to say about their platforms.
Murphy, 65, a marketing consultant who has lived in the town for 18 years, calls himself a “hardcore environmentalist.” He said he initially got into the race after the town allowed an alternate member on the town Planning Board to clear-cut 40 acres above Saratoga Lake, violating, he said, a town law that prevents felling a forest.
“I’ve been fighting development in the town for about five years,” Murphy said. “I’ve been going to Town Board and Planning Board meetings. There is a lot of development going on and the rules aren’t necessarily followed.”
But it’s not just development on his side of town, along Saratoga Lake, that concerns him. He sees the town’s villages — both
Schuylerville and Victory — as having huge potential that he says the current administration ignores. He says promoting the villages and their events is central to the Democrat’s platform.
“Driving economic development to the villages is our number one issue,” Murphy said. “As I knock on doors in the east side of town, I am surprised by how many residents say we need to change and that the town has been standing still.”
He said that Schuylerville and Victory could be the next Ballston Spa if only the town would promote their uniqueness.
“As a former marketer, I think there is big opportunity,” said Murphy, who spent his career marketing Coca-cola and then Revlon. “We have the two coasts, the Hudson River and Saratoga Lake. We have the (Saratoga) battlefield, the turning point of the Revolution and the surrender site. We have so much here. We don’t have to be a Northway exit creature. We don’t need to give up our beautiful parks. We have assets that we can transform into economic viable entities that can have everyone in our community thrive.”
He also said there needs to be more care for those who live on Route 9P along Saratoga Lake. Those homes, he said, are inundated with silt in their wells and runoff from the ongoing construction of housing developments above them.
“They tell me that a river is running down on top of them every time it rains,” Murphy said. “It’s a big issue.”
He describes Wood as a nice person, but one who has no strategy aside from developing the Route 29 corridor and allowing developers free rein to do as they please.
“At the end of the day, that’s the biggest difference between Tom and I,” Murphy said. “I believe we have strategy, and I don’t believe they do. And if they do, it’s not working.”
Running with Bryan Drew, Russell Kirkwood and Maxine Lautenberg, Murphy said he’d also like to see more transparency in government, including video footage of town meetings and allowing people access to information without the cumbersome Freedom of Information Act process. He wants more communication, including updating the website and getting on social media, wider promotion of events, and a summer youth program and internships for teens at Town Hall.
“We have to make the government more transparent and responsive to residents’ needs,” Murphy said. “Right now it’s reactive. Tom has been more of a caretaker. It’s not a government that moves initiatives forward. We are sitting on a plethora of gems that just needed to be polished . ... I’m a candidate for the transformation of town. Strategic development and taking our unique strengths and optimizing them so they help everybody thrive. That in a nutshell is the vision.”
Wood, 76, a retired elementary school principal and lifelong town resident, has sat in the top leadership seat in the town for 18 years. He says he’s running for a 10th term because his work is not done.
“Basically, I have unfinished business,” said Wood, who grew up on a farm in the town. “And there are a lot more challenges. ... Agriculture is a strong part of the town of Saratoga. I want to continue to promote and encourage and create open space.”
He also said he loves the job. He loves working with people and solving the diversity of problems the town faces. And he said that thus far, he and other elected officials have done a good job — keeping town taxes low, getting grants for expanding parks and trails all along the Hudson River and attracting businesses, both in Town Hall and on Route 29.
“The town of Saratoga I describe as a peaceful, pleasant and economical place to live, and that’s the way I want to keep it,” Wood said. “We have growth, and some growth is good. It’s controlled growth. We are not slipping backwards; we are moving forward.”
This election, however, has placed Wood in an uncomfortable position. Rather than just doing the work he loves, he is having to defend it — including allowing the clear-cutting of the Saratoga Lake property, which he said was legal because a vineyard is going there; the appointment of a Planning Board chair who didn’t live in the town, who he now says does live there; issues with runoff on Saratoga Lake, which he says the town is solving; and the updated comprehensive plan that breaks up agricultural plots from 10 acres to five-acre lots, which opponents say is a giveaway to developers who lie in wait for farms to sell.
“We did that at the suggestion of (state) Ag and Markets,” Wood said of the acreage. “The reason for that is the nature of agriculture is changing. If you have a greenhouse, that’s agriculture, but you don’t need 10 acres. You can have a nice operation on five acres. We want to encourage more agriculture and recognize the changing face of agriculture.”
Wood, who is running with incumbent Michael Mcloughlin and newcomer Rose Decker, said he is proud of the agricultural traditions in the town, mentioning the hefty business at Saratoga Apple’s u-pick orchard and Schuyler Farm’s corn maze every fall.
He also speaks proudly of every business along the Route 29 corridor as well as a new housing development, Schuyler Hill, that is a showcase for 30 houses “that you wouldn’t know were there.”
He also said that as supervisor, he has no control over the planning and zoning boards and that he “has not influence or legal authority” over controversial development projects like Witt Construction’s Cedar Bluff on Saratoga Lake.
“It’s beyond the jurisdiction of the Town Board,” Wood said, though he conceded the Town Board does appoint those who sit on the land use boards. But he added, “You can’t deny something that is within the law.”
Prior to being elected supervisor, Wood sat on the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals for 21 years and was also the town historian for 19 years.
Through the years, he said, he hasn’t neglected the villages. He said he has a good working relationship with their leaders and has plans, including cleaning up the abandoned canal in Schuylerville and refurbishing the mill into affordable apartments in Victory.
“I always try to do the right things,” Wood said. “I’ve always been truthful and honest and basically listen to people.”