Saranac Lake Democrats choose candidates
Caucus nominates Little for mayor; Brunette, Waters for trustee
SARANAC LAKE — Democrats in this village have chosen Melinda Little to represent them in the three-candidate race for Saranac Lake mayor at a caucus Tuesday night. They also nominated Kelly Brunette and Susan Waters to represent the party in the three-candidate race for two village trustee seats.
At the caucus, 208 registered Democrats, as well as a gallery of Republicans, unaffiliated voters and Democrats living outside the village filled the North Country Community College Sparks Athletic Complex gym, packing the bleachers and lining the gym floor in socially distanced chairs from end-to-end.
Republicans, independents and Democrats living outside the village couldn’t vote in the caucus, but many showed up to show support and watch the caucus.
Democratic Franklin County Legislator Lindy Ellis, who ran the caucus, said this crowd represented about 16% of all the Democrats in the village.
There are currently three candidates for mayor running on three different party lines and three candidates for trustee running on two party lines.
The deadline to submit independent petitions is Feb. 8. Candidates will need 75 signatures each to be on the ballot.
The election is on March 15.
Now that current Mayor Clyde Rabideau is not running for a fourth term, Little, a village trustee and deputy mayor of the village, is running for mayor. Jimmy Williams, the owner of two downtown businesses — Bitters and Bones and T.F. Finnigan — got the Republican party’s nomination in the mayoral race at its caucus the night before. Jeremy Evans, the Franklin County Industrial Development Agency’s CEO, will be running on the independent Stronger Saranac Lake party line. He did not seek the Republican party’s endorsement but put himself in the running for the Democratic nomination.
In the race for mayor, Little, the only registered Democrat seeking the nomination, garnered 114 of the 195 ballots cast in the caucus. Williams got 55 votes. Evans got 26 votes.
Brunette is a village trustee running for her first full term on the board. She was elected to fill out an unexpired term in March 2021. Waters is a former village trustee who served one term on the board from 2006 to 2010. She lost reelection in 2010.
Waters is a retired photojournalist and director of a commercial printing company. She’s also served as the executive director for Homeward Bound Adirondacks and a board member with the Adirondack Community Housing Trust.
Brunette and Waters are both registered Democrats.
Adirondack Health spokesman Matt Scollin is running for village trustee on the Stronger Saranac Lake party line along with Evans and Brunette. After missing the Democratic endorsement he said he’ll be focusing on running an independent campaign.
Only two of these three candidates can be elected to the board in March.
The Republicans did not nominate anyone to run for trustee on their party line at their caucus on Monday.
Brunette and Waters split the majority of trustee votes at the caucus evenly — 95 each. Scollin got 48 votes.
Many people left after the mayoral vote, but everyone could vote for two candidates each, which meant 238 ballots were cast in the trustee race.
There were several candidates not affiliated with any political party seeking the Democrats’ nomination that night — Evans, Williams and Scollin. They took approximately 30% of the votes that night. In the end, only registered Democrats took home endorsements.
At the caucus, Little pitched herself as an entrepreneur with four years of experience on the board.
She proposed a Saranac Lake dog park in collaboration with Harrietstown, suggested increasing transparency by inviting department heads to meetings and adding one more meeting a month to talk about upcoming plans with the public.
Franny Preston, who spoke in favor of Little, pointed out that, if elected, Little would be the first woman to hold the mayor seat in Saranac Lake. This got big applause.
“It feels really good,” Little said later, of getting the endorsement.
All candidates were asked by Ellis if they were Democrats. Williams, like several other candidates, is not affiliated with a party.
“I’m a proud registered independent,” he said.
He was asked by Ellis if he accepted the Democrats endorsement if he would decline the Republican endorsement.
Ellis asked all candidates this question, but it only applied to Williams because he was the only candidate the Republicans had endorsed at a caucus the day before.
Williams said he would not. He wanted to be on both tickets. Williams said he puts Saranac Lake first and party second, which got applause.
Williams later said he felt targeted by this question.
Ellis asked Williams about his residence, which was not a question for other candidates.
“When you go home at night to your family is it to the house on Kiwassa Way, outside of the area of the village?” she asked.
Williams said he is currently building a home out of the village in the town.
He has a residence at 79 Main St., above T.F. Finnigans, where he’s been registered to vote for four years. The courts allow this, he pointed out.
The Main Street location is “one of my residences,” he said.
Ellis asked if that is where he lays his head at night.
He said in 2008, the state Supreme Court ruled that people can have two residences and select which one they vote from.
“A legitimate, significant and continuing attachment to that residence,” is the language he read.
He said the Main Street apartment is where he lived when he moved back to town, where he stays when it’s convenient and a place he rents out as a short-term rental when he’s not staying there.
Williams pitched a change in the way the village is run.
“I know we can do better,” he said. “I want bold and swift action.”
He said there’s been “unethical behavior” in the village that’s made him dissatisfied with the local government.
“Nobody is fighting against what’s been in our papers for years,” he said.
Dan Reilly, who vouched for Williams, said there’s a serious salt and lead issue in the village water system. He said when he addressed the board about this over a year ago he felt they brushed him off, but said Williams took him seriously.
Without the party’s endorsement, Williams said he’ll have to prove to Democrats that he’s running to represent everyone.
Evans said he respects Democrats voting for Democrats, but asked for their vote because he wants to serve the whole village.
He acknowledged that he changed his party affiliation from Republican to unaffiliated in November.
“National party leaders have lost my trust and I’m not willing to carry their baggage,” Evans said. He said he wants to be judged on what he has done and what he will do.
Still, he said, “there are some in attendance tonight who have used fear tactics to cast me as a partisan.”
He proposed code changes to promote sustainable housing, and said he’s knowledgeable about economic development, community organizing and labor contract negotiations.
After the vote, Evans said he’ll be sticking to his “independent roots” in this race. He said he knew it would be hard to beat Little in the Democratic caucus. In the end, he said Democrats wanted to be loyal to their party.
Village Administrative Assistant Cassandra Hopkins vouched for Evans’ work ethic and character.
“I see what is not on paper, and I think the important takeaway from that is accountability and approachability,” she said.
Ashley Milne, a town council member, quoted Teddy Roosevelt, saying Evans exemplifies his saying about “the man in the area” who consistently strives forward.
Brunette wants to run for a full four-year term because she said there’s a bunch of issues she wants to see through.
“One year just isn’t enough,” she said.
She said the village is making strides with its police interface committee, hiring a new police chief, the recently-adopted village housing plan and the Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant projects, some of which will be going to bid soon.
Residents deserve affordable and safe housing, clear streets, stable water and sewer rates, transparency and knowledge about how their dollars are spent, she said.
Some of these issues, she said, have been in the works for a while.
“I know things take a long time, having worked for the village for so long,” she said. “It’s just the bureaucracy of it.”
Brunette said she’s followed the DRI process all the way through — first, in her work for the village, then on the downtown advisory board, the DRI advisory committee and the village board.
Waters joining the race came as a surprise to many — including herself. She said she woke up Tuesday morning and decided to run for her old village board seat again.
She felt the other candidates weren’t focusing on affordable housing enough, but acknowledged it was a large part of both of their platforms.
“My passion has always been affordable housing,” Waters said.
She’s been on the village’s housing committee for the past three years. When she was on the board before, she worked on a Tri-Lakes housing survey. She said a lot of the same issues then are causing problems now.
This survey was never used to find solutions, she said.
“You’ll find it sitting on the shelf in the village office with all the other studies,” she said.
She’s excited about the new committee’s suggestions.
Waters got an endorsement, and a clean bill of health, from a friend in the audience, her doctor — Beth Bartos-Martin.
“If anyone thinks I’m too old for this job, you can ask my doctor. She claims that I have the fitness of a 50-year-old,” Waters said.
“Thirty,” Bartos-Martin clarified.
Bartos-Martin said she’s known Waters for 20 years and that her patient was the “most organized person” she’s known.
After getting the party endorsement, Waters said she had to dig in and get work done preparing the rest of her campaign. She said she expects a “short ramp up,” since she has experience on the board.
Scollin, after sharing a list of the boards and groups he’s a member of, addressed one more job he’s held.
“It is true that from 2014 to 2016 I served as a regional director for Congresswoman Elise Stefanik,” Scollin said.
Gasps, murmurings and whispers rippled through the audience.
Scollin feigned a shocked face, acknowledging the information he had just shared with a room of 200 Democrats. Everyone shared a laugh.
He quickly explained that he did the same constituent services job for Stefanik’s predecessor, Bill Owens, a Democrat.
“I’m proud of my work during that year in my life, regardless of whose name was on the plate-glass window,” he said, adding that he was working for constituents, not the elected leaders.
“I was never Elise Stefanik’s campaign manager, and those who say I was know better,” Scollin said.
After the results came in, Scollin was disappointed he didn’t get the nomination, but said he’s continuing on and running on the Stronger SL party line.
“The only other options are to roll over and crawl into a hole tonight, and that’s not productive,” he said.
He knew it would be an “uphill battle” to get endorsed.