#schoolsafety | Two vie for Saratoga Springs’ Public Safety commissioner

SARATOGA SPRINGS – In the race for the city’s Commissioner of Public Safety, one thing is assured: the winner will make history.

For the first time, the chair on the City Council will either be filled by a woman, Robin Dalton, or a man of color, Kendall Hicks. They will replace outgoing Commissioner Peter Martin, who chose not to seek re-election.

What’s important to both candidates are the issues of homelessness and school safety as well as building an Eastside Fire and EMS station. The two are drawing on different backgrounds to solve the city’s Public Safety problems.

Dalton, a native of New York City, is a Cornell University graduate in government who has worked as a segment producer at Fox  News. After marrying, she moved to Saratoga Springs where she leased commercial real estate for Roohan Realty and wrote about the city’s high-toned social scene for the Saratogian. She then founded the Saratoga Social website and magazine, which was eventually bought out by Saratoga Living. She is the mother of four children — ages, 3, 6, 8 and 9 — and has lived in the city for 12 years.

“A lot of people have asked me how I’m going to handle doing this job and having four kids,” said the 39-year-old, who is running as a Republican.  “The latent sexism comes in … But I have always been a working mother, always. I’ve always managed it. My husband and I co-parent and do a great job … When they ask me how I’m going to cope, I always wonder how many male politicians were asked that, never.”

She said she wants to run because she “loves the city and knows she can do a good job.” She also likes the fact that the city thrives on bi-partisanship, which she said was evident when both parties asked her to run for Commissioner of Public Safety last December after she raised funds for Saratoga Parents for Safer Schools, a group that advocates for hardening the city’s eight schools with visible security measures.  She chose to seek the Republican endorsement knowing that Democrats were already considering two for its ballot line.

“This is a city in which partisanship has really no bearing on debates and issues we face,” she said.

At her endorsement interview, she said she made it clear to the Republican Committee that she often disagrees with the party line on issues of homelessness and immigration. She said she does not believe someone’s immigration status should be a priority for the Saratoga Springs police department. However, she agrees that the police should assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement, if asked.

As for homelessness, she supports the Shelters of Saratoga work, despite some Republican skepticism about who the shelter is serving.

“My priority is keeping people alive,” said Dalton, who volunteers at Code Blue, the Shelters of Saratoga winter haven for the homeless. “Once we have a permanent shelter in place then we can suss out if there are people taking advantage.”

Dalton also is concerned with police staffing and feels the department needs another seven officers.

“My primary objective is to make sure we have additional officers and whatever resources they need to truly keep this community —  that has grown so much — safe,” she said.

While Dalton came down on the side of hardening schools, she said she understands community is divided over the issue.

“I’m acutely aware of the fact that my personal opinion is not one that I can push on the city,” Dalton said. “My challenge, if elected, is to represent all the constituents of the city and keep our schools as safe as possible.”

Dalton said the eastside fire and EMS station has been an issue for years, but expects the mayor will be announcing that the city purchased a piece of property for that purpose in the coming weeks.

“If she finds the land, we will get it done,” Dalton said.

Hicks, a 30-year Army National Guard veteran, is a 20-year resident of the city. As a battalion supply sergeant, he served in Afghanistan and earned the Bronze Star for leadership. He said he is best equipped to for the job because he has experience managing budgets and people. He also sits on the Citizen Advisory Board that acts as a liaison between the police and residents.

“I’ve always been a person who likes to help people,” the 48-year-old said when asked why he is running. “I see this as an opportunity to use my unique skill set, to serve on a higher platform, to be able to solve problems. We have a great city, but I feel I can contribute.”

Hicks said alleviating homelessness and a new fire and EMS station on the east side of the city are his top issues. He also is concerned about affordable housing, which he feels is connected to the homeless issue.

His approach to most issues, including the opioid crisis, would be to bring in stakeholders to work collaboratively on a solution. He said his experience in Afghanistan also taught him the essentials of inclusion and recruiting all stakeholders to come up with viable solutions.

“If I am elected, it won’t be status quo,” Hick said. “I want to serve all the people, not just a certain class of people.”

He would like to continue the Citizen Advisory Board’s work, which he calls “a voice between police and citizens.” As part of that work, he enlisted the police department to be part of the Peace Fair in September at the Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church.

When asked about Darryl Mount Jr., the 21-year-old Malta man who died after sustaining injuries after a police pursuit, he said he could not comment on that case because it is in litigation, but as commissioner he would also call for an immediate external investigation if any harm came to any citizen after an encounter with police.

“It should be a standard policy,” Hicks said.

As for adding more guns to the school environment, Hick said he’s been around guns all his life and knows they can have both a positive and negative influence.

“I believe the school should decide how many guns to have and that the police department should support that effort by preparing their officers with the proper training so they act when requested,” he said. “The right people with the guns is more important to me than having more guns.”

While Dalton knows she is subject to sexism, Hicks said there is also a “potential” for racism to seep into the run for public office.

“I’m not focused on that,” Hicks said. “I’m interested in serving all people. I think that my diversity will enhance the city and can bring people to the table so that people feel they are part of the decisions being made about their lives.”

While the candidates try to elevate the issues,  a 2013 Gloversville police report involving Hicks has been the subject of articles, including one in the Times Union, as well as a mailer from the state Republican Party to Saratoga Springs voters. The police report describes an alleged domestic incident between Hicks and his girlfriend on North Main Street. Though the court dismissed the charges against Hicks, the report remains in circulation.

Hicks said the report, based on an eyewitness account, was false. He also doesn’t want it to define him.

“These allegations were not true,” Hicks said. “Eyewitnesses corroborated my side of the story that resulted in the charges being dismissed. There also was an investigation done by the military that had the same results. I retired with a clean record.”

Dalton was upset that the state Republicans mailed out the police report.

“I wanted to do this in a way that was positive and uplifting,” Dalton said. “I can run my campaign in a positive uplifting manner, but I have zero control over what the (Republican) county does and state does. … It makes me look just as bad, that I’m a sleazy politician … I’m in it for the long-haul, not to smear my opponent. That’s the only way I want to win.”

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