MALTA — The 2018 elections are 21 months from now.
Still, when she flies in a plane, takes a train, or hauls her stuff between home in Malta and the nation’s capital in her dad’s Ford pickup truck, Morgan Zegers is busy developing her strategy to win a seat as a Republican in the New York State Assembly.
At present, that seat is occupied by Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, a Democrat who recently won her second two-year term representing the 113th Assembly District by a margin of nearly 8,000 votes, according to state election records. The district straddles portions of Saratoga and Washington counties.
In an email response to questions about the distant 2018 race, Zegers, a 20-year-old junior at American University in the District of Columbia, explains that “a big team of volunteers” is already supporting her efforts. “Considering my age,” she says, “we plan to keep this campaign creative, but also use classic campaign strategy” by organizing fundraisers and buying airtime for commercials. “It’s not about negativity,” she added.
Reached for comment this week, Woerner confirmed that she plans to seek a third term. But in the midst of a productive Assembly session, Woerner was more focused on one of the first bills she co-sponsored: a set of comprehensive ethics reform measures that could deny pensions to state lawmakers convicted of crimes. The pension revocation must be approved by New York voters in a statewide referendum.
“Elected officials are not above the law,” Woerner said in a statement. “These measures are important steps in the process of reigning in the corruption that has plagued the legislature for too long.”
Zegers, who gained much of her political experience as a college intern in the office of Republican U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, claims that social media and modern technology can aid all lawmakers in their maintenance of “full transparency.”
Stefanik “has given me great advice,” Zegers says, “and I’m very thankful to be able to see such a strong woman leading in my own backyard.”
“When you go to my website, you get a clear view of what I’m all about as a community member and as a candidate,” Zegers continued. On the front page of that site (www.morganzegers.com), there’s a colorful picture of her holding a shotgun that she uses for hunting, over the bolded words “Our rights shall not be infringed.”
Her primary focus issues are listed as education, economic freedom, agriculture and defending gun rights.
Zegers says her grandfather, a Vietnam veteran who passed away last year, initially inspired her political ambition. While attending Ballston Spa High School, Zegers formed a bond with him serving as an officer in a VFW post, which led to her involvement in various other clubs.
“This brought me to search for where my values in conservatism and where my passion for my community align with a public office,” Zegers said, adding that the seat she now aims for in the New York State Assembly “matched up” with those values.
To date, more than $6,000 has been raised for her 2018 campaign. Saratoga Springs socialite Michele Riggi, who Zegers says is devoted to “the empowerment of young women,” has made the largest single donation.
“Morgan is a very impressive young woman,” offered Steve Bulger, chairman of the Saratoga County Republican Committee. “She’s smart, she’s focused…and those are exactly the types of people we want involved in the process.” According to Bulger, no other Republicans have announced plans yet to seek the party’s nomination next year.
Woerner’s most recent Republican challenger, Christopher Boyark, had won a party primary last September in which only 1,600 total votes were cast. Zegers said Boyark’s eventual loss to Woerner was the final impetus, causing her to start “thinking I should grab this opportunity.”
“I’m ready to run,” Zegers concluded, even if her graduation from American University in May 2018 must come first.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Augie Vitiello was thrilled to finally hold a large pair of scissors for a ribbon cutting on Wednesday in front of his new take-out restaurant in the city. “I’ve been eyeing this location for a number of years,” Vitiello said, about an hour before the grand opening of Augie’s Family-Style Italian To Go at 223 Lake Avenue in the City of Saratoga Springs. His new business sits directly across from the East Side Recreation Park. For several years, the dishes served in generous portions at Vitiello’s restaurant in the Village of Ballston Spa have attracted a steady flow of customers. A devastating fire in 2013 forced Vitiello to relocate that restaurant to Low Street in the village, where he says it will remain long term. Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, said he’s certain the Augie’s “brand” will prove successful in the city as well. Customers in the Lake Avenue neighborhood and elsewhere will appreciate the convenience of a take-out establishment, according to Shimkus. “They’ve got such a great reputation,” he said of Augie’s. “Locally, they’re going to attract a ton of people.”
BALLSTON SPA — This week, federal environmental officials began the process of installing technical devices at dozens of properties to monitor air quality near the Rickett’s Dry Cleaning and Laundry building. Their goal is to determine the extent of chemical contamination discovered last summer at that shuttered village business.
Don Graham, a scene coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said small teams of federal contractors will install devices inside numerous homes and businesses in the Village of Ballston Spa to obtain air samples, through the month of February. Colder weather is ideal for taking such measurements, he said.
Rickett’s, situated along a busy stretch of Doubleday Avenue, closed for business in 2014, according to the EPA. Today, the building’s dilapidated exterior makes it a plainly visible contrast to other popular businesses in the area.
In July 2016, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation had requested an EPA assessment, which revealed a “historic release” of the chemical PERC that was commonly used in dry cleaning activities. Other chemicals identified in that EPA assessment included chloroform, vinyl chloride and benzene. An EPA fact sheet detailing the Rickett’s site further indicates, “low-level chemical exposures over many years may raise the lifetime risk of cancer or chronic disease.”
Graham explained that some chemicals migrated away from the Rickett’s property and had seeped into ground water. In turn, those chemicals can be released into the environment as vapors through cracks in the foundations of adjacent properties, particularly downhill to the east and south of Doubleday Avenue (Route 50).
Larisa Romanowski, the EPA’s community involvement coordinator, expressed the importance of conveying to village property owners that their “drinking water is not impacted” by any chemical contamination at the Rickett’s site.
The village’s water is supplied by a large aquifer to the north in the Town of Milton, according to Graham.
“That’s where all of our water comes from,” confirmed Ballston Spa Mayor John Romano. For all village residents, he said, contamination of drinking water “should not be one of their concerns.”
Precise measurements from the EPA’s technical monitors will be compiled sometime in March, Graham continued. He will be “surprised,” he said, if chemicals have not migrated from the Rickett’s site. Property owners whose land or structures appear to be contaminated, Graham added, “will get a call from me.”
The next steps by the EPA would involve installation of radon mitigation systems that effectively vent most hazardous vapors before they enter homes or businesses.
In recent weeks, Romano said he personally reached out to property owners living near the Rickett’s site to recommend they consent to the EPA testing. He observed between 75 and 100 local residents in attendance at a public forum in the village on January 23, during which EPA officials had provided more information and residents voiced their concerns.
“I’ll be reaching out to various agencies…asking that they take a look at this,” Romano said.
The mayor was unable to predict when the chemical contamination found at the Rickett’s property would be fully cleaned up. “I would love to see it happen this year,” Romano said.