Both Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim and former Mayor Joanne Yepsen have a history of violating the city’s ethics code. Yepsen’s involvement in Kim’s nomination for Mayor by the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee is yet another chapter in that unfortunate history.
Both Ron Kim and Joanne Yepsen were cited by the city’s Ethics Board for their failure to adhere to the city’s ethics requirements. In the case of Joanne Yepsen, she was found to have solicited business from Saratoga Hospital while she was Mayor and while the hospital had business before her. In the case of Ron Kim, he inappropriately put links to his campaign website on the city’s website.
One would have hoped that these findings would have educated Kim and Yepsen regarding the need for greater care regarding ethics. Apparently, it had no effect.
What Don’t They Get About Conflicts of Interest?
According to Kim’s reporting to the New York State Board of Elections, he paid invoices to Joanne Yepsen’s firm, Yepsen and Pikulski, on September 13, 2022, November 7, 2022, March 11, 2023, and June 5, 2023. The total for this period was $6,600.00. Kim had previously paid Yepsen $5,531.44 during his campaign for Mayor in 2021. Yepsen and Pikulski’s website promotes them as offering “Public Affairs Services” which include “Mission Based Marketing, Fundraising, Government Relations, Media Strategy,” and something called “Issues Management.”
On February 7, 2023, as a member of the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee’s nominating committee, Joanne Yepsen interviewed Kim and Chris Mathiesen who were both seeking the committee’s endorsement as candidates for Mayor of Saratoga Springs. The nominating committee recommended Ron Kim be endorsed by the full Committee which it went on to do.
It is also worth remembering that the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee refused to allow Democrats Chris Mathiesen, Tim Coll, and Michele Madigan to address the full committee before voting on the nominating committee’s endorsements. Only after a flurry of bad press and editorials did the Democratic Committee relent and agree to have Mathiesen and Madigan address them, but of course, by that time, all the incumbents had been endorsed as had been predetermined, and it was too late to have any impact.
Email to Otis Maxwell, Acting Chair of Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee
I wrote to Otis Maxwell, the current chair of the city Democratic Committee regarding this:
On September 13, 2022, November 7, 2022, March 11, 2023, and June 5, 2023, Ron Kim’s campaign paid invoices to Joanne Yepsen’s political consulting firm for a total of $6,600.00. On February 7, 2023, Ms. Yepsen, as a member of the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee nominating committee, was one of the people who interviewed Chris Mathiesen when he sought your Committee’s endorsement to run for Mayor. Ron Kim, who used the services of Ms. Yepsen’s firm, was also seeking and subsequently obtained the Democratic Committee endorsement for Mayor.
On its face, this seems like an egregious conflict of interest both for Joanne Yepsen and Ron Kim. As Yepsen was being paid to assist Kim’s campaign, she should have resigned from the nominating committee or recused herself from any involvement in the committee’s deliberations and recommendation of a mayoral candidate.
I ask the following questions:
- Do you see the role played by Ms. Yepsen in the Democratic Committee’s nominating process as inappropriate?
- If so, do you plan to bring this to the attention of the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee to consider some action to address this?
Thank you. I look forward to hearing from you.
Thanks, John. The timing of the invoices suggests that Joanne Yepsen was working for Ron Kim in the past and during his current campaign, but not at the time the Nominations Subcommittee was doing its work this past winter. Still, I can see how this could look like a conflict of interest. The work of the Nominations Subcommittee is done for this election cycle, but we’ll keep an eye out for similar scenarios in the future. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.
From everything I hear Otis Maxwell is a very decent person. It is a sign of the corrosive influence of Kim and others on the Democratic Committee that Maxwell would offer his tepid defense of Yepsen and Kim and decline to bring the issue before the full committee.