Heat Is On
Springs DPW commssioner Thomas McTygue may face the political
fight of his life, thanks to“disgruntled” employees, reformers
Photos by Chris Shields
Cliff Staring expects to be picking up cigarette butts off
the sidewalks of Saratoga Springs next week. The Saratoga
Springs Department of Public Works employee says he can no
longer bite his tongue, and he expects retribution.
did it,” says Staring, his head in his hands, sitting at a
corner table in a Saratoga Springs coffee shop on the night
of the city’s Democratic primary. In February, Staring made
a call to the state Department of Environmental Conservation
to report an oil spill in the Saratoga Springs DPW garage,
a spill he says was going to be covered up.
blame it on David Keehn, when it was I who called the DEC,”
says Staring, referring to allegations made by Saratoga Springs
Department of Public Works Commissioner Thomas McTygue that
Mayor Valerie Keehn’s husband, who works for the DEC, is responsible
for a DEC investigation into oil spills at the DPW garage.
husband played a roll in this DEC investigation,” counters
McTygue. “I’ve talked to these clean-up people across the
state, and they have never seen anything like how we have
been treated during this investigation.” The DPW garage was
raided after the DEC was tipped off in February.
Staring says that after learning of the spill and realizing
it would be covered up, he thought of the school next door
and made the call to the DEC before the hydraulic oil could
be buried under loads of thick grey cement.
Staring insists the scope of the oil spills at the garage
has been severely downplayed by DPW officials, and says the
investigation is not the result of a single incident.
While Staring says his decision to tip off the DEC was based
on concerns about pollution and public safety, his decision
to reveal himself as the tipster is based on his feeling that
he has “nothing left to lose.”
According to Staring, he was passed over for a promotion despite
his skills because he associates with people who are considered
to be enemies of his boss, Thomas McTygue. Specifically, Staring
points to his wife’s relationship with McTygue’s political
nemesis, Mayor Keehn. Staring says he has continually been
put on undesirable duties during his time in the DPW.
and a number of other DPW workers describe the department’s
working environment as one where political loyalty assures
job security and promotions, where notes are taken of who
takes a sign for which candidate, where political material
is distributed on the clock, and where DPW vehicles are misused
for both political and personal gain.
According to Staring, associating with the wrong people and
not being politically useful to McTygue can earn DPW workers
the title “disgruntled.”
McTygue says such allegations, and the recent talk about an
FBI investigation into his department and his business activities,
are simply rumors propagated by his political enemies and
“a couple disgruntled employees.”
Regarding the allegations of an FBI investigation [“Investigation
Overload,” Newsfront, Aug. 30], William McTygue, the commissioner’s
brother, told Metroland: “We know who you talked to. They
are our political enemies. We know who you talked to.”
Thomas McTygue insisted that talk of an FBI investigation
stems from a letter written by Planning Board chairman Lew
Benton about an incident last November when supporters of
charter reform received dead fish in their mailboxes. McTygue
insists he was in Kentucky when the fish incident took place.
have nothing to hide,” said McTygue. “Our office is the most
open office in City Hall. Here’s our files. We got nothing
to hide. Not a damn thing.”
Staring says that McTygue’s grip on the DPW is thinner than
he might think, and that a number of employees who are not
yet willing to come forward to the media have also been talking
to investigators, and feel just as misused and betrayed as
McTygue, a Democrat and 30-year incumbent, may face the political
fight of his career this November when he faces Republican
Anthony “Skip” Scirocco, a former Saratoga Springs supervisor,
not only because of the specter of investigations, but also
because of mounting opposition from Republicans and Keehn-reform
Democrats who feel McTygue has come to abuse his entrenched
position at the head of the Department of Public Works.
Insiders suggest that the Democratic primary between Gordon
Boyd and Valerie Keehn should serve as a barometer for the
kind of race McTygue will encounter in November, as Boyd represents
McTygue’s interests in the race against Keehn. Keehn won the
Democratic primary by a landslide, taking 65 percent of the
vote to Boyd’s 35 percent.
Although McTygue’s largest political beef is with Keehn, his
most persistent, vocal and perhaps annoying public critic
is 63-year-old retired Army colonel David Bronner, a Republican.
Ask Bronner about the time he was head-butted at a public
meeting by Anthony Fisher, a DPW employee and McTygue supporter,
and he will recount it as though he were showing off a medal
It is Dec. 14, 2004. As Bronner tells it, he has just given
his public comments on Saratoga’s proposed county water plan
while DPW employees seated next to Commissioner McTygue hoot
and holler, trying to drown out the speakers they don’t agree
with. As Bronner sits down, he hears a larger gentleman behind
him trying to disrupt the next speaker. Bronner does not hold
carrying on over the speaker,” describes Bronner. “I said
to him—he’s a big, heavy, fat guy—I say, ‘Calm down, let the
proceedings go on, and maybe you better go on a diet.’ Then
I turn back around and next thing I know, whammo! I’m hit
in the back of head! I turn around and this guy is towering
over me from behind and he head-butts me.”
When not embroiled in political debate, Bronner is fairly
reserved. He will sometimes tell you that he just doesn’t
know when to shut his mouth, and at the same time that he
doesn’t think he should have to.
Although the head-butting incident is certainly the most sensational
run-in Bronner has had with McTygue’s supporters, his constant
criticism of Saratoga’s DPW commissioner has earned him multiple
visits from Saratoga police.
In the past few years, Bronner says, the police have been
called on him roughly 10 times. Bronner is very active in
politics and has a tendency to get himself into heated, sometimes
raucous, public political debates. The debates’ locations
vary from Saratoga Springs City Council meetings and public
hearings to street corners, but the sort of person he argues
with is almost always the same—supporters of McTygue.
Bronner openly admits he has a problem with McTygue and the
way he has handled his department. Sometimes it seems that
Bronner can barely contain his spite when talking about the
commissioner. His voice deepens, his eyes squint, and if you
give him a minute he will spend an hour telling you why he
thinks McTygue is bad for Saratoga.
Bronner has persistently cataloged what he considers McTygue’s
misdeeds as commissioner, including a residency issue and
concerns over illegal dumping, and he trumpets them to all
who will listen.
Although he has been a vocal critic of McTygue for some time,
Bronner says it was last year when the police began to get
involved. He explains that in the first two incidents he was
concerned about snow removal. During the first, Bronner queried
a DPW worker as to why he was plowing the street when there
was no snow on it.
Police arrived shortly after and told Bronner they got a call
saying he was harassing DPW workers. Bronner assured the officers
he was not harassing anyone, and they left.
In the second incident, Bronner says, he was concerned about
snow not being removed in front of a Saratoga hotel and went
to talk to then-Deputy Commissioner Pat Design at the DPW
was in the foyer of the DPW office right across from the Police
Department,” Bronner recalls, “chatting about this with Pat,
and he says, ‘Yeah, they should have been cleared,’ and next
thing I know cops come busting through the door, and I ask,
‘What are you doing here?’ They say, ‘We got a call that there
was trouble over here.’ I say, ‘I was talking to Pat Design.’
They say, ‘We got a call. We don’t know what it’s about, but
we were told to get over here.’ Pat tells them there is no
problem. They were embarrassed and turned around and left.”
McTygue insists that none of the incidents involving Bronner
are that innocent.
girls in my office really fear this guy,” says McTygue. “You
read this stuff every day, where some psycho blows somebody’s
brains out. You just don’t know. My family is scared, too.
I’m not gonna antagonize him, but he sees me on the street,
and he hollers at me. He follows me around. It pretty much
sounds like he’s obsessed with me.”
insiders say that Bronner’s heckling of McTygue is not only
free speech but also a chance for McTygue to get a bit of
his own medicine. McTygue has been known to rally DPW workers
and supporters to political gatherings to shout down and jeer
against his political opponents.
Earlier this year, police responded twice to Bronner’s presence,
once when he was outside the DPW garage during the DEC raid
and later on the proposed site for the recreation center where
Bronner had discovered illegal dumping by the DPW. In both
cases, the officers responded to calls Bronner says were placed
by the McTygues.
During a heated exchange at a council meeting in the winter
of 2006, Bronner says, Thomas McTygue promised that “one of
these days, we’re gonna get the cuffs on you.”
On May 19 of this year, the feud became even more personal.
Bronner says that while he was walking down the street, he
encountered Peter and William McTygue and asked them about
the resignation of DPW Deputy Commissioner Pat Design. Bronner
insists he was simply querying a public official. According
to police reports, Bronner flipped off the McTygues and declared,
“This is your IQ!”
Bronner insists he made no obscene comments and only made
an antagonistic comment when Peter McTygue started charging
toward him. The incident came to a close with no violence,
and Bronner went on his way.
A few days later, a reporter called him.
calls Monday night and tells me he understands through the
grapevine that McTygue is pushing to have me charged with
harassment of the two McTygues, and I said, ‘You know, there
were two of them against just me. I’m an older guy, and these
two guys are younger than me, 13 years younger, and Peter
is a big guy, so I don’t think so. You must have some misinformation.’
As it turns out, the reporter was right and charges were pressed
against Bronner, and a warrant was issued. Bronner says the
police never contacted him about the situation. Instead, Bronner
called the police to find out that the warrant existed and
then turned himself in.
The case eventually was adjourned in contemplation of dismissal.
Peter McTygue reportedly was given a modified order of protection
against Bronner. For Bronner, it was essential the order of
protection be modified to allow him to continue to attend
council meetings, as he suspects the McTygues have “set traps”
for him so they can press charges against him and make it
impossible for him to attend the meetings. If Bronner has
a valid harassment claim against him in the next six months,
it will reopen the previous harassment case.
Bronner has earned himself a reputation as a bulldog, and
some in Saratoga Springs worry that he is the target of repeated
police harassment in a bid by McTygue and his allies to silence
his rabid criticism.
McTygue insists he is taking precautions against a man he
makes it difficult is they know they can get away with it
with a public official, says McTygue. “They can get away with
it legally. But if I was a private citizen he couldn’t get
away with that. And that’s a problem that the legislators
ought to look out for. I don’t know why me or any other elected
official has to take it.”
On Aug. 19, Bronner and Carole Saunders were involved in a
debate outside of a “meet the candidates” function. Saunders
later that night filed a harassment complaint with the Saratoga
police. According to Saratoga Springs Police Chief Ed Moore,
“Bronner shared some less-than-proper but constitutional comments
about Mr. McTygue, and the woman shared similar comments about
According to Moore, neither person’s actions warranted a charge
But McTygue apparently did not agree, and Moore soon got a
call from his boss, Public Safety Commissioner Ronald Kim,
telling him that McTygue said the investigation had not been
taken care of properly.
McTygue allegedly insisted that the officer on duty had promised
to call Saunders back but failed to do so. “McTygue’s information,”
says Moore, “was way off base.”
Both Moore and Kim say that it is their job to ensure that
calls regarding harassment are responded to, and that they
will follow protocol.
But Kim says he is concerned about something else: “It’s an
unusual situation, but one thing I will say is, I won’t allow,
and I think Chief Moore would agree, is, we won’t allow the
Police Department to become a political football for anybody.
The worst thing I can ever imagine in a democracy is the idea
of a police force used to chill political speech. That, to
me, is abhorrent to any value this nation stands for and that
will never happen on my watch.”
Keehn says she is concerned that resources are being wasted
to address social squabbles. “If every time someone on the
street got into heated political conversation, police were
brought in to investigate for harassment or violence, that
is all the police would be doing. Are we going to waste time
or do people need to use common sense to find out when to
walk away from the conversation?”
This past Tuesday night at the regular City Council meeting,
tensions between the McTygues and Bronner flared again as
Bronner addressed the police issue in front of the council.
Bronner heatedly accused McTygue of abusing the police. Afterwards,
William McTygue repeatedly told a police officer to “get that
psycho away from me!” The officer watched closely as Bronner
made his way down the hall toward the exit, explaining to
the officer he was simply trying to leave the building, while
William McTygue jerked away from him. The officer kept Bronner
moving and calmly noted, “I’m not taking sides.”
Bronner also had police called on him twice on Tuesday for
electioneering within 100 feet of a polling place.
Bronner says that as much as the McTygues want to label him
a psychopath or a stalker, what they are actually afraid of
is his dissent.
are trying to intimidate me to keep me away from council meetings,”
he says, “to cause me to not be able to make critical comments
on important issues and also, beyond that, to attempt to intimidate
others who speak out. I’m not getting intimidated. I’m right
here. I’m not going anywhere.”
While McTygue’s more vocal critics have grabbed the attention,
the man who is officially challenging McTygue for his seat
this November, Skip Scirocco, has kept a relatively low profile.
When Anthony “Skip” Scirocco first bought his home in Saratoga
Springs, it was a one-bedroom garage apartment. Slowly, through
his own work, an expansion kit and some help from contractors,
he has built the house on Pinewoods Avenue out to more impressive
dimensions. And every piece of wood in the house means something
to Scirocco because he put it there.
As much work and care as Scirocco has put into his home in
Saratoga, the onetime Saratoga Springs supervisor will have
to put a similar amount of effort into his race against McTygue
in a much shorter amount of time.
Scirocco has heard it from people over and over: “You’ve got
an uphill battle. He’s not just gonna roll over.” Of course,
Scirocco knows those things. But he says he plans to keep
his campaign out of the mud. If elected, he says, one of his
first proposals would be to initiate a 311 system so that
people would have one number to call if they needed issues
addressed by the DPW, or any other city department.
Scirocco says that the DPW needs to be opened up and made
available to the citizens of Saratoga. To that end, he promises
he will create a DPW Web site so that the department’s tasks
and projects will be on display so the taxpayers know how,
where and why their resources are being used. Scirocco says
opening up the department will restore lost trust.
Staring, the “disgruntled” DPW employee, says he would like
to see a DPW with an open application process, so that jobs
and promotions cannot be given out as favors to family and
While Scirocco has so far kept a low profile, insiders say
he is set to turn heads with both his endorsements from within
the DPW and his choice for deputy commissioner. It is an open
secret among Scirocco supporters that the popular former deputy
commissioner, Patrick Design, who resigned earlier this year,
is likely to be announced as Scirocco’s would-be future deputy.
Thomas McTygue says all Scirocco has to run on is mud, because
he can’t run against his long record. “They want to beat me
because I’m a Democrat elected in a Republican community,
but they can’t beat me on my record. They haven’t brought
up one issue. The sidewalks are clean as a whistle, we plow
the streets, the flowers are second to none. This stuff doesn’t
happen by accident. We have a great administration. There
are excellent trades people who work for this department.”
Still, McTygue says that after 30 years, the mudslinging has
started to get to him.
a lot of this nonsense going on it is no wonder why people
don’t run for public office. You think people want to expose
their life to some crackpot like this?” he asks, referring
to Bronner. “My family is so upset I had to consider whether
I was running again this year.”