Co-authored by the High Peaks DSA Executive Committee, Sunrise Adirondacks Steering Committee, and Fred Balzac.
For immediate release:
High Peaks Democratic Socialists of America, Sunrise Adirondacks and Fred Balzac commit to work together through the Sept. 15th election and beyond for progressive reforms—for the benefit of all Saranac Lake Village residents and the region’s environment.
Sign up to volunteer for the High Peaks DSA for Fred Balzac campaign: https://forms.gle/NbNrFTVsRrtLDtVR9
Two local chapters of national political organizations that are at the forefront of the progressive movement in the United States have endorsed Green Party candidate Fred Balzac in the race for Village of Saranac Lake trustee. The election, which was postponed from its original date of March 18, 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will take place at the Harrietstown Town Hall in Saranac Lake on Tuesday, Sept. 15, as well as by absentee ballot.
The two groups—High Peaks Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and Sunrise Adirondacks—are urging village residents to support Balzac’s candidacy in a broader effort to raise a wide range of pressing issues and needed reforms at the local level, in the hopes of spurring a large voter turnout for the Sept. 15th election.
“We are seeing a record number of young people waking up to inequality in our society; simultaneously poor, historically marginalized and oppressed people are organizing mass movements with bold demands to address systemic injustices. It’s been astonishing to see how many people want to see change locally as well. In June we had about 700 people demanding racial justice in Riverside Park, which is more people than voted in each of the last two Village Board elections. We’ve seen this level of interest bleed into Village Board meetings, which have been well attended throughout the spring and summer. We’re excited to support Fred and feel confident that he can rise to the current moment, unlike some of our current legislators who have continued to fumble and play defense,” said High Peaks DSA Co-Chair Zohar Gitlis.
According to village records, 590 votes were cast in the most recent competitive race for trustee, in 2016. In the 2018 election, with candidates for mayor and two trustee seats running unopposed, only 255 votes were cast. The village has 5,400 residents, according to saranaclakeny.gov.
Among the locally relevant issues that one or both groups have been grappling with are the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, housing rights, the establishment of an anti-choice pregnancy center in the village, policing reform, the lack of widespread access to renewable energy and the effect of climate change on the local environment.
Solutions and reforms being put forth by the groups include: mutual aid; rent cancellation and an extended eviction moratorium; a shift in spending from policing to social services; local implementation of the Green New Deal; sustainable development and “smart growth”; and a diversification of the local economy (more details here).
In the race for village trustee, Balzac—whose campaign slogan is “Your struggle is OUR fight”—was either already running on these issues and advocating for these solutions or has embraced them as a result of the endorsement process. Members of the two grassroots activist groups see his candidacy as a vehicle for influencing public discourse on these issues and solutions not only during this year’s election but going forward.
“We are excited by Fred’s willingness to listen and dedication to representing the people of his community, and his urgency to take action on public concerns,” said Kayla Lodico, Hub Coordinator of Sunrise Adirondacks.
As for the candidate himself, he views the endorsements by the two groups as an opportunity to build a pro-people/pro-environment coalition throughout the Adirondack North Country. “I am honored but also humbled by the endorsement of both High Peaks DSA and Sunrise Adirondacks and take seriously our joint commitment to continue working together on issues that are so critical to the well-being of village residents and the local environment, win or lose on Sept. 15th,” Balzac said.
“Both of these groups are comprised of smart, dynamic and dedicated individuals—many of whom are two, three or four decades younger than me—and they really represent the future of our village and region. I’m pleased to report that, as long as these good people stay involved, the future is in very good hands.”
To learn more about: Balzac’s candidacy and voting in the village election, including by absentee ballot, contact Fred at 518-588-7275 or [email protected]; re: High Peaks DSA, email the Executive Committee at [email protected] and/or visit highpeaksdsa.org; and re: Sunrise Adirondacks, email the Steering Committee at [email protected]and/or visit facebook.com/
About the Candidate
Fred Balzac has more than 40 years of professional experience as a journalist, medical writer-editor, publicist-promotions writer, innkeeper, nonprofit/community organizer and grant writer. He earned a B.A. in English from Columba University in 1983 (graduating with the same class as one Barack Obama!) and, 30 years later, went back to college to earn a Multimedia Journalism Certificate at SUNY Plattsburgh, where he continues to take a class each fall & spring semester.
Since moving to the Adirondacks full-time in 1993, he has been involved as a volunteer in numerous causes and community efforts. As co-organizer and president of Bridge Beyond in the Town of Jay, he led a 15-year effort to protect the Jay rapids and swimming hole and preserve the historic (circa 1857) Jay Covered Bridge (JCB)—resulting in a million-dollar restoration plan that renovated the JCB as a pedestrian-bike crossing and saved the scenic-recreational upstream river corridor from desecration via the placement of a new bridge downstream, while also restoring reliable emergency-vehicle protection to the eastern side of the Ausable River. This pro-environment struggle by Balzac and comrades was recognized early on by the Adirondack Council, which bestowed its Community Action Award on Bridge and Beyond in 1995.
Following his opposition to the creation of an occupancy tax in Essex County out of a concern that it would largely benefit the county’s richest community, Lake Placid/North Elba, and shortchange most of the county’s other 17 towns, Balzac was named by then-Jay Supervisor Thomas O’Neill to the county Occupancy Tax Advisory Committee and briefly served as its chair. A registered Democrat for most of his adult life, Fred served on the Essex County Democratic Committee from 2008-2011 before changing his registration to the Green Party.
Balzac’s reasons for switching included his alignment with the Green Party’s Four Pillars and Ten Key Values (see gpny.org), the continuing influence of corporations and the wealthy on the Democratic Party at the national and state levels and the inability of the Party to endorse unions at the county level.
A formative influence on Balzac was his temporary position as a FEMA-funded crisis counselor in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, which helped open his eyes to the impoverished living conditions of many North Country residents. Ideologically, Fred has consistently moved to the left as he has watched inequality grow under the leadership of mainstream politicians, and he is now proud to be a dues-paying member of DSA.
Issues And Solutions
Here’s how Fred Balzac’s candidacy for Village of Saranac Lake trustee aligns with some of High Peaks DSA’s concerns and aims:
Housing rights: One of the group’s earliest actions was a call for rent cancellation in the face of the COVID-19 economic shutdown. Balzac, who is a dues-paying member of DSA, supports rent cancellation or mortgage cancellation for all tenants, landlords and homeowners adversely affected by the pandemic and is calling for a local extension of New York State’s moratorium on evictions through at least the end of 2020. If elected, he is committed to at least beginning a discussion of the village implementing rent-control/rent-stabilization policies similar to what exists in New York City.
Mutual aid: As a response to the severe economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, High Peaks DSA initiated an active mutual-aid campaign that is ongoing (see highpeaksdsa.org/campaigns). Balzac supports this campaign and endorses the pandemic-response platform of Green Party presidential candidate Howie Hawkins (see howiehawkins.us/platform), including the implementation of such “COVID-19 emergency measures for the duration of the crisis” as “Medicare to pay for COVID-19 testing and all emergency health care; a “moratorium on evictions, foreclosures and utility shutoffs”; suspension of “student loan payments with 0% interest accumulation”; and “a 10-year, $42-trillion ecosocialist Green New Deal for economic recovery through a just transition to 100% clean energy by 2030.”
Crisis pregnancy center (CPC): As an active member of High Peaks DSA’s CPC working group, Balzac helped draft the group’s position statement opposing the establishment of the Adirondack Pregnancy Center in Saranac Lake and vehemently opposes the center on the grounds that “It will harm women.” He believes the village Development Board may be in violation of its own Development Code and is calling for the board to reverse its decision in March approving the center’s establishment. Balzac is also calling for the Development Code to be revised to enable the Village Board of Trustees to override Development Board decisions. “Elected officials should have the final say, not people who are appointed to boards and who are not directly accountable to the People,” Balzac said.
Policing reforms: High Peaks DSA has taken a leadership role on this issue, having organized the recent “Black Lives Matter” demonstration in Riverside Park that drew the largest number of protestors seen in Saranac Lake in recent memory and also meeting recently with Chief of Police James Joyce, and the group has launched a multi-pronged campaign focusing on policing and justice system reforms. Balzac, who attended the meeting with Chief Joyce and was impressed by his openness to working with the community, supports shifting Village funds from policing per se to social services—in terms of things like 911 calls about mental-health-related or other non-criminal matters. The candidate is also calling on the Village to enact a totally transparent process open to all members of the public in fulfilling Governor Cuomo’s recent executive order on reforming local police policies and practices.
Budget priorities and political transparency: Several community members, including High Peaks DSA members, spoke out and/or attended the June 22 Village Board meeting at which the board, by a 3-0 vote (with Trustee Patrick Murphy absent and Mayor Clyde Rabideau not voting), approved a $12,500 contract with the Lake Placid-based Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism (ROOST) for destination-tourism marketing services, along with an additional $12,500 for the creation of a community enhancement fund available to the village’s Arts & Culture, Downtown and Parks & Trails advisory boards. While Balzac supports the latter funding, he says the funding of ROOST raises serious questions about the wisdom and transparency of the Village Board’s action.
“ROOST already receives a couple of million dollars a year in bed-tax money to do things like manage saranaclake.com,” Balzac said. “For it to enter into a contract with the village that includes managing saranaclake.com is double-dipping and, in my view, bad public policy. Given that ROOST has been dropped by both Franklin County and the Town of Harrietstown, I question why Mayor Rabideau and Trustee Shapiro in particular pushed to give ROOST work in Saranac Lake—at a time when New York State is facing billions in revenue loss that the state seems likely to pass on to localities in the form of cuts in state aid.
“We also need to rethink the whole approach to tourism that ROOST and its CEO, Jim McKenna, have been pushing in the region. Lake Placid is now facing a crisis in affordable housing due to the advent of Airbnb and other short-term rentals and is becoming overdeveloped and unlivable thanks to an over-reliance on tourism that benefits the big hotels and not necessarily the residents of the community. I don’t want to see that fate befall Saranac Lake and will fight it.”
An Affinity with Sunrise Adirondacks for Going Green
The alignment of Balzac’s candidacy with Sunrise Adirondacks is evident from the group’s rigorous endorsement process that encompassed a detailed questionnaire and conference-call interview with the candidate, including such questions and responses as:
Regarding the requirement that he take the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge and the Sunrise Movement’s Green New Deal Pledge to use your office to support and advance the Green New Deal through all legal avenues, Balzac affirmed that he made both pledges.
Other Important Issues To Fred Balzac
● “Working to enhance our current housing stock, protect the rights of tenants while being fair to landlords and ensure more & better affordable housing—e.g., by requiring developers of high-end housing to set aside a percentage of units for medium-to-low-income housing….”
● “Push for ecologically sustainable development and SMART growth—bearing in mind always the potentially catastrophic impacts of the climate crisis on our community”
● “A MORATORIUM on any further waterfront development: I remain hopeful that the new hotel on Rte. 86 will prove to be beneficial to the Village economy but believe the project was not well-thought-through concerning its placement, oversized mass, and impact on traffic patterns & water quality—and that similar future projects should not be allowed on our waterways.”
● “Go Green: work toward more renewable energy, preservation of open space, and local food production in both the public and private realms—while connecting local government with area schools to expand educational opportunities for all, including adults”
● “Expand local tourism efforts while diversifying our economy so that Saranac Lake never becomes too dependent on tourists and we can avoid, for example, the adverse effects Lake Placid is experiencing with short-term rentals/Airbnbs. I’m also a strong supporter of the arts as an economic driver.”
● “Enthusiastic support for Franklin County’s choice of the Franklin County Local Development Corporation (LDC) to handle marketing the region—a choice the Village Board should go with”
● “Maximizing municipal services while keeping Village taxes down as much as possible”
● “Most of all, honest, open and transparent local government, serving the interests of working people, families with school-age children, seniors, renters, property owners, the economically disadvantaged, small business owners and permanent residents—not the special interests (defined as any entities that seek consideration from government that’s not in the public interest)”