Stefanik fires back on Facebook

Says protest groups harassed staffers

An attendee of Saranac Lake’s Winter Carnival parade Saturday holds a sign asking U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik to host a local town hall-style meeting.
(Enterprise photo — Antonio Olivero)

An attendee of Saranac Lake’s Winter Carnival parade Saturday holds a sign asking U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik to host a local town hall-style meeting. (Enterprise photo — Antonio Olivero)

North Country U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik took to Facebook late Tuesday morning to write a 500-plus-word post explaining how she communicates with constituents while also criticizing some she dubbed “small special interests” for disruption and harassing her staff.

Stefanik was adamant in her belief that she provides ample opportunities for those she represents to voice concerns and ideas directly to her. She pointed to more than 500 district events, hundreds of constituent meetings at her office in Washington, D.C., and nine telephone town halls during her first term as confirmation that she is communicating at a consistent level with her constituents.

“Having these respectful dialogues is important to me,” the Republican from Willsboro wrote on Facebook, “and I believe they are the most effective way for me to take your voice and priorities to Congress.”

Others across New York’s 21st Congressional District disagree. Several protests calling for Stefanik to host local town halls have sprouted up across the North Country in recent weeks. One was attended by a dozen Tri-Lakers outside the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Lake Placid last Thursday. A few activists also carried picket signs calling on Stefanik for town hall meetings at Saturday’s Saranac Lake Winter carnival parade, in which Stefanik was scheduled to march but did not appear.

At the time of the Crowne Plaza protest, a spokesman for Stefanik did not confirm several Enterprise requests asking whether the congresswoman was there then. Since, Stefanik’s office retroactively posted her schedule for last week, which details a staff planning session in Lake Placid last Thursday and a visit to Adirondack Health in Saranac Lake the next day.

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro (Photo provided)

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro (Photo provided)

As of early Tuesday evening, there were no posted events on the congresswoman’s official schedule.

The lack of listed events for current and subsequent weeks was a primary concern of protesters in Lake Placid last week.

“We don’t know what she’s doing until she’s done it,” said Joe Zeman, one of the protesters in Lake Placid. “The schedule is two weeks behind.”

In the Facebook post Tuesday morning, Stefanik said that in coming months she will continue to invite groups of constituents to meet at her Glens Falls, Plattsburgh, Watertown and Washington offices. She said hundreds of groups have “effectively advocated for their issues in this constructive format.

“And this week, my office will continue to be proactive in reaching out to numerous groups who have contacted us,” she continued. “Hearing their concerns and listening to their ideas is very important to me, even if we disagree. I believe in free speech and our ability to gather together and make our voices heard.”

The congresswoman, though, then said the activism against her is “unfortunate and counterproductive,” describing the protests as “hijacks” and “ambushes” of community events “for the sole purpose of political theater.

“Many members of various protest groups have repeatedly harassed my hardworking staff and have personally targeted specific staff members,” Stefanik wrote. “This type of intentionally disruptive behavior is unacceptable and unhelpful to civil public discourse. If it gets out of hand, we will continue to contact local law enforcement and U.S. Capitol police.

Stefanik said the disruptions have challenged her staff’s ability to serve constituents. As a result, she said she plans to invest in additional resources to address the thousands of calls her office receives weekly.

Those Tri-Lakes locals who Stefanik seemingly criticized fired back as well on Tuesday. Now What?, an Adirondack-based grassroots progressive group that organized last Thursday’s protest in Lake Placid, posted a reply to Stefanik on its Facebook page, saying it seems Stefanik’s goal is to “paint groups like Now What? as a crazy liberal mass that is damaging democracy.

“However, most of us in this group are trying to build bridges in our daily lives with people who see the world differently,” the group wrote. “Many of us have had constructive conversations with our neighbors and family members. It would be great for such dialogue to get attention because it is this sort of endeavor that will help the region thrive.”

Saranac Laker Emily Martz, one of the founders of Now What? who protested in Lake Placid last week, also responded to Stefanik’s post. Martz said groups like hers are protesting because they are concerned that “hate speech” from President Donald Trump is trickling down to the local level.

“You have a tough job, there’s no doubt about it,” Martz said of Stefanik. “But we trusted you by voting you into office. Now you need to trust us to have a conversation.”

More than 125 Facebook users commented on Stefanik’s post in the seven hours after it went online, some in support, some critical.

To wrap up the post, Stefanik wrote that if constituents want to meet in her office, they should submit requests to https://stefanik.house.gov/contact/request-appearance. She added that she plans to post weekly updates of the number of calls and letters her office has responded to.

Stefanik, 32, just began her second term representing the North Country’s 21st Congressional District after easily defeating Democrat Mike Derrick and Green Party candidate Matt Funiciello in November.

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