In Glens Falls, 80 people ‘demand’ Stefanik hold town hall meeting

Rodney Johnson of Lake Luzerne leads chants during a rally outside the Glens Falls district office of U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, on Tuesday to demand Stefanik attend a town hall forum with constituents. The sign on the left of the photograph refers to Stefanik’s vote in favor of rescinding an Obama administration rule prohibiting dumping of mining waste in streams. (Photo provided — Post-Star)

GLENS FALLS — About 80 people demonstrated outside the Glens Falls district office of U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, on Tuesday to “demand” she meet with constituents in a town hall forum.

“What do we want?” Joe Seeman asked, speaking through a bullhorn.

“Town hall,” the group shouted.

“When do we want it?” Seeman asked.

“Next week,” the group answered. Next week, the House is on recess for a district office work week., a liberal political advocacy group that organized the demonstration, has already reserved the community room in the basement of Crandall Public Library at 4 p.m. Feb. 24 for a town hall forum, to be held whether Stefanik attends or not.

“Today is Valentine’s Day. In honor of that, let’s make a date with our suddenly missing congresswoman,” said Heather Vanderwalker, a organizer.

Stefanik is willing to meet with “small groups” of constituents to discuss issues, said Tom Flanagin, the congresswoman’s spokesman.

“All groups have been encouraged to reach out to her office to request in-person small group meetings to ensure productive issue discussions instead of nationalized political events where the sole purpose is political theater,” Flanagin said.

Flanagin said Stefanik held more than 500 meetings with business owners, farmers, community organizations and small groups in 2015 and 2016.

Sara Carpenter of Queensbury, one of the demonstrators, said she has spoken with Stefanik staff members in Glens Falls and with the congresswoman’s district director in Watertown to arrange a small group meeting, and so far has not been successful.

Carpenter said she wants to talk with Stefanik about the cost of her husband’s chemotherapy treatments for leukemia.

“My goal is to get the insurance carriers, the patient and doctors all together” with Stefanik, she said.

The demonstration in Glens Falls on Tuesday was similar to demonstrations taking place around the nation in recent weeks.

Indivisible, a national political organization that several former Democratic congressional aides organized, is promoting a strategy based on the tactics of the tea party movement that formed around the time President Obama took office.

An online guide the group published advises activists to attend town hall forums and publicize when members of Congress don’t hold forums, to confront members of Congress at ribbon cuttings and public events about “racism, authoritarianism, and corruption,” to visit district offices and “demand” meetings, and to place “coordinated calls” to congressional offices.

“Organize your local group to barrage your members of Congress with calls at an opportune moment about a specific issue,” the Indivisible advocacy guide suggests.

Contact with Stefanik’s offices has picked up dramatically, but it appears many of the calls and emails are coming from outside the district, or are repeat calls from the same individuals, said Flanagin, Stefanik’s spokesman.

“Our records indicate 5,069 incoming calls, letters and emails in January of this year, versus 2,162 in January of 2016 and 1,975 in January of 2015,” he said.

Some of those participating in Tuesday’s demonstration, such as Seeman, are longtime political activists.

Others are new to advocacy.

Linda Huden of Queensbury said it was her second demonstration. The first was in New York City on Jan. 21, the day after President Donald Trump’s Inauguration.

Huden said she and others are motivated by fear of Trump’s policies about immigration, health care and education.

“I’m afraid we’re making enemies right and left,” she said.

Christine Elms of South Glens Falls said she is concerned in general about Stefanik’s votes to rescind executive orders President Obama issued, but she’s not familiar with specific orders.

Elms said she appreciates that Stefanik expressed opposition on her congressional office Facebook page to President Trump’s executive order banning travel to the United States from several countries, an order that courts have temporarily blocked from being applied.

“I did see that she doesn’t agree with the travel ban, which is a good thing,” said Elms, the Green Party candidate for South Glens Falls village trustee.

Stefanik won re-election in November, receiving about 63 percent of the vote.

Matt Funiciello, the Green Party congressional candidate in 2014 and 2016, participated in the demonstration on Tuesday. He said he agrees with the demonstration’s goal to raise awareness of issues.

“It’s a good sense of community,” he said.

On the other hand, Funiciello continued, he is disappointed that national political organizations are attempting to “manipulate us into puppets” from behind the scenes.

(Editor’s note: Four daily newspapers in the North Country — the Enterprise, Post-Star of Glens Falls, Watertown Daily Times and Press-Republican of Plattsburgh — are sharing content to better cover New York’s 21st Congressional District.)