As a land surveyor for the state Department of Environmental Conservation who loves the outdoors, Bob Bradley had a question for his congresswoman.
One of more than 200 of U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik’s constituents who packed into a room at the Crandall Public Library on Wednesday, Bradley asked how she would vote on a bill that would eliminate the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
“When this comes up for a vote, will you vote yay or nay?” he asked.
She wasn’t there to answer him.
Bradley directed his question to a camera at the town hall meeting, which took place without Stefanik because, according to her staff, she had a conflict. But Sara Carpenter, a Queensbury resident who helped organize the event, said Stefanik is unwilling to address constituents in the “time-honored tradition of the American town hall” meeting.
Stefanik, R-Willsboro, represents the 21st District, which stretches from Ballston Spa northward to the Canadian border. She won re-election to her second term in November. She was the youngest woman elected to Congress when, at 30, she won the seat in 2014.
“A number of people have been asking Elise Stefanik when she's going to be holding a town hall meeting, and we recently received word that she doesn’t plan to hold any, so we decided we would plan a town hall meeting for her and invite her to come,” said Carpenter. “She has, unfortunately, declined to come, and our view is we’re going to hold it anyway.”
The library room, which holds 195, was over overcapacity, with an estimated 215 people filling the seats and aisles and lining three walls. About 150 attendees were denied entry but had the chance to submit questions on notecards, which organizers planned to scan and share with Stefanik along with the video and written-down questions from anyone who didn’t get to speak during the hour-long event. Each speaker was allotted 2 minutes.
Stefanik spokesman Tom Flanagin said the congresswoman was away Wednesday on an official congressional delegation trip for all new members of the House Intelligence Committee that has been scheduled since early January.
“We are working with this group and many others across the district to schedule meetings with the congresswoman over the coming weeks to hear their concerns and discuss the congresswoman’s priorities," he said in a prepared statement. “We are currently in the process of scheduling dozens of meetings with constituents who have requested via the website over the past week.”
Group meetings can be scheduled by clicking here.
Stefanik made her opposition to town hall meetings clear in a Feb. 14 statement on Facebook, saying, “I believe in free speech and our ability to gather together and make our voices heard; however, it’s unfortunate and counterproductive that a small number of activists believe the best way to address the very serious issues facing our country is to hijack and ambush community events for the sole purpose of political theater.”
Carpenter said she and the other organizers of Wednesday's event were careful not to affiliate with any official organization, however, "because we want it to be clear that American citizens have the right to talk with their representatives on the record."
"Someone asked me recently what’s my title," she said. "I’m a constituent of Congressional District 21."
A Huffington Post article on Wednesday highlighted the irony of a report that Stefanik, as chair of the Millennial Task Force, released a statement last week advising other representatives to be accessible to millennials and other voters.
Dozens of members of Congress have held town hall meetings in recent weeks, including U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, who was met with support when he took questions Monday at Schenectady County Community College. But in several instances, Republican lawmakers faced unfriendly crowds of constituents upset with the direction the country is going under President Donald Trump, a Republican.
U.S. Rep. John Faso’s avoidance of the meeting style has inspired community activists to hold protests every Friday, called Faso Fridays, outside his Kingston office, demanding a town hall meeting. As the meeting took place without Stefanik in Glens Falls, healthcare workers rallied in Albany outside the Fort Orange Club where Faso, a Republican who represents the 19th District, was hosting a fundraiser. Joined by Citizen Action of New York members, they were protesting Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.
Healthcare was one of four topics that organizers of the town hall in Glens Falls encouraged people to stick to; the others were reproductive rights, the environment and the economy. And, for the most part, they did — although education and the controversial appointment of Betsy DeVos as education secretary was brought up by various speakers.
“As a former public school teacher, first of all, I’m appalled at the choice of Betsy DeVos for education secretary,” said Susan O’Donnell, of Milton, before asking Stefanik to vote no on bill no. 610. She said it would distribute federal funds in the form of vouchers for students and “defund the no-kid hungry act," among other programs.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever taught a hungry child, but it’s impossible,” she said.
Another popular topic was the possibility of President Donald Trump's impeachment.
Bradley, the outdoorsman, said the first step lies with the House of Representatives.
“They decide if impeachment should be brought,” he said. “I hope you vote in favor of that.”
Bradley also expressed concerns about healthcare, saying his two grown children have type 1 diabetes.
“My son has a full-time job, and his insurance isn’t very good— it doesn’t pay for all of his insulin,” he said. “So he goes without insulin. He cuts corners, and that hurts. When your own child has to cut corners on healthcare because of the healthcare system, that really hurts, and I hope that you will do everything in your power to have affordable healthcare for everyone in the U.S.”