Their congressman wouldn’t hold a town hall to talk about the issues, so his constituents did.
Southern Brooklynites in the 11th congressional district defiantly hosted their own version of a public town hall on April 19 after months of badgering Rep. Dan Donovan (R–Bay Ridge) to do so.
Turnout at the Bay Ridge Manor forum was huge, with thousands more watching on Facebook — in fact, the only empty chair in the room was the one reserved for Donovan — and though the ridge-to-rock rep didn’t show up to answer constituents’ questions, the organizers were glad to put locals in a room with experts who could, said a lead organizer.
“One of our goals is to help inform the community on important issues that relate to our lives,” said Sally McMahon, head of community activist group Fight Back Bay Ridge. “Rep. Dan Donovan has refused to hold a town hall, but we’re happy to do it for him.”
For more than two hours, locals picked the brains of ten speakers from a variety of local and national organizations. A pair of fact-checkers who had mined public records on Donovan’s legislative and voting history offered input on the congressman’s policy positions. A chair labeled “Dan Donovan,” sat empty at the head of the room.
For months, Brooklynites have slammed the freshman lawmaker for refusing to hold a genuine town hall. But Donovan prefers telephone town halls to meeting a large group of his constituents in-the-flesh because rowdy demonstrators make it a waste of time, the rep told this paper in a recent interview.
“I don’t think they’re productive,” said Donovan, citing the chaos that ensued when protesters showed up at a February Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce event he spoke at.
The gathering was a wealth of information for constituents who feel like Donovan has left them in the dark, said one Bay Ridgite.
“I thought this was useful because the speakers shared a lot of info and helped me understand a few things better,” said Susan Bransky, a second-grade teacher at a Bensonhurst grade school who listened in to Donovan’s recent telephone town hall on April 17. “I want to hear his take on things, but I also want him to spell things out — have him discuss the issues with us. And I feel you can’t have that in those tele town halls.”
Others felt the event was a thinly veiled platform to hawk a progressive agenda, said one conservative leader who is running for the Council seat of term limited Vincent Gentile (D–Bay Ridge).
“By a show of hands, how many people is this room voted for Donald Trump?” asked Liam McCabe, who called the gathering a “clown hall,” He was met with a chorus of hisses and boos.
For an event highlighting the absence of New York City’s lone congressional Republican, McCabe said he was surprised at the lack of inclusion when a right-leaning local tried to make his voice heard.
“One of the event’s main focuses was the absence of Donovan and the absence of Republicans, and then I come up and get my head chopped off,” he said. “Hey look, it was informative. The speakers knew their stuff. But it wasn’t a bipartisan town hall, and it can’t just be one-sided. That’s all I’m trying to say.”