Weekly Feature



2017-09-06 / Editorials

Gillibrand finds lots of love at Buffalo State ‘town hall’

DAVID F. SHERMAN
Managing Editor

Although billed as a “town hall” meeting, Thursday’s event at Buffalo State College must have made U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand feel right at home.

An admiring audience of about 500 persons, mostly over 70 years of age and mostly women, came to the Elmwood Avenue campus for the late-afternoon gathering where Gillibrand was available “to take questions from constituents on issues ranging from health care to jobs and the economy.”

The dress code was clearly “Elmwood casual.”

According to a press release, it was the seventh town hall meeting she has hosted this summer, a sharp contrast to Rep. Chris Collins, who refuses to do so.

Asked in March if he would hold a town hall meeting in his Congressional district, Collins replied in the negative.

“Let me paint a picture for you of a town hall meeting,” Collins told WBEN radio. “There may be 100 people there, and my guess is 90 of them would be anti-Trump. These protesters have been instructed [on] how to disrupt a town hall meeting.”

Collins told WGRZ that he considers town hall meetings to be “useless.”

“What you get are demonstrators who come and shout you down and heckle you,” Collins said. “They are not what you hope they would be, which is a give-and-take from people actually interested in getting some facts.”

Gillibrand’s town hall meeting last week was more of what we used to call a “love-in,” with ample applause and cheers throughout.

“This is really useful to me,” said Gillibrand, a Democrat.

Introduced by Buffalo State College President Katherine S. Conway-Turner, she and the senator shared a barren stage in the Rockwell Hall auditorium, built in 1931. Audience members had been offered the opportunity upon arrival to draw a number for an opportunity to ask a question directly to Gillibrand. Several accepted the opportunity, with Conway-Turner drawing tickets from a glass globe and calling out the seven-digit numbers. One of the first to have the opportunity to engage in conversation with Gillibrand thanked her for “being on the right side of the medical marijuana issue.” Struggling with three auto-immune diseases, she said prices need to be reduced to make products more affordable for those who benefit from them the most.

“The drug companies are not doing enough,” Gillibrand said.

Elise, a student at Williamsville East High School, commented on the male-dominated Congress and connected that fact to the lack of progress in Washington. That clearly struck a chord with Gillibrand.

“We’re not representing our country well enough,” the senator said. “The House is made up of 18 percent women and the Senate is at 20 percent. I hope you run for Congress someday.”

A woman who described herself as an 84-year-old lifelong Democrat told Gillibrand that their party is not standing up for what it traditionally believes in.

“We’d better start telling the country who we are.”

“I can’t speak for other Democrats, but I work on a bipartisan level every day,” said Gillibrand. “We all know Washington is broken beyond recognition, but I try to build bipartisan consensus every day.”

Later in the town hall meeting, she said grassroots activism is still valuable and appreciated.

“Every time you march, someone is watching; someone is getting inspired,” she said with sincerity. “If we stay silent at a time such as this, we are all to blame.

“We cannot grow tired and we cannot grow weary.”

(David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at dsherman@beenews.com.)

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