Politics

Sparks Fly Across The Aisle As Bay Ridge Hosts Town Hall In Lieu Of Congressman

Constituents lined up to ask the panel questions at the progressive-organized town hall, April 19, the Bay Ridge Manor. (Photo by Carly Miller/BKLYNER)

Wednesday night, members of Congressional District 11 met in Bay Ridge for the political event that they’ve been demanding for months: a live, public town hall forum.

Organized by progressive activist groups Fight Back Bay Ridge, the structure mirrored other town halls, with a panel of experts, Q & A, timekeepers, and some extras like fact-checkers, social media hookups, and goodie bags.

But the striking difference between was that their representative, Congressman Dan Donovan, didn’t show up.

“We won’t let his silence be our community’s ignorance,” said Fight Back Bay Ridge organizer Sally McMahon. (Photo by Carly Miller/BKLYNER)

Though the Republican Congressman was invited (Donovan is the sole Republican in NY’s 13-person congressional delegation), he declined. During Donovan’s Monday night telephone town hall, announced last week, he explained his decision to not attend. “Because they’re disruptive forums,” he said. “I find [tele-town halls] to be a more effective way of communicating vs town halls where people shout at one another.”

“We keep trying to tell him that we’re not trying to beat him up,” said organizer Sally McMahon, who has met with Donovan to deliver this message. “We need a community forum where we can tell him how we feel about the Muslim ban and ACA — not storm the citadel.”

However, Donovan’s staff still doesn’t see it that way. “The true intentions of these protest groups is finally coming to light,” said Donovan’s communication director Patrick Ryan about the event. “Their goal is to create a media and fundraising spectacle instead of engaging in substantive conversations.” (This has been Donovan’s stance since the post-presidential election Chamber of Commerce event where protestors showed up.)

“[Constituents] are entitled to give him a hard time but they wanted to turn it into a media circus,” Liam McCabe, Republican candidate for the 43rd City Council.

(Photo by Carly Miller/BKLYNER)

Despite the Barnum- and Bailey-level fears, the event was actually quite tame. Organizers handed out a goodie bag with emoji sign for participation, a ‘wish you were here’ postcard addressed to Donovan, and a magnet reminding constituents to vote. Two fact checkers from FBBR spent about 10 hours learning about Donovan’s legislative and voting history to act as his absentee voice — based on the public record.

“An informed and engaged constituency is a powerful constituency,” said Fight Back Bay Ridge co-founder Sally McMahon to kick off the evening.

The room was filled with voters from Bay Ridge to Sheepshead Bay to Staten Island to discuss topics ranged from Trump’s proposed budget cuts to HUD and the EPA, the NY Healthcare Act, reproductive rights, protecting public schools, tenants rights, immigration reform, environmental concerns, and more.

The panel included directors from New York Housing Conference, Association of Muslim-American Lawyers, Metro NY Healthcare for All, National Institute for Reproductive Health, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Jericho Project, NY State Alliance for Quality Education, & Metropolitan Council on Housing. (Photo by Teri Brennan)

While some asked how to boot Donovan out of office, it wasn’t uniformly a Donovan-bashing fest.

Mark Hannay, director at Metro NY Healthcare for All, gave Donovan credit for standing up to pressure from the Republican party to vote ‘no’ last month on the proposed healthcare bill. “That was not an easy position to take, and we thank him for that,” said Hannay.

(Photo by Carly Miller/BKLYNER)

For the panelists, the avenues for fighting back against cuts to city funding, healthcare, and environmental rights include protests, organizing, and taking legal action. “I feel proud to be a lawyer at this moment,” said Kit Kennedy, director at the National Resources Defence Council.

Many constituents expressed concern over Betsy DeVos’ predilection for vouchers over supporting public schools. “I’m not 14 yet, but how can I help protect public schools?” asked Althea, a concerned soon-to-be voter.

“According to a previous interview, Donovan supports school vouchers,” piped in Andrea, the event fact checker, to punctuate the discussion.

“We are in the era of reading the fine print,” warned Zakiyah Shaakir-Ansari, director from NY State Alliance for Quality Education. “The devil is in the details.”

Above all, the goal of the event was to encourage conversation and ask questions, said organizer Rebecca Goldberg.

“At the chamber meeting protest, we captured the spirit of resistance we were feeling at that moment. But we’ve evolved since then,” said Goldberg.

“How many people in this room voted for Trump?” asked Liam McCabe, republican candidate for 43rd district city council. (Photo by Carly Miller/BKLYNER)

“The only Republican in the room”

But some feel that the event was lacking in healthy debate — and inclusion — from both sides of the aisle.

“They didn’t call anyone from the Republican world and didn’t have any panelists that represent our interests. It was more of a leftist pow wow or rally against Trump and Donovan,” said Liam McCabe, a former aid to Donovan and a Republican City Council candidate. “This was an agenda-driven rally as opposed to a town hall.”

McCabe admits that Republican events don’t reach across the aisle either, and that’s something that needs to change.

Organizers reached out to the community grassroots-style, they said, handing out fliers in redder parts of the district like Bensonhurst, Gravesend, and Bath Beach. “We don’t want it to be just our facebook friends,” said Sally McMahon. “We want everyone to come no matter what they think or believe.”

(Photo by Teri Brennan)

McCabe wasn’t afraid to represent the Republican voice and asked the first question of the night. “How many people in this room voted for Trump?” he asked coyly.

The audience responded with boos, angry emoji signs, and even brief shouting before McCabe moved on to his question targeting Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “disastrous policy on homelessness.”

But to the attendees who accused McCabe of being disruptive, he responded, “The one thing I disrupted was their narrative of Republicans as the bad guys,” he told BKLYNER. “But I wasn’t afraid and I asked an uncomfortable question.”

Watch the full town hall video below:

No confrontation — or discussion — at Donovan’s tele-town hall

Two days before the constituent-organized live event, Donovan hosted a tele-town hall that reached 13,524 listeners out of more than 49,700 households dialed. After about 10 minutes of introduction and background, listeners had about 50 minutes to call in with questions and be added to the cue.

Constituents asked Donovan about

  • healthcare (“Healthcare isn’t a partisan issue, it’s an American issue,” he said),
  • Planned Parenthood (“The law passed in the senate was to allow states to make decisions themselves, so women of New York have nothing to worry about”),
  • sanctuary cities (I’m not a believer in sanctuary cities…you can’t just pick and choose which laws you want to enforce. But NYC…shouldn’t lose federal security funding over it),
  • Trump’s taxes (“We should let those [Congressional and FBI] investigations take place and withhold judgment until then”), and more.

While the call was tightly organized, there was no room for back and forth discussion — something progressive organizers listed as one of the pitfalls of the format. One caller expressed concern about deporting illegal immigrants who have committed minor crimes (under U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions) and separating them from their children:

“We can’t ban people from our country because of where they came from…We are not going to punish 20-year-olds whose families brought them here as children to escape persecution. For those people who have come here and committed a violent crime, I’m in favor of deportation,” responded Donovan, not mentioning minor crimes.

Donovan stressed that his job is to represent all of his constituents, regardless of party politics. “Sometimes partisanship gets in the way of good governing,” he said.

The week before, Donovan did meet with constituents to answer questions live — but at a private event at an exclusive Staten Island country club, reports SI Live.

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17 COMMENTS

  1. I will reiterate what I tweeted to Mr McCabe yesterday..I was at the town the town hall and while I did find very one sided and biased, these things normally are. I, and the small group I was with are either registered independents or non partisan and it was very clear that McCabe (we had no idea who he even was prior to his stunt at the town hall) was there just to start trouble. Everyone was very clearly told that there was time for one question only. He started off with ‘I want to make some comments’ and he was explicitly told no, the format is for one question per person. He started ranting and it was just uncomfortable to watch. Other than that embarrassing outburst, there was some useful information given on the charges that are coming out if Washington and how it impacts Brooklyn. There was also a sense of urging the community to get involved. It was a rather Liberal event-maybe too liberal for my personal taste- but overall it was very positive and constructive.

  2. Hey Lottie, The people that organized this “Town Hall” pride themselves on disrupting the Congressman at a past event (a “stunt’ for sure and completely out of “format”) and they got bent out of shape because I asked a question ( coyly, I agree). I would not call my question a “rant” but I would say the people booing, hissing and shouting me down was uncalled for. I also want to point out that they did not answer my question about stopping DeBlasio – However they answered plenty of questions about how to stop Trump, Donovan, Golden etc.. After they refused to answer my question, I politely stood in the back spoke to other neighbors with opposing views in a friendly manner and never once shouted or booed. Yes it was informative but only if you share their agenda. Hopefully next time we can have a more collaborative effort.

    http://gothamist.com/2017/02/06/dan_donovan_bay_ridge_protest.php

  3. Bay Ridge for Social Justice did not help organize this town hall. Our name was nowhere on the bill. Thanks in advance for correcting this.

  4. Respect to Mr. McCabe for standing in front of a crowd of people he’d like to represent and publicly expressing an opinion that’s unpopular with many of them. I mean, I sure as hell wouldn’t vote for him because I don’t share his beliefs, but unlike Mr. Donovan I actually know what Mr. McCabe’s beliefs are.

  5. The only reason protestors disrupted Donovan’s Chamber of Commerce event was because Donovan wouldn’t hold a Town Hall. For him to say now that that’s why he won’t hold a Town Hall is very disingenuous. It’s a chicken and egg thing—and Donovan’s the chicken!

  6. It’s my understanding that given Mr. Donovan declined an invitation to this event. As a national representative, his repeated explanation is getting a bit stale at this point. Every time the February event is brought up, it becomes more and more exaggerated (I wasn’t there, but from the video I saw). But in any case, I was pleased to attend this event and was impressed by how organized and nice everyone was. I was told that given the Congressman’s invite decline, the intention of this peoples’ town hall was to bring community members together to ask questions of experts in various topics of particular national interest, and also how some of these national policies may impact constituents here in Brooklyn. To that end, I think it succeeded. I hope we have more in the future. I thought the speakers were very informative in their areas of expertise. I was particularly interested in health care and the environment and Mr. Hannay and Ms. Kennedy were very engaging and helpful to understand where things stand. As to Mr. McCabe’s statement here, I saw him at the event and found it quite unpleasant. I’ve since witnessed his rude antics online on his social media – and after this event, I read about his arrest for assault in 2012 (http://nypost.com/2012/02/19/grimm-aide-arrested-for-assaulting-son/). I find it hard to comprehend he was ever a Community Engagement Director! From how he conducted himself at this event, it doesn’t seem to me that he has the least bit of interest in representing his own neighbors who don’t agree with his politics (the same thing he accuses these groups of!), let alone collaborate with anyone with opposing views. For someone running to represent this diverse district on the Council, that’s pretty weak. And re: I also want to point out that in regards to “they did not answer my question about stopping DeBlasio…“ It did sound like a rant to me in how he reacted, yes, it was very uncomfortable in that respect. Again, this forum had a format and it wasn’t about the Mayor or Golden. His question and antagonistic demeanor didn’t make any sense for any of the panel speakers so in my opinion, his whole kerfluffle was a political stunt in its own right. Mr. McCabe, I had no idea who you were, but you came across like an unpleasant thug to me. I commend you however, on making me want to vote for anyone except you to represent me in the city council. I’ve made this comment anonymous solely because I don’t wish to be cyberbullied.

  7. Why is Dan Donovan terrified of human interaction? As Liam McCabe showed, appearing at this event did not lead to flaying of skin and burning of flesh. Mr. McCabe may want to counsel Donovan on how to put on shoes and walk out the door into the actual world. Dan — it’s sometimes sunny and pleasant out here! You won’t immediately collapse from inadequacy! (Maybe.)

  8. Liam McCabe is a buffoon and came to the town hall to try and turn the event into the Jerry Springer show.

  9. Liam McCabe, since you appear to be reading the comments on this article, let me respond to you: you didn’t get an answer to your question because you didn’t ask an actual question. The other constituents stood up and asked well thought out questions backed up by their own experiences or by facts, you got up and made an obnoxious comment that you intended to be disruptive, and then followed it up with a nonsensical question. All you did was say that the budget went up for homelessness and then say “how do we stop DeBlasio’s disastrous policy?” That isn’t a real question. It showed no understanding of the actual issues. It also showed that you were not looking for an actual response. Perhaps you do have an understanding of the homelessness policies in place and ideas on how to fix them, but I certainly did not get that impression from your question. You looked like an obnoxious, blustering fool. I do not think people should have booed you–though they were right to stop you from continuing to make your pointless comments–but you know that you got the exact response you were looking for. From where I sat, it looked like you were the only one who came with the intention of disrupting the event, and everyone else wanted to have a constructive evening where we showed our republican congressman that his behavior is not acceptable. Because yes, in the end, that is what the event was about. He refuses to face his own constituents, and that is not ok. It is not shocking then that the people who are upset about it are the ones who have actual issues they want to discuss with him–the ones who don’t already agree with his policies.

  10. If Liam McCabe wanted it to be a productive meeting, he could have represented Donovan’s views as he worked for Donovan until recently. He could have offered to fact check for the group and he could have asked the group if they needed any assistance. Attacking them before and after the event doesn’t build the neighborhood.

  11. I agree with anonymous that we should keep our real names off, and i agree with everything said in that post. Liam McCabe has trolled other people and pages, and tried to bully. I’ve seen his posts first hand. So sadly, we have to keep our names from a man who wishes to represent our neighborhood. That’s even frightening if you think about it.

    Liam McCabe likes to criticize the events other people put on for not including views he personally holds. However, Liam doesn’t seem to get that these forums have no obligation to him. If he doesn’t like the views represented, Liam should create his own events that he feels are representational of him and his beliefs. He stops short of that though, and simply criticizes.
    Additionally, had Representative Donovan held his own town hall, as these groups were asking, he could have set his own agenda. Why should the groups who are asking him to do his duty as a representative have to then pander to how Donovan,or Liam, might want the event structured? Donovan has the ability to do that himself, as does Liam.

  12. Prior to the event, on his Facebook page, Liam McCabe was trolling the town hall, referring to it as a “clown hall” and egging his supporters on to disrupt the event. For a man running to represent the neighborhood, this is disgraceful. If you’re going to claim that you came there to represent Republicans, at least have the common sense to not post your true intentions on a public Facebook page.

  13. Hey Katie, I brought up the fact that the budget for NYC DHS has grown year by year (reaching 1.3 Billion last year) while homelessness has only gotten worse as pretext for my question, which is how do we stop Bill DeBlasio disastrous policies on homelessness? I asked that question because I believe very strongly that it is his administration’s policies that are to blame and need to be stopped. That seems like a fair question. Thank you for saying that the booing was uncalled for but I can take it because I expected some political operatives to take issue with me. Did I want to stir things up? Yes, not to “disrupt” but instead to make a point that only one side had a voice that night. I do feel by putting the empty chair in front of the room FBBR was engaging in theatrics of their own. You do have a point about the fact that the people who don’t agree with him would be interested in attending, but a town hall should have had a more diverse panel, that’s all I am saying.

    Hey Eric,

    I resigned my position at Donovan’s office so that I did not have to “represent” his positions. I want to run independently and be able to talk about the issues I care about and not worry if they contradict my employers’ opinions. Four of my opponents still work for elected officials and I think that’s a shame. As for reaching out and offering to help, I really did not get the sense they wanted me or anyone like me to participate, but, honestly, it’s not a bad idea, Eric, and I will say here and now that I am willing to be a part of any future “town hall.” To that end, I would volunteer to promote it to people on the other side of the aisle, arrange for a speaker or two, and help with research

  14. I would think that beating up your kid should nullify any contributions you think you can give to an event. Bullies and abusers should not be given forum, period. Like the commenter above, I’ve seen the way Mr. McCabe engages with people online and am making this comment anonymously to prevent cyberbullying.

  15. why does Mr. McCabe think the targets of his attempts at bullying and his taunts would want to collaborate with him on anything? SMH that’s astounding.

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