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Tuesday, August 25, Democrat Paul Tonko held a Town Hall at Elm Street Park, Bethlehem, NY.  About 1500 people turned up for the event.  The Pro-Reforms outweighed the antis and though there was some booing, most of the crowd was pro-reform.

Details below the fold.

NY-21 is an urban district, covering Albany (New York State’s capital) and much of  its surrounding suburbs.  It’s one of the strongest Democratic districts upstate.  Tonko’s district, representing Troy, Schenectady, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam, is mostly urban with a well educated, affluent middle class constituency.  Residents work for the state, SUNY university system, an important medical center and many businesses.
The venue,  Elm Street Park, is a large recreation area for the residents of Bethlehem, NY, a location about 15 miles from Albany.    Approximately 1500 people were there.  Although the meeting was held in a large, roofed pavilion clearly designed to hold a large crowd for public events,  a large overflow crowd stood outside the pavilion.
While there was some yelling and booing, there was none of the nastiness of other town halls.  The anti signs mostly were about taxes.  There a few "No more Obamacare"signs, but no personal attacks on Obama.
Rep.  Tonka was introduced by Lydia Kolbeta, a TV personality in the area.  She explained the ground rules (be polite, respect every one, etc.)
Tonka’s talk was solely on health care.  He favors the public option, even single payer health care.  He discussed his role in working on the legislation and explaining its provisions and progress through the house.
He then presented 3 people to tell the crowd their personal experiences with health care.  The speakers covered the whole range of health care problems – revoked coverage, losing coverage when losing a job and the unaffordability of premiums.  The first speaker, a small business woman explained how she had run her business for 14 years.  In that period, her health premiums tripled, so this year she reluctantly canceled health care coverage for all her employees (about 15-20) including herself.  I thought this story really pointed out the economic burden the current health system has on small business.
Then the Q&A process was announced – antis lined up and one microphone and pros at another.  Although people were encouraged to simply ask questions, questioners on both sides editorialized before asking their question.  The pro-side had many horror stories of they struggled with poor or non-existent coverage.  
The antis were against reform because they felt the government could not afford it because of the deficit.  (Tonko explained the ups and downs of the budget deficit we have thanks to Bush.)  
The main theme of the antis was the US can’t afford coverage and health care would increase taxes.  (New Yorkers have  one of the heaviest tax burden in the US.)
When Tonko said the tax surcharge would not kick in for taxpayers until their income reached $250k or perhaps not until $500K after standard deduction. the antis booed.  This was remarkable because none of the antis I saw didn’t look like they earned more than 20% of $250K.
One question was a variant of "health care is not mentioned in the constitution’.  One of the questioners asked "What gives you the right to decide on health reform?"  So Tonko read the relevant article in the constitution outlining the duties of the House of Representative.   The questioner tried to claim there was health reform wasn’t related to interstate commerce.  This was one of the few times the pros booed at the meeting.
People started leaving, so I headed off to avoid a traffic jam in the parking lots.
I missed the local TV news about the event, but it was clear to anyone who had a camera that this was a passionate pro-reform crowd.
The reporter for the local paper, the Albany Times claimed the numbers and the passion of the pros and antis were equal.  I wondered If she was at the same meeting because this crowd was overwhelming pro.
Clearly, Tonko is solidly behind him if he votes for health reform.

Originally posted to HylasBrook on Wed Aug 26, 2009 at 06:21 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (17+ / 0-)

    The land was ours before we were the land's...Robert Frost, The Gift Outright

    by HylasBrook on Wed Aug 26, 2009 at 06:21:54 AM PDT

  •  I watched the early news on channel 9. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RonV, devtob, HylasBrook

    Their interviews with the attendees tended to be with the anti folks.  A few of them were wearing halloween masks, the nose, glasses and eyebrow ones.  Apparently they didn't want to be recognized because they didn't take them off even when they were interviewed.

    I didn't think that Delmar would be the place where a wild crowd would present itself.  I was relieved for Tonko's sake.


    The religious fanatics didn't buy the republican party because it was virtuous, they bought it because it was for sale

    by nupstateny on Wed Aug 26, 2009 at 07:23:07 AM PDT

    •  Yeah, the disguise was a Groucho Marks (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RonV, Andrew C White, devtob, nupstateny

      face, who, if he were still alive would be for health reform.

      There was bias also in the Albany Times Union, where the reporter said the turnout between antis and pros were the same.   Perhaps she was just looking at the people at the pavilion - the antis got there real early and were in the bleachers, but there were plenty of pros in the overflow area.  And we certainly outmatched them in signs.

      It looks like one of those "balanced" reports that pay more attention to the antis than the pros because that's more interesting.

      The land was ours before we were the land's...Robert Frost, The Gift Outright

      by HylasBrook on Wed Aug 26, 2009 at 07:33:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  There's bias in the TU, channel 9, and (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RonV, Andrew C White, devtob, HylasBrook

        channel 6.  I still like to hear what they're serving up to their audiences, although I have to admit to the resultant anger.

        I only saw two people with those disguises, but they got a lot of attention.  Were there a lot of them there?


        The religious fanatics didn't buy the republican party because it was virtuous, they bought it because it was for sale

        by nupstateny on Wed Aug 26, 2009 at 09:01:22 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I saw about 10 people with the masks on. (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RonV, Andrew C White, devtob, nupstateny

          As I was walking towards the pavillion there was a guy handing them out to anyone willing to take them, so there was no real coordination behind the use of the masks.

          I agree with the bias in the local media which is why I never watch them.  Wished I'd thought of taping them so I could skip to the coverage of the event.

          The land was ours before we were the land's...Robert Frost, The Gift Outright

          by HylasBrook on Wed Aug 26, 2009 at 09:18:30 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Upstate NY geography (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RonV, am, Andrew C White, devtob, HylasBrook

    Thanks for the report. Tonko is a real progressive and it's great to see normal people outnumbering loons at a town hall.

    However I would differ with your description of NY-21:

    Tonko’s district, representing Troy, Schenectady, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam, is mostly urban with a well educated, affluent middle class constituency.  Residents work for the state, SUNY university system, an important medical center and many businesses.

    The above is hardly the whole picture. Thanks to the collapse of manufacturing and population in upstate New York over recent decades, the inner cities of Troy, Schenectady and even Amsterdam resemble in some ways the Bronx I knew in the 1970s: drugs and violent crime, racial ghettos, dysfunctional police forces, and affluent, largely white suburbs.

    NY-20, on the other hand, was carefully gerrymandered to create a safe Republican district containing virtually no cities of any size, which made Kirsten Gillibrand's win there in 2004 so impressive.

    •  I wouldn't argue at all with your comments (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RonV, Andrew C White, devtob

      I cut a more detailed analysis to keep the report short (I have a habit of running on.)

      You are right.  Although the Albany area is doing a little better in the job picture because of the state government, there are people all over the district that are struggling.

      Thanks for giving a more complete picture of where NY-21 is economically.

      The land was ours before we were the land's...Robert Frost, The Gift Outright

      by HylasBrook on Wed Aug 26, 2009 at 08:17:05 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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