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.