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TRUMANSBURG, N.Y. — By 8:40 a.m. on Saturday, the Trumansburg Fire House had reached full capacity with 180 people awaiting the arrival of Congressman Tom Reed for a town hall meeting.
The majority of the audience, clad with pink and carrying bold Planned Parenthood signs, began chanting “where’s Reed?” when the congressman had still not arrived ten minutes after attendees were expecting him.
The fire house, which was much smaller in comparison to previous town hall venues, sparked concern with town officials in terms of logistics. Fire Chief Jason Fulton said that while the school gymnasium was also available, Reed requested to have the town hall at the fire house.
“We didn’t know about the parking situation, how many people were going to come – if too many people came, I wouldn’t have spots for responders to park, they would have had to park down the road,” Fulton said. “I had to go outside and let the crowd know that they would have to move if vehicles had to come and go.”
Upon his arrival, Reed was immediately asked to answer questions in regard to climate and President Trump’s recent decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement.
“Just so everyone knows where I stand on climate change – I believe it is a priority that needs to be addressed and we’re working on that,” Reed said to the crowd. “Though I respect the president’s decision, one of the things I hope we can agree is that we can do better.”
However, constituents displayed unrest when Reed said he had signed an “all of the above” energy policy, part of which supports the extraction of natural gas; an issue which has become controversial to the Seneca Lake region and surrounding areas.
“I am for supporting and developing all sorts of energy,” Reed said. “We’re opening it up to all forms of renewable and alternative energies and hope to plan an innovative approach to that endless supply of energy that I think we all want to get to.”
One of the most memorable moments of the town hall followed the discussion of climate when 14-year-old Adamu Kittel approached Reed. “Mr. Reed, I just have one question,” Kittel said. “Does Donald Trump scare you?”
Reed responded to Kittel, denying that President Trump scared him. “What I believe in is the American people, the democratic process, and our constitution,” he said.
Following Reed’s response to 14-year-old Kittel, his mother, Sue Kittel, stood up and also addressed the congressman.
“I just have to say its’ terrifying for us to see what is happening with healthcare, the environment, and education,” she said, noting that both her children were living with a disability. “This administration is terrifying to young people, especially young people of color – there’s not much I can be proud of with this country, and it’s extremely hard for me to tell him that it’s going to be okay.”
The discussion led another local mother to voice concern for her children who are also living with disabilities and relying on Medicaid for funding of special education.
“I apologize if I get emotional,” Keli Pia-Miller said as she explained Medicaid supports funding which supports special education services for her son with autism. “The problem is, my children don’t have a backup plan.”
Reed said while he supported certain aspects of Medicaid, he said that the way Medicaid currently operates is “generating an unsustainable path.” Medicaid is something we will continue to support, and it is in this new
“Medicaid is something we will continue to support, and it is in this new healthcare bill,” he said.
As the crowd filed out after Reed stopped taking questions over an hour later, Trumansburg Mayor Marty Petrovic said he thought that despite his concerns, he thought the town hall ran smoothly.
“It was explained to us that he would like to host in a small setting – but our biggest concern at the fire house was public safety,” Petrovic said, adding that the small and crowded parking situation at the firehouse was worrisome in the case of an emergency.
“I would have expected this crowd to disagree with him,” Petrovic said. “But most people were respectful, which I love – some people were passionate, and that’s fine, but I thought the questions were respectful for the most part.”