ITHACA, N.Y. –– Congressman Tom Reed (R-NY23) held a rally on the Ithaca Commons on Thursday afternoon with several other area Republican officials, aiming to denounce the string of racist and anti-Semitic graffiti and vandalism locally and call for free speech protections in light of the incidents and recent protests.

After a few speeches, Reed and about two dozen supporters marched down the Commons, flanked by protesters, looking to deliver an American flag to Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick at City Hall. City Hall, though, is closed to visitors without appointments and has been for several months due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. A security guard motioned to Reed through the door that he would not be let inside, after which Reed departed. Additionally, Myrick tweeted before the rally began that he had rejected Reed’s invitation to attend the rally and receive the flag.

To start the event, Reed addressed the huddled crowd on the east end of the Commons, which was comprised of about half supporters and half protesters. There were no physical altercations during the event, save for some sign jostling between sides. Reed’s comments were somewhat vague in terms of the acts in Ithaca, though he became more specific about his own experience with intimidation.

“Our free speech is a guaranteed right, that we will stand in unison to say we have a right to do,” Reed said. He mentioned acts of anti-Semitism and racism in Ithaca, then pivoted to talking about an incident at his campaign headquarters in Corning in August and a separate incident that involved someone leaving a dead rat in a noose at his home which Reed reported last week. “If you intimidate us and attack us, we will not be intimidated. We will stand firm against your acts and your confrontation. Those bricks that go through our windows at our campaign headquarters will not intimidate us.”

He also reiterated his condemnation of counter-protesters at a rally for President Donald Trump earlier this month. Reed held a press conference in Ithaca last Thursday addressing the incident at the rally, in which two people were injured, though that press conference itself started a domino effect that led to six arrests and pepper spray deployment at a protest following Reed’s event.

Two other Republican officials addressed the crowd, including Tompkins County Republicans Chair Mike Sigler, a county legislator from Lansing. He reacted to signs in the crowd calling the United States “fascist” by rejecting the notion, and tried to draw some lines of similarity between the two sides that were gathered in the crowd before getting into a back-and-forth with some of the protesters.

Sigler also seemed to challenge the current Ithaca budget process, which does not provide funding for eight police officer positions which are already unfilled by the department. Accounting for officers who are currently out of work with various injuries or leaves, it leaves the city’s police force in the high-40s to low-50s in terms of active officers.

“I don’t know if you can maintain a city of this size on that kind of police force,” Sigler said. “Now, if you agree with that, sure, go down and tell the mayor that’s a great idea. But if you don’t, that should concern you.”

Reed then listened silently as protester Leslie Schultz read a letter lambasting his record and the Trump administration on a litany of issues, including its conduct towards immigrants and other marginalized communities, mishandling of the environment and further deeming Trump’s record “hateful and destructive.” Schultz said the letter was meant to initiate a “ceremony of grief” to reckon with the United States’ history.

After Schultz concluded there was a brief march through downtown Ithaca, after which Reed was greeted by protesters at the door of City Hall, chanting “No Justice! No Peace!” He listened for a time, then attempted to yell a message to the crowd of supporters surrounding him that he wanted to deliver the flag as a show of unity. Finding the door locked, it was Reed’s supporters’ turn to chant, showering City Hall with a chorus of “Let him in!” as Reed silently waited at the front door. After the signal from the security guard that his attempts to enter were futile, Reed turned away and left around the corner. After meeting with press members, he then departed Ithaca.

The crowd of Reed supporters also sang the Star Spangled Banner, God Bless America and said a prayer during the event.

Myrick tweeted after the rally ended that he had heard about Reed’s attempt, but remained undeterred.

“Just got word that Congressman Reed just showed up at City Hall anyway while I was in my last meeting,” he wrote. “Due to COVID protocols (made necessary by the lack of a fed action) no one can come in without an appointment. Rules apply even to Congressmen.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com