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Senator Gillibrand fights to stay positive at LI town hall

Senator Gillibrand fights to stay positive at LI town hall

Photo courtesy of Jordan Laird / Hofstra Chronicle

The seats of the Sondra and David S. Mack Student Center Theater were packed with politically active and civically engaged community members, students and advocates on Friday, Oct. 5, eager to hear what United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York had to say about issues plaguing the nation. 

Gillibrand hosted a town hall in front of a predominantly likeminded audience of community members, students and community advocates. For a little over an hour, Gillibrand answered mostly softball questions from audience members whose raffle tickets were pulled out of a jar. The audience frequently cheered after questions, Gillibrand’s answers and even applauded after an attendee suggested a Gillibrand 2020 presidential bid. When the event was over, she received a standing ovation. 

Attendees frequently expressed deep concerns over the current administration’s policies and sought hope from the senator. The night before the Senate vote on Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation, the concerns raised seemed to cast a cloud over the proceeding while Gillibrand attempted to remain positive and galvanize the crowd into action. 

However, not everyone in attendance was in consensus. Only the last audience question elicited a negative crowd response. A woman, looking sincerely concerned, stepped up to the microphone and asked what could be done “to halt the extreme immigration that’s been going on for decades.” The woman spoke for about three minutes, first eliciting murmurs and later hisses and boos when she said she was “appalled that you’ve called for abolishing ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]. They’re doing a great job that the law has decreed them to do.” Finally, the moderator, Hofstra’s Executive Dean of Public Policy and Public Service Meena Bose, politely cut the woman off so Gillibrand could respond. 

Gillibrand began simply with, “So I disagree,” and was met with thunderous applause. The senator was interrupted several times by cheering from the audience as she gave an impassioned response.

“Obviously, you have a heartfelt question, so let me tell you why I disagree ... I believe immigration has always been our strength and any analysis that doesn’t recognize that is fundamentally flawed,” Gillibrand said. She continued, “Of course, we need to right-size immigration: We should have the right number of visas for the right number of people that want to come into this country [as well as] having a vibrant E-Verify program.”

Gillibrand became more forceful when speaking about President Trump’s “immoral” deportation policies that have since separated families at the Mexican border. She fervently explained that ICE was commissioned originally for anti-terrorism and declared that the agency is failing at this mission. She expressed support for funding anti-terrorism work but said, “The stuff having to do with immigration and asylum should be done so differently.” 

Other questions focused on women’s reproductive rights, endangered species and the opioid epidemic – which is particularly acute on Long Island. Many like-minded citizens sought hope that the Democrats were still fighting the current administration. 

One audience member asked about why Trump won. Another later said, “I just feel the Democrats aren’t fighting hard enough. [The Republicans] get away with everything, they got away with today, my God,” referring to the Kavanaugh appointment process. 

Throughout the evening, Gillibrand pushed audience members and constituents to stay positive. 

“[Average working Americans] want someone who is going to go out there and fight for them. And for some reason, they looked at Trump and thought, ‘He’s the one who’s going to fight for me.’ And what they’ve learned in the last few years is that he has no intention of helping everyday Americans,” Gillibrand said. 

“I believe that because you’re here tonight … we’re going to change what democracy looks like. We’re already changing it. The only time when this country’s democracy works is when regular people stand up and demand – it’s just the truth,” she said. 

Sarah Terpning, a senior film production major who agrees with many of Gillibrand’s beliefs, said, “I think it’s really important for more young people to get involved. I was just talking about how it was kind of sad that there weren’t more college students here because it was for free, it was so close, I had to do basically nothing to get there. And I had this great opportunity to see this powerful person talk about issues I really care about.”

Like Terpning, Benjamin Morawek, a freshman political science major, is a student who attended the town hall despite voting in a different state. Unlike Terpning, Morawek opposed many of Gillibrand’s views. 

“I’m a conservative, and so I really disagreed with a lot of things that Gillibrand had to say today. I just came out here because I think it’s important to hear from both sides of the issue,” Morawek said. He said he would have liked an opportunity to ask about the Kavanaugh appointment process. Morawek particularly took issue with how Gillibrand characterized Justice Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations. He said, “I personally don’t think that everyone who supports Kavanaugh is against women.”  

Ed Fitzgerald, a freshman journalism major, is an intern at Gillibrand’s Melville office. “I would say that the overall reception of the event went very well; there were no hiccups at all,” Fitzgerald said. “Everybody appeared to have a great time. Some great questions were being asked.” 

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