Kathleen Rice gets mostly warm reception at town hall

Kathleen Rice gets mostly warm reception at town hall
U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) addresses a crowd of hundreds during her town hall event in Mineola on Saturday, March 4, 2017. (Photo by Alessia Grunberger)

By Alessia Grunberger

Hundreds of Long Islanders voiced their concerns over policy shifts and asked questions about top national issues issues a town hall meeting with Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) on Saturday.

Discussions at the Saturday morning forum ranged from immigration reform and alleged ties between Russia and President Donald Trump’s administration, to women’s rights and the fate of the Affordable Care Act.

“I want your voice to be heard,” Rice told a crowd mostly filled with supporters at Mineola Middle School. “And I think it’s really important right now. I’ve always felt this. We have to speak truth to power. And that means people in my position as well as your position.”

Rice’s meeting marked a departure from other town hall events hosted by lawmakers across the country.

Many of those forums — especially those held by Republican lawmakers — have turned contentious, prompting some to opt for telephone town halls or abstain from holding meetings altogether.

Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Peter King (R-Seaford) decided to host telephone town halls for their constituents.

King, who is holding one on Wednesday, said in an interview with CNN that he was not holding an in-person meeting because they “just turn into a screaming session.”

Some of Rice’s responses drew boos and jeers, but mostly the Democrat was met with applause.

During the meeting, participants expressed their concerns about the country’s direction.

One resident said the Senate Judiciary Committee should request a special counsel to investigate Russia’s alleged involvement with the presidential election, a point with which Rice agreed.

“Look, I don’t think it’s enough to have the deputy attorney general do the investigation into the Russian thing. I think you have to have a special prosecutor outside them,” Rice said. “Then you need an independent commission, like they did after 9/11. You appoint these people and they go out and do the report and they come back in a non-partisan way and they say these are the facts.”

Another resident said she felt “like there’s no place to go” after doing everything in her power as a citizen to effect change.

Some of the efforts she listed were donating to Planned Parenthood, attending protests and never missing an election.

But Rice encouraged her and other constituents to be persistent in their efforts to draw attention to issues they think are important.

“What you need to do is exactly what we are doing here,” Rice said. “Continue to organize, get people to run for office. If I were to do a press conference, nobody would care what I have to say. If you guys mobilize, that changes what happens in Washington.”

Rice added that she has done and will do what she can to get bills passed in the House, despite being in the minority party. She also said she has made friends with Republicans so that she can “get some things done on the margin.”

Rice’s town hall lasted for about two hours and ended after 12 p.m.

In interviews, some constituents said they appreciated that Rice held a town hall meeting, but others had some reservations about her performance.

“She said several times that she was a moderate Democrat. And she also said several times that she’s progressive, “ said Joan Smith, a Democrat from Mineola. “It’s hard to be both of those things at the same time.”

Hala Ubaid from Westbury said she was “a little bit disappointed” that Rice didn’t take a more aggressive stance against Trump and his policy proposals.

“She’s talking about working with them and compromise,” Ubaid said. “But, at this point, the way this administration is, we don’t have room for compromise right now.”

Others commended Rice for answering residents’ questions honestly.

“I thought the town hall meeting was excellent,” said JoAnn Smith, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Nassau County. “And that Kathleen was very open and honest and forthright in all of her answers.”

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