As town halls get noisy, Schumer faces own questions about access

Feb 23, 2017

As federal elected officials face noisy constituents at town hall meetings nationwide, New York's senior U.S. Senator and that body's minority leader took questions Wednesday about his own ability to be reached.

Charles Schumer appeared in Buffalo to present overdue medals to a World War II veteran and to promote a firefighter health registry. When it was time for the senator to field questions about other topics, the Democrat was asked about protests across the land and the disruptions which have erupted in town hall meetings hosted by Republican lawmakers.

Senator Charles Schumer, seen in a previous local appearance.
Credit WBFO file photo

"Making your views known is part of the great American tradition, since the Founding Fathers created this country" he said. "There's nothing wrong and something good about who are upset and protesting."

But the noise at many of these town hall meetings is proving to be counterproductive, say critics. Congressman Chris Collins, a Western New York Republican who was the first in the House of Representatives to endorse President Trump during the latter's campaign, has received sharp criticism for not hosting town hall meetings. He previously explained that he saw no point in attempting to host an event which would result in shouting down and thus shutting down discussion.

While Schumer did not acknowledge Collins at his Wednesday appearance, he shared Collins' sentiment about disruptions.

"It ought to be civil," he said. "There ought to be a discussion of views. I don't believe it's right to shout people down."

Schumer then faced questions about his own availability to constituents. He has not held any town hall meetings in Western New York and one reporter asked him about constituent complaints about an inability to reach him. He started by discussing the volume of phone calls to his offices.

"We're getting a huge number of calls, mainly supportive," he repied. "But when you get 20,000 calls a day, the trouble is the phone lines get filled up. We don't have 20,000 phones ringing but we try to answer every person we can."

His strategy for connecting with the people, in his words, was to travel. He vowed he would again visit all 62 counties of New York State for his 19th straight year as a senator.

"I try to be as accessible as I can. That's how I learn how people feel," Schumer said. "I think the politicians who stay in Washington are not as good as the politicians who are around their states and the districts."

Congressman Brian Higgins, who appeared with Schumer Wednesday, appears in a series of visits known as "Congress in Your Corner." The Democrat made one of those appearances Wednesday at the Schiller Park Senior Center in Buffalo and was scheduled to make another appearance at the North Buffalo Community Center on Friday. 

Republican Congressman Tom Reed, who represents the Southern Tier, hosted four town hall meetings within his district last weekend.