Ken, a reader in my old neck of the woods of central New Jersey, writes in with highlights of his attempt to attend a town-hall meeting with Rep. Frank Pallone, a Democrat:
Went to Piscataway municipal building last night around 6:40 for a 7:00 p.m. start. The line stretched out the door, down the sidewalk to the street, around back in the parking lot, up onto the sidewalk, down the sidewalk, back into the parking lot — kind of like Disney World without the fancy music and rope lines. I estimate I was about 500 back from the door. Stood there meeting new friends for an hour listening to rumors about what was going to happen, inching forward as others in front left to go home. Meanwhile the line behind me continued to grow. Finally at 7:45 a staffer got a police car to announce that the room was at capacity of roughly two hundred, the meeting started at 7:30, and they would refresh the crowd in an hour and continue to do so for each hour until everyone got in. Around 8:30 the second group went. I was still about 75 people back at that point and opted to go home. Calling his office this morning I was informed that the third and final group went in at 9:30.
I asked who was responsible for arranging such a small venue. I was directed to his DC office. The local New Brunswick office claims that they expressed concern to DC that the meeting would be large and should move to a larger venue. I left a message for the chief of staff, but got a return call from Long Branch office. She explained that the police estimated that 800 people showed up and 650 finally attended. Their 650 number is probably right, but based on the distance I covered during the 8:30 audience swap that 800 number has to be off by several hundred. I was at least two audiences back when I initially got there. The line behind me continued to grow to include at least another audience and a half. People that were there started bailing by 7:15. Based on standing in line for two hours and the line lengths at least 1000 people showed up.
I got the sense that for and against broke down about the middle. I saw home made signs for and against, although the only professionally printed signs were for the legislation. (Late in the evening I saw the homemade “for” signs leaning amongst the professionally printed “for” signs.)
I don’t know what was said inside, but this was another fine example of government ineptitude. They inaccurately predicted how many of his constituency would show up and reserved an under sized venue. He was disrespectful of his constituency’s time by starting a half hour late. They could not and did not communicate with the much larger constituency outside the venue until 7:45. When I asked who was responsible for venue selection I was informed it was a staff decision, which I interpret to mean everyone was involved, but no one was responsible. And this is the same staff that will be involved in proposing legislation to reform health care? Confidence inspiring.
The Star-Ledger puts the crowd count at more than 1,000.