The kerfuffle over the two assaults committed by an employee of Representative Bill Pascrell (D-NJ-8) at a forum that he hosted continued today, with one of the two targets calling on Pascrell to fire the employee and apologize to both men involved.
Mark Kalinowski, head of the North New Jersey Tea Party Group, sent a Facebook message to his followers giving his narrative of the incident at an August 9 “forum for senior citizens” that Pascrell held in the Montclair Town Council chambers and reiterating a call he made last week for Pascrell to fire the field representative who attempted to eject him from the chamber, as she had earlier attempted to eject Republican challenger Roland Straten from the same meeting as it was beginning, ten minutes before.
The incident, according to separate accounts by Straten and Kalinowski, witness Patricia Kehlback (in an interview with Kalinowski), and Montclair Times reporter Terrence T. McDonald (in two separate accounts), happened this way: as the 2:00 p.m. meeting was about to begin, Straten appeared and started to distribute some flyers describing his position on the massive healthcare-reform bill passed last year. Straten sought to test the proposition that the meeting was a “non-political forum” and not a campaign event. Ann Mega, Pascrell’s field representative, approached him and said, “I don’t want you handing these out in here.” Straten politely explained that neither Mega nor anyone else could tell Straten, a resident of Montclair, when he may or may not enter the township’s building or what he may distribute there. In reply, Mega put both hands on his chest and started to push. Straten did not contest the point; he simply retreated out the nearest door, and then reentered the chamber by another door, handed out his flyers in an unobtrusive manner, and sat down to listen.
Ten minutes later–“just as Pascrell was starting to get warmed up,” according to Straten–Kalinowski entered with flyers of his own that were not campaign material from Straten or any other candidate, but were informational flyers alleging an ideological link between Pascrell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-8). (Pelosi famously said last year that “we have to pass the [healthcare-reform] bill before you can see what’s in it.”) Mega approached Kalinowski just as she had Straten, even to initiating physical contact in exactly the same manner. Kalinowski’s response, however, was different: he shouted at Mega to “Take your hands off me!”
In reply, Pascrell–according to Kalinowski, who claims to have video of the incident–shouted from the podium, “Do you have a problem?”, “You don’t talk to a lady that way!” and similar pleasantries. Kalinowski said that he indeed did have a problem: that the venue was not a private building, that the meeting was open to the public and paid for by taxpayers (specifically out of Pascrell’s Membership Representational Allowance, which also covers franked mail), that Kalinowski had every right to appear and to hand out flyers, and that no member of Pascrell’s staff had the right to lay hands on him, as Mega had done. Pascrell simply said, “We’re having a meeting here” and refused to apologize for, or even acknowledge, Mega’s behavior nor to comment on its appropriateness. (Kalinowski did not leave, either. As Straten later wrote his own followers, Kalinowski handed out the rest of his flyers and sat down to listen.)
According to McDonald, the response of Pascrell’s staff has been to deny that any physical contact occurred, this although several witnesses, most of whom are willing to use their names, have attested to it. But neither does Pascrell’s staff deny that at least one confrontation occurred.
Though Kalinowski continues to press the matter, Straten does not. Both men have taken pains to deny any coordination or collaboration between them. Kalinowski does not even mention Straten’s name in his latest Facebook and blog posts, perhaps to convey that it doesn’t matter who the other person was. Straten has never wanted to score any point other than to accuse Pascrell and the town officials of hypocrisy by refusing to admit that the forum was a Pascrell campaign event in all but name, while, however, applying rules appropriate to a campaign event to govern people’s behavior at that event.
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