US Representative Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-8) faced confrontations at one of his “senior Town Hall” events yesterday, when his Republican challenger and a local Tea Party activist both came to the meeting to hand out flyers and his staff tried to stop them from doing this.
Roland Straten, Republican candidate in the 8th District, and Mark Kalinowski, head of the North New Jersey Tea Party Group, showed up ten minutes apart at the Montclair Town Hall for the event, scheduled by Pascrell for 2:00 p.m. yesterday for the announced purpose of describing to senior citizens the implications of certain recent legislation.
Straten had earlier applied to the township for use of the fire station for an event of his own, but the town had turned him down, saying that they would not allow him space for a campaign event. In reply, Straten asked the town why Pascrell should get to use the Montclair Town Council chambers for an event while Straten received no such consideration. In his latest press release, Straten quoted the township attorney, Alan Trembulak, as writing the following:
Our review of the literature related to this forum confirms that this is not a political or a campaign event, but rather, a routine, non-political forum conducted by an elected official for the purpose of providing relevant information to members of his constituency. The mere fact that Congressman Pascrell is running for re-election does not transform this informational forum into a campaign event.
(By that logic, Pascrell’s standing for re-election does not “transform” a mass franked mailing into campaign mail, either–this although House rules currently forbid a member to send any franked mail to his district within 90 days of an election, whether he is running or not.)
Straten evidently decided to test whether the township was serious about Pascrell’s event being a “non-political forum.” So he decided to show up at the event to hand out his own campaign flyers, something he was within his rights as a citizen to do, if the forum was non-political as described. Straten’s press release describes what happened next:
His staff, however, had a different take on the event as they attempted to prevent Straten from passing out flyers opposing the current healthcare bill. Alan Trembulak also appeared somewhat confused when he suggested to Straten that passing out flyers in opposition to the healthcare bill was a violation of campaign laws.
Straten, after having been denied equal access to Township Buildings had gone to the forum to hand out flyers stating his position on the healthcare bill. He was immediately approached by one of the Congressman’s staff and the Township attorney who told him he could not hand out literature in the Town Hall meeting room. Straten, after being pushed from the room, reentered the room and finished handing out his flyers. He then sat down to listen.
Ten minutes later, just as Pascrell was starting to get warmed up, Mark Kalinowski, a TeaParty leader came in and started to hand out his flyers. Once again, the Pascrell staff jumped into action trying to prevent Kalinowski from exercising his constitutional right of free speech. After a short confrontation, Kalinowski passed out his flyers and sat down to listen.
The Montclair Times confirmed Straten’s account of the separate confrontations between Pascrell’s staff and himself and Kalinowski, including details of the physical contact, which happened before witnesses. The Times identified the one who did the pushing and shoving as Ann Mega, field representative for the Pascrell campaign.
Straten told this Examiner by telephone that he did not know that Kalinowski would be making the exact same sort of appearance as Straten himself made, nor did the two men coordinate their visits in any way. He also confirmed that Trembulak had told Straten directly that his showing up to hand out campaign flyers “might be in violation of campaign laws.” In his press release, Straten’s office said this:
Both the Township attorney and Pascrell’s staff need a short lesson in consistency. If this was indeed a non-political informational event, both Straten and Kalinowski had every right to peacefully hand out flyers. If this was a campaign event, the Pascrell campaign had every right to bar opposition from the event.
Straten called for immediate reform of House rules that allow Members of Congress to schedule such events and call them “non-political,” and also to send franked mail that is campaign mail in all but name.
Like this article? Want to be notified of more? Click Subscribe, above.