On Monday evening, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer was scheduled to host a town-hall meeting at his reform synagogue, Congregation Beth Elohim (CBE), a historic building on a tree-lined Brooklyn block. Ever since Donald Trump’s election, Schumer has faced growing anger from progressive Democrats infuriated by his stated willingness to work with a man they consider unfit for public office. A local group had been working for nearly a year to convince Schumer to answer questions from constituents in person.
Organizers were expecting more than 1,200 people to show up; a full 90 minutes before the event was scheduled to begin, the hall was about a sixth full. In the crowd was Arlene Geiger, a New Yorker since 1969, who came wearing a T-shirt with giant block letters saying, “LEAD the Dems on SCOTUS.” She told me she worked as the coordinator of the Upper West Side Move On/Indivisible action group, a progressive coalition.
What did she think of Schumer’s July 2 op-ed warning readers what was at stake in light of Justice Kennedy’s retirement and the upcoming Supreme Court vacancy? “Schumer not voting to confirm Trump’s nominee is no great accomplishment,” Geiger said. “That’s a no-brainer. We don’t need him to just vote ‘no,’ we need him to make sure all the Dems vote no.”
At 5:03 pm, everyone who registered for the event online received an e-mail message. “We sincerely regret to inform you that—due to mechanical issues that have grounded his plane in upstate New York—Senator Schumer is unable to make it to New York City and must CANCEL tonight’s town hall meeting,” it read. But people were still arriving. And as word began to filter through the assembly that the senator was a no-show—and had offered to host a “tele–town hall” in the same time slot instead—an angry buzz filled the room.
“He should get off his ass,” crowed a man with a thick New York accent who asked to be identified only as Vincent. “I don’t believe he has mechanical difficulties; I think he doesn’t have the balls to show up and face us.” (“Can you write ‘testicular fortitude’ instead of ‘balls’?” Vincent later asked.)
“The man is either a coward or he’s incompetent,” another man complained.
“Does he want to do this? Does he want to be Joe Crowley [the 10-term congressman recently defeated by newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez]? He can’t show up in his own district, his own synagogue?” asked Miriam Clark, a longtime constituent of Schumer’s.
Another woman speculated that the senator had offered a tele–town hall in lieu of an in-person event “because they don’t want us to be congregated.”