Democratic Congressman Paul Tonko may have needed some medicine of his own after listening to the shouts, cheers, and at times vulgarities, lobbed at him by nearly 1,500 people during his health care chat at Delmar’s Elm Avenue Park.
Pitching President Barack Obama’s health-care reform plan, Tonko described universal health care as uniquely American on Tuesday, Aug. 25, during a town-hall style meeting that was attended by supporters and detractors.
Tonko appeared at the meeting alongside Bethlehem Supervisor Jack Cunningham, who gave a brief statement thanking the crowd and thanking the congressman for coming to town.
The representative from Amsterdam then took the stage and thanked both sides for coming out to hear him.
`Allow me to thank each and every person who assembled here this evening under this pavilion,` Tonko told the crowd after long and sustained applause and cheers. `This is an expression of who we are as a nation and an expression of our beliefs and our principles that guide us.`
However, the enthusiastic welcome turned into enthusiastic dissatisfaction with some of the congressman’s answers. He was interrupted on several occasions and at one time pleaded with the crowd that `you’re not even giving me a chance.`
The health care issue stems from a 1,017-page bill in the House of Representatives called H.R. 3200 that calls for universal health coverage for Americans. The purpose of the bill is to, `provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans and reduce the growth in health care spending, and for other purposes.`
Former news anchor Lydia Kulbida agreed to moderate the discussion, something that she admitted on the stage later in the evening, `I may have regretted.`
She tried to tame the crowd and keep things orderly, especially when the topics of coverage for illegal aliens and taxpayer-supported abortion riled up the crowd.
At one point Kulbida was `flipped the bird` and had to tell members of the crowd not to use vulgarity because of the children attending the event.
Elena Marcelle from Slingerlands brought two of her three children and asked Tonko to explain to them why the national debt was so high before asking why she shouldn’t keep her money.
Another local speaker said she supported aspects of the plan.
`Thank you for your support of single-payer, I support single payer,` she said after identifying herself as being from Glenmont.
Shouts continued through the evenings as speakers became frustrated with what others had to say, or not being able to be heard themselves. As it began to get dark, people were instructed to ask specific questions quickly without prefacing their own situation.
`Ask your question,` and `get on with it,` were heard several times from the crowd as was,`answer the question,` or `you’re not answering the question` when Tonko was addressing questions.
One woman said she was appalled after onlookers booed those selected to share their medical and financial problems with the crowd.
`You should be ashamed of yourself,` she said.
The crowd appeared divided, however, with just as many standing ovations as boos from Tonko’s responses to having a national health care system.
Cunningham said he considered the night a success, with all 750 parking spaces filled and nobody turned away or arrested.
`Traffic was a little bit of a problem, but we go everyone in and out of here safely,` Cunningham said. `It was good to see everyone out expressing their opinions in a safe format.`
Bethlehem police did escort one person out of the event, but Cunningham said he was not arrested and that things went smoothly overall.
The health care talk was the third of its kind and the largest one to date in the Capital District.
When Cunningham was asked during the Wednesday, Aug. 26 Town Board meeting about the cost associated with Tonko’s appearance, he said he did not have an exact number associated with the extra police, highway and parks and recreation workers, but that there will be no federal reimbursement.
`There was no deal made with the federal government before the event,` he said. “