While the rest of the country brought out torches, pitchforks — and in some cases, handguns — this summer to protest “socialized medicine,” Bay Ridge residents stormed Tuesday’s town hall meeting on health care to demand that their Democratic congressman be more liberal on the issue.
Now this grizzled insider has been going to town hall meetings since they were actually held in town halls, but even I was shocked see the vast majority of Rep. Mike McMahon’s constituents — who live in the borough’s Republican belt — backing President Obama’s plan, or even more liberal proposals.
More than 100 people crowded the Shore Hill Community Room on Tuesday for a shockingly civil two-hour discussion that put most community boards — and all co-op boards — to shame for behavior and decorum.
Dozens of constituents urged the freshman congressman to support the current bill, which he does not, many pushed for an even more liberal single-payer healthcare plan, and just a couple of people said they opposed the bill.
No punches were thrown.
At least a part of the good behavior is thanks to McMahon’s skills as an emcee. After proving he understands the concerns of the Bay Ridge side of the district by starting the meeting with both the Pledge of Allegiance and the Star Spangled Banner, the former Staten Island Councilman went through a brief Powerpoint.
“We need reform, it’s urgent and indisputable,” he said, before turning over the mic to the not-so-angry mobs. “I ask you to respect each other and each other’s opinions. We’re not here to shout over each other. Also, please don’t wave the signs. You’re either going to poke your neighbor’s eye out or block their view.”
No eyes were lost.
McMahon — who in July was one of 22 freshmen reps who sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claiming that Obama’s bill would “discourage entrepreneurial activity and job growth” because its burden would fall too heavily on small businesses — listened to comments from nurses, doctors, union members, and other Brooklynites concerned about everything from the cost of reform to its possible impact on hospitals like Lutheran Medical Center.
Not a single person evoked Nazis, and McMahon didn’t have to pull a Barney Frank — a sign that the supporters and the few opponents who showed up on Shore Road actually knew what they were talking about.
“People now have a much better understanding of what’s in there,” said McMahon — who still hasn’t decided how he’ll vote on the bill. “We’re in a much better place. The discussions are much healthier.”
McMahon did a good job, but this old hack left the 10 am meeting with more questions than answers.
Does the apparently wide support for healthcare reform mean that the borough’s longstanding Republican stronghold has truly gone Dem? Or did Bay Ridge’s teabaggers merely sleep in?