Stefanik event at Brunswick site flouted city practice

BRUNSWICK — On May 31, U.S. Representative Elise Stefanik hosted a get-together event at the Brunswick Community Center, a taxpayer-funded venue operated by the Brunswick city government.

People believed to be political opponents of the Schuylerville Republican were barred from the event, including Democrats who were outside protesting his appearance. Stefanik is a strong supporter of former President Donald J. Trump.

Stefanik was given permission to use the 3,000 square foot site by Phil Herrington, the city supervisor and another Republican.

This has troubled many Democrats because about two years ago, then-Repute Antonio Delgado, a Democrat who represented Rensselaer County, was barred from using the same community center by another Republican elected official. of Brunswick, City Clerk Bill Lewis.

At a June 9 city council meeting, Kathy Betzinger recounted how she sought to use the center for the Delgado event but was rejected; she alleged that the policy influenced access to and use of taxpayer-funded space.

“You’re all from the same party, you use it politically, and I just have a problem with that,” said Betzinger, the former chairman of the Brunswick Democratic Party. “It’s our community center. Either we have a set of rules or it’s over.”

Lewis, who attended the town meeting, confirmed that Delgado was not allowed to use the venue because “over the years we have hardly allowed anyone to use it for political matters.”

At the same meeting, Herrington said he did not consult with the city council before allowing the Stefanik event to take place at the community center. He acknowledged that regulations likely prohibited the center from being used for political events, but he noted that over the years political parties had held caucuses there.

Herrington even suggested that he hadn’t consciously consulted with the city attorney, fearing he had advised against hosting the Stefanik event.

“I didn’t check with the city attorney — because I know what his answer would have been, quickly,” Herrington said.

Herrington said booking the event was “100%” made by him. He had received a call from a senior Rensselaer County GOP operative, Richard W. Crist, who is the county’s director of operations, stating that Stefanik needed a place to meet.

Herrington said he understood the event was “open to everyone”.

After agreeing to allow the congresswoman’s event at the center, Herrington said he contacted Jennifer Mann, the chairwoman of the Brunswick Democratic Committee, and proposed to Stefanik’s Democratic opponent, Matt Castelli, to organize a similar event at the same venue. .

“I wanted to be fair,” he said. “If we want one person to come, we have to bring the other party.”

Stefanik District does not currently include Rensselaer County, but due to the once-a-decade redistricting process, she will seek re-election in November in a district that includes part of it.

Democrats who were at the congressmen’s event last month said the approximately 50 people who attended the protest were filmed by a young man walking around recording video and taking photos, pictures which were apparently then used to identify and prevent these people from entering. the event. Others who did not protest but were suspected political opponents of Stefanik were also barred from entry, according to Mann. She wore a sticker supporting Castelli, but did not participate in the protest. Mann also held a clipboard in order to take notes, which was cited by a member of Stefanik’s staff as the reason for the ban, Mann said.

“He said, ‘You’re one of them, you’re a campaign worker, you’re collecting signatures for the other side,'” Mann recalled. “And he was super, super rude to me.”

Outside the venue, an opponent of Stefanik took on former Rensselaer County lawmaker Todd Tesman, a Republican.

As tensions had risen, Tessman was asked to provide “security” at the gate of the event. Tessman told the Times Union that the man shouted an obscenity at him, and the “way he reacted led me to believe the man wanted a physical confrontation, which he didn’t get from me.” .

Other opponents of Stefanik were “relentlessly” trying to outrun the person in front of the door, stepping on the foot of the man standing there, Tessman said.

Crist at this point decided to lock the doors to the event venue, according to Herrington.

“Rich Crist said, ‘We can’t let these people in. I paid for this, we paid for this. It was a private event as far as we were concerned. If we let these (people) in, it’s going to get out of hand,” Herrington recalled.

“So they made the decision to close the door,” he said. “It wasn’t what I envisioned.”

Most of the protesters weren’t planning on causing trouble, Mann said.

“They were all a bunch of old ladies and gray-haired men, laughing and smiling at people,” she said.

According to Mann, Stefanik’s staffers said the event was “private” and required an RSVP. The flyer for the event, which was sponsored by the Rensselaer County Republican Party, did not state that an RSVP was required.

Crist told the Times Union that “the actions taken were in the interests of the safety and protection of all who attended the event.”

Alex DeGrasse, Stefanik’s senior adviser, said local officials invited her to the event, “which included Republicans, Democrats and independents.”

Some Democrats attended the event, including one who took video of Stefanik’s remarks. She gave a seven-minute campaign speech, promising to be re-elected in order to “fire Nancy Pelosi once and for all” and “save this country”.

There were no disturbances during the speech and Stefanik did not answer questions from the audience. She then walked around the room and spoke to the individual attendees.

At the city council meeting two weeks ago, Herrington gave a lengthy account of the evening’s events that did not include some allegations currently being filed by Stefanik’s campaign, including that protesters physically pushed campaign staff. .

“Honestly to God, if you just parked your car and walked in, you could have stayed inside,” Herrington told Democrats at the meeting. He added that the presence of protesters “shocked me”.

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