Mark Woolley has a tough job.
Rep. Lee Zeldin’s district manager has to field questions from angry constituents and do everything humanly possible to avoid giving them a substantive response.
Woolley did that skillfully for more than 30 minutes this afternoon at Riverhead Free Library, where about 90 people from across the East End packed the downstairs meeting room to voice concerns and ask questions about Zeldin’s position on the immigration ban announced Friday by President Donald Trump.
His job, Woolley said, is to “go ahead and listen to your issues and report back to the congressman.”
“I note again if you’ve got specific questions, looking for specific answers on specific issues, that’s why we have forms for you to go ahead and write that down and we will take them with us,” Woolley said. “If you have issues you want to bring directly to the congressman, we will be more than happy to bring them to him.”
This was the third meeting Woolley held with a group of constituents angered and mobilized by President Trump’s policies. They are scheduling weekly meetings with the congressional aide but want the congressman to hold a town hall-type meeting. they got not assurance from Woolley that one would take place.
“We have normal office hours here at 30 West [Main Street in Riverhead] on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” Woolley told the group. Constituents can meet with staff members in Riverhead during those times, he said. Zeldin himself holds mobile office hours at designated times throughout the district, when constituents can meet with the congressman one-on- one, Woolley said. After the meeting, Woolley said he did not know when the next mobile office hours would be scheduled.
Constituents hailing from across both forks and Brookhaven took the microphone to address the congressional aide during a 30-minute question-and-answer period today focused on the immigration ban. They asked Woolley how many people reached out to Zeldin for help after the ban went into effect Friday evening. They asked what Zeldin had done to help secure the release of Stony Brook University graduate student Vahideh Rasekhi, an Iranian national who was detained for more than 30 hours at JFK airport. They asked how the ban would make Americans safe.
Answers were not readily forthcoming, with Woolley stressing that he would not say anything beyond what was in the written statement Zeldin issued on the subject this weekend.
“My grandparents died in a concentration camp because America closed its doors to Jews,” said Cookie Slade of Cutchogue. “I’ve always said, ‘never again,’ but I do not know how to say to my grandchildren this will never happen again when I don’t see congress people standing up for these rights.”
Amy Pacholk of Greenport, a nurse at Stony Brook University Hospital who met her Muslim husband in Senegal, a majority Muslim country, told how they “went through an extreme vetting process in order for him to come here.”
“Soon after Trump was elected, someone drew a swastika on my car,” Pacholk said. “It was right near the car seat where my daughter sits. I worry about her and her future,” Pacholk said. “This ban supports nothing we represent. We want to be respected as people. I want my child to live in a free society where she can live her life fully and not be demeaned by others.”
Dan Horton of Riverhead said the immigration ban and the southern border wall “all looks like security theater.”
“My fear is that something like a 9/11 will happen again and that will be the big excuse to really clamp down,” Horton said.
“I’m from a family that’s had its feet on American soil since 1635. I’ve never felt like this before. Security theater is bad for us all.”
“I want the congressman to know that I feel less safe,” Abigail Field of Greenport told Woolley, pointing to the Americans who’ve become “self-radicalized.
“All this propaganda about America being at war with Islam, it’s like the Crusades,” she said. “I feel as of today more likely to get caught in some random crossfire. I feel much less safe as a result of this.
“With all the caveats you gave us about why you can’t give us answers, we want to know: when will the congressman hold a town hall so that we can interact with him directly?” Field asked to resounding applause in the room.
Correction: A photo caption incorrectly identified Abigail Field in a previously published version of this story.
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