In the community room of a Newtown cafe late last year, the space was packed with voters eager to hear one of the candidates running for the First Congressional District.
“I am here today not for any political endeavor or for personal reasons,” said Rachel Reddick, one of the Democrats running in May’s primary.
Reddick said she was there to listen to voters, which is something Democratic and Republican candidates have both campaigned on this election season. Their stressing that point seems to be pushed more this year than in the recent past.
Democrats Reddick, Scott Wallace and Steve Bacher have all criticized incumbent Republican Brian Fitzpatrick and claimed he doesn’t hold enough public outreach events. Republican candidate Dean Malik also has made statements similar to the Democrats relating to public events.
“What [Fitzpatrick] is not doing is having enough open public communication,” said Democratic candidate Steve Cickay.
One common point brought up is the lack of in-person town halls that would welcome a large number of constituents. The town hall format gained significant attention in 2017 when frustrated people throughout the country campaigned for elected officials to hold the events to hear their point of view in a large group setting.
Scott Wallace, another Democrat running in May’s primary, has appeared at a number of the “Fridays Without Fitzpatrick” demonstrations in front of the representative’s office in Middletown.
“How can you represent people without actually talking to them?” Wallace asked.
“You are not of the Congress, you are of the people,” Wallace added, emphasizing the representative portion of the job.
In an effort to be available to voters, Bacher held a series of Facebook live sessions to connect with voters and said he does not believe the congressman has been accessible enough.
“If elected, I plan to have a live, face-to-face town hall in different parts of the district at least six times a year, as well as using new media such as Facebook Live to be accessible to as many constituents as possible.”
“You work for your people, your constituents,” said Malik, who bills himself as a pro-President Donald Trump candidate.
In Malik’s view, the election is a job interview. If you’re hired, you need to be available for your constituents, he said.
Although Fitzpatrick has held one in-person town hall in Bensalem last year, his office noted he held 13 telephone town halls that have reached about 70,000 constituents per call since January 2017. The calls have been held in the evenings and are in addition to his 100 business tour, mobile office hours across the district, packed in-district schedule of hitting various local events, interview with reporters, responses to constituent communications, and listening sessions on the issue of health care.
In-person town hall events, like the one held in Bensalem, can be labor-intensive and require a heavy police presence, but voters told NewtownPANow.com they help connect candidates and officials with the people who they represent.
“I think that at the local level – the level closest to the people – we need to be able to express our wants and needs,” said Millie Hillgrube, a Malik supporter. “I find that that is something that a lot of people complain about with Fitzpatrick.”
Kierstyn Zolfo, a regular participant at “Fridays Without Fitzpatrick” events, said that the types of listening going on by Fitzpatrick’s opponents is critical and something she and many others don’t feel has happened since his election. The type of open air availability is welcome and something that could be achieved if the congressman held more town hall-style events, Zolfo said.
“The fact that his opponents are taking this step at this point is critically important,” Zolfo said, referencing messaging from Democratic and Republican challengers.
Although Fitzpatrick has to carry out the work of being a congressman and a candidate, voters who spoke with this news organization said they feel he has not been accessible enough.
Publisher Tom Sofield contributed to this report.
Editor’s Note: Publisher/Editor Tom Sofield’s father, Chris, is the campaign manager for Republican Dean Malik’s 2018 bid for congress and his mother, Ingrid, is the treasurer.