Driehaus Relieved Over Quiet Town Hall

Posted August 27, 2009 at 11:07pm

CINCINNATI — When freshman Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio) was preparing for his town hall Wednesday night, he was anticipating the worst. In fact, Driehaus, who represents one of the dozens of Midwestern districts that Democrats narrowly wrested from Republicans in 2008, was thinking about how he would survive the ordeal.He had good reason to worry.At a town-hall meeting earlier this month at the First Unitarian Church organized by the Women’s City Club of Greater Cincinnati, Driehaus encountered protesters and dozens of angry constituents. His town hall was dubbed a “recess roasting— by the National Republican Congressional Committee; a YouTube video later surfaced showing a woman cutting off Driehaus repeatedly as the crowd cheered.But unlike his last forum, Driehaus’ Wednesday town hall at the Nathanael Greene Lodge was a ticketed event, and the Green Township Democratic Club distributed the tickets.Even so, Driehaus was concerned that his town hall would devolve into chaos, particularly because Wednesday’s town hall drew the same level of publicity on conservative blogs and in the press as his last event did.And long before the event started, conservative protesters gathered outside the building, holding signs that read, “Hands Off My Rights, Stop Violating the Constitution— and “Liberal Dems Are Liars and Crooks.—Making matters potentially even more volatile, a larger group of health care reform supporters had also arrived to make their views heard, armed withtheir own signs and a bullhorn.About two hours before the town hall began, an aide told Driehaus that TV cameras had already arrived and were set up at the front and back doors of the lodge.“Are there people there?— Driehaus asked. “I really don’t know how this plays out — it’s gotten far too much attention,— he said, speaking at his district office in downtown Cincinnati. “What started out as a request by the Green Township Democrats to address [their] club has turned into this circus-like atmosphere,— he said. “I’m concerned about what’s going to happen.—He was far from the only one.Troy Jackson, a pastor at the University Christian Church, walked into a swarm of protesters arguing and led both sides in a prayer for tolerance.“I don’t like to see this kind of behavior,— Jackson said. “I think it bereaves God.—Caleb A. Faux, the executive director of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, explained the monthly meeting of the club usually involves a few dozen residents, a bottle of pop and a bag of pretzels.He said he knew Wednesday’s town hall would be decidedly different and felt that by requiring attendees to have tickets, his members would be allowed to participate.Faux added that because some tickets were offered to the general public, he knew disruptions were possible.“We’ll see how it goes,— he said, moments before the town hall began.During the question-and-answer period, a local resident, Jim Meale, stood up and told Driehaus that his wife had urged him not to attend the meeting because town halls were “dangerous.—But after all the worrying, the crowd was tame. Participants hushed the lone heckler when he began to speak out of turn about the cost of the health care bill.For two hours, Driehaus fielded questions about Democratic health care proposals — just as he had expected to do in his earlier town hall. After all of the questions had been asked and answered, and most everyone had had their say, Driehaus breathed a sigh of relief and thanked the crowd of more than 150 people for remaining civil. “This has been a very different experience,— Driehaus said.