LAKE PLACID — About a dozen Tri-Lakes locals protested North Country U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik outside of the Crowne Plaza hotel in Lake Placid during their lunch hour on Thursday.
The group consisted of people from Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Keene, Keene Valley, Wilmington and Upper Jay.
The group, which consisted of numerous members of local progressive groups such as Now What?, Voters for Change and UNITE the North Country, said their primary goal was to secure a town hall meeting in the Tri-Lakes with the Republican congresswoman.
They held up numerous signs, including several that read “Why so elusive, Elise?” and “Protect our water, don’t just collect awards.”
A spokesman for Stefanik did not confirm several requests asking whether or not the congresswoman was at the Crowne Plaza Thursday afternoon. A front desk attendant at the Crowne Plaza said the hotel couldn’t confirm or deny.
The group said they were informed Stefanik would be there when the Now What? progressive group received a Facebook message Thursday morning from a group in the Glens Falls area.
“We spread it through as many of the different progressive groups that we could find,” said Emily Martz of Saranac Lake. “We created an event, sent it out via email and made some phone calls to people we know aren’t on Facebook.
“This morning is a good example of our frustrations,” she continued. “We called her district offices to find out more about the meeting, and no one picked up. There were no answers in Plattsburgh, Glens Falls and Watertown. We called the D.C. office, as we have done multiple times. And we’ve been putting in requests through their database for meetings in person and the woman in the office today said that they don’t give out her public schedule. We were trying to get confirmation of today’s meeting. We appreciate the newsletters, but we need more.”
Several of the protesters expressed frustration in trying to communicate with Stefanik. They claimed they had spoken with Stefanik staffers numerous times by phone and were usually told to see her Facebook page for details on the Congresswoman’s upcoming schedule. But the protesters added that her Facebook usually only posts information about events and appearances after they’ve happened.
“Congresswoman Stefanik posts her weekly official calendar to her website as part of her continued commitment to transparency,” her spokesman, Tom Flanagin, wrote in an email reply Thursday afternoon.
“Last Congress, Congresswoman Stefanik attended over 500 events across the district meeting with thousands of constituents and she looks forward to continuing this active district visit schedule during this Congress,” he continued. “This is in addition to dialing out to tens of thousands of constituents on tele-town halls regularly. Constituents are encouraged to stay up to date with our public events by following the Congresswoman on social media and subscribing to our e-newsletter.”
As of Friday morning, there were no posted events on Stefanik’s official schedule, though weekly breakdowns were listed, most recently for the week of Jan. 29.
During the small protest, the group recited chants such as “What do we want? A town hall meeting! And when do we want it? Now!”
Joe Zeman was one of the locals who used his lunch hour to protest at the Crowne Plaza on Thursday. During the protest, Zeman appeared to call Stefanik’s Plattsburgh office and leave a voicemail informing them of the protest and their desire to speak with the congresswoman.
Zeman said he’d called Stefanik’s Plattsburgh office at least 24 times since October, with about half of his calls answered. He said his primary request has been for Stefanik’s staff to update her website and schedule in a more timely and frequent manner.
“We don’t know what she’s doing until she’s done it,” Zeman said. “The schedule is two weeks behind.”
Saranac Lake resident Pete Nelson, another member of Now What?, was adamant that he would like to see Stefanik host a town hall meeting in the Tri-Lakes area. He said the meeting would contribute to local constituents directly informing Stefanik of their concerns about some her congressional votes, namely those involving the environment.
Nelson said he and others have reached out to Stefanik on a daily basis with emails and phone calls, and added that when Stefanik’s staff members pick up, they are always “very polite.”
“But they often say that they don’t know what Congresswoman Stefanik’s schedule is,” Nelson added. “They don’t know when she is going to be here in the 21st District, so they are unable to schedule any kind of meeting with us.
“If Representative Stefanik said ‘I can meet with you guys tomorrow,’ we would put it together,” he added. “If she said, ‘I can meet with you in two months, we would put it together, too.’”
Stefanik, 32, just began her second term representing the North Country’s 21st Congressional District after easily defeating Democrat Mike Derrick and Green Party candidate Matt Funiciello in November. It was a resounding victory, as she defeated Derrick by more than 35 percent of the vote and won all 12 counties in the district.