GLENS FALLS — People who have held political demonstrations downtown suggested at Tuesday night's Common Council meeting that regulations the council has proposed go too far, especially in requiring 10 days' notice.
Florence "Fe" Sherman, co-founder of a pro-Trump group, American Patriots Express, pointed out that groups opposing Trump administration policies have been staging protests for years.
“We’re brand new. We’re three months old and now, all of a sudden, you want to inflict all these rules,” she said.
“We’re trying to keep the peace. That’s all,” said Fourth Ward Councilman Scott Endieveri.
Sherman blamed negative media coverage that has portrayed the group as violent.
Third Ward Councilwoman Diana Palmer said city officials are trying to get a handle on the situation.
“We have heard comments from people on either side that were both feeling that they wanted more protection. Our goal is not to impose anything on one group. It would be the same for either group, regardless of their content,” she said.
Sherman was not convinced, saying the issue is only coming up now that there are a large group of conservatives, Republicans, independents and even some Democrats standing up for President Donald Trump.
“It appears now that you guys are trying to silence us,” she said.
She said nobody has gotten hurt at one of their rallies.
“No one has and hopefully no one ever will,” said Mayor Dan Hall.
Dave Archambault, of the pro-Trump group North Country Deplorables, also said the group has been mischaracterized. He said the most recent protest in Centennial Circle consisted of about 15 people.
He said nobody was violent. A person driving through the circle swore at them and made a U-turn to get out of his car and confront the group, before two police officers moved him along.
Another person smashed into a car when the driver stopped to confront people in the circle.
Archibald said he does not know how the rumor started that people would be bringing unloaded weapons to the event. City officials became concerned about that possibility and alerted the media.
The group brought Nerf guns as a joke.
Still, Councilman Jim Campinell took issue with a member of the group, Mike Kibling, pointing his Nerf gun at a Post-Star reporter.
“It looks like some kind of a weapon. He held it up,” he said.
Archibald said that when Kibling said they are coming after the media, they did not mean it as a threat against a reporter, they meant they were going to expose media bias.
Michael Berkowitz, a member of American Patriots Express, said he believes it is a violation of the First Amendment for the city to tell them where they can protest.
He said the regulations seemed to mirror requests by what he called the Democratic Socialists.
Hall said the law was modeled after a similar one in Saratoga Springs.
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Hall also wanted to clarify an aspect of the proposed law, saying that people can carry banners. They just cannot put banners on private property.
Glens Falls resident Portia Studenroth said she felt some of the regulations went a little too far, but the police have done a great job managing the protests so far.
Studenroth was among the speakers who brought up the notice requirement.
“The way that news moves so quickly these days, 10 days is a little bit too long. It’s way too long,” she said.
Studenroth said the protests have been a nuisance downtown, and she has been insulted, but people have First Amendment rights of free expression.
“I want to protect their free speech, which in turn protects all of our free speech,” she said.
Andrea Mitchell of Fort Ann also objected to the 10-day requirement. She wants to be careful about restrictions on noise, because it is important for the leader of a protest to have amplification, such as a very loud bullhorn, to keep control of a gathering.
She also did not want the ban on face coverings.
“To start to restrict what people can and cannot wear, it’s unsettling to me,” she said.
Joe Wagner said he is in favor of the regulations.
“I don’t like government overreach, but at this point somebody is going to get hurt,” he said.
“If you want (to have) a demonstration, grow up and do it politely and don’t have a message of hate,” he added. “The restaurants are not going to make any money, you’re going to lose jobs and this whole place is going to be known as a hot spot.”
Wagner, who described himself as a transplant to Glens Falls, said he does not want to happen here what happened to a community in Florida. About $20 million had been invested in that community’s downtown. After President George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq in 2003, both pro- and anti-war groups showed up for two years.
“They killed downtown. It went dark,” he said.
Third Ward Supervisor Claudia Braymer said a three-day notice should be sufficient, and it's reasonable to put some parameters on demonstrations in the city. She would also like to see firearms prohibited at these type of political gatherings.
“Firearms are weapons. They are to be taken seriously and with respect and they should not be waved around.”
Brigit Culligan said she supports the regulations, because the situation is getting out of hand.
“I really, truly believe it is causing a lot of turmoil in our city,” she said. “And I don’t really appreciate people not from our city coming in and speaking about what should be done in our city. They’re not paying our taxes. They’re not supporting our businesses and they’re not raising their family here.”
She said the protests are presenting a bad image.
“If I walk downtown and people are shouting, then that’s not a good representation of how you should be in our city,” she said.
The Common Council members listened but did not discuss the issue among themselves. The council voted to set a public hearing for Oct. 22 at 7:20 p.m. Hall said they would consider some tweaks to the law.