by Todd Muller
“Devastated” was the most used word at the Town Hall meeting held by United States Representative Gregory Meeks at the Rockaway Peninsula YMCA on Monday night, March 13. In reaction to the actions of the Trump Administration, folks from Rockaway Park, Broad Channel, Far Rockaway, South Ozone Park, and Jamaica shared their fears that “devastated” would soon describe their whole lives: their health, their wealth, their shelter, their loved ones, the very ground on which they stand.
While this kind of dire language can be typical at Town Halls, some of which have been pandemonium lately, even Representative Meeks, who did what he could to allay his constituents’ fear and anxiety, seemed daunted.
“It’s rough,” he testified in his opening remarks.
The meeting began at 7:15, after a delay so that chairs could be provided for the crowd, which grew to approximately 100. Neither the close quarters, nor the sounds of bouncing weights from the gym above and aerobics jams from the room next door, distracted attendees from the critical issues at hand.
The first issue Rep. Meeks addressed was the status of what the Trump Administration/Congressional Republican agenda would do to health care. He expressed concerns that a possible replacement of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) with the American Health Care Act (“Trumpcare”) would lead to millions losing their health insurance. A number of attendees later brought up concerns about the access to adequate healthcare facilities on the Peninsula, which was in need of improvement before the Trump Administration took office. More than one attendee worried aloud about having to leave the peninsula more and more for vital services.
The other big issue was climate change on the Peninsula, and what can be done about it in the current political climate. Topics related to resiliency and restoration, such as FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program and 428 Project were discussed. Michael Shaikh, from Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency noted that under the 428 Project, a surplus from boardwalk repairs of $120 million is targeted for 7 projects in the district. Due to scheduling problems, the Army Corps of Engineers was not represented at the meeting.
Representative Meeks also discussed The Trump Administration’s travel ban Executive Orders, detailing how people could respond to ensure that their rights were maintained in the light of the recent increase in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency activity. He also addressed concerns about what will happen to public housing funds. Constituents were encouraged numerous times to stop by the Congressman’s district offices to address issues in more depth, some making appointments with staff members present.
Also speaking at the meeting were representatives of Assembly Member Stacey Pheffer Amato and Council Member Donovan Richards.
In such a climate of uncertainty and downright fear, it was almost reassuring, right before Representative Meeks ended the Town Hall around 9:15 (with a promise of more to come), to hear a complaint about potholes.