Castor drowned out at Town Hall meeting

08/07/09 Mitch E. Perry
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A Town Hall meeting set up by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) last night in Ybor City on health care devolved into a shouting match free for all, drowning out much of an address given by Congresswoman Kathy Castor.

Like they have in the week since the House broke for their August recess, critics of health care reform were ready to ask tough questions of their member of Congress Thursday night.

However, it was a matter of supply and demand. An estimated 500 people or so came to attend the meeting, but the site of the event, the Hillsborough County Children’s Board office, held enough room for only about 220 people.

Approximately 50 or so people were allowed in early, many friends of the SEIU or of the Democratic Party, which did little to assuage the building anger amongst those waiting in the warm hallway for the meeting to begin.

But if people thought they would get a chance to ask Congresswoman Castor a question, they would quickly learn that that a Q&A session was slated to be only a part of the 2 hour agenda, which was scheduled to begin with testimonials in support of health care reform.

Although there have been reports of violence, in fact the only incident occurred when the doors were being shut, and some intense pushing and shoving occurred in a hallway. Footage of that was seen on You-Tube and cable news on Friday.

Representative Castor was shouted down by a few in the audience almost immediately upon beginning her speech, leading her to stop as critics asked if she had read one version of the bill passed in a House Committee.

After a few moments, the CEO of the Children’s Board, Dr. Luanne Panacek, took the microphone from Castor, and admonished the crowd that if they didn’t settle down, the forum would cease immediately.

Although a spokesperson for the Tampa Police Department said that the department sent a squad of 10 to 15 officers, there was only 1 officer inside the meeting itself, and those standing outside the room said they saw only a few others. Others said there were officers in plain clothes.

After Castor finished speaking, she sat and listened for others on the agenda for a short time, but then she and her entourage left the building, angering many in the audience who came prepared to ask her questions.

After Castor departed, so did much of the tension in the room. But though dozens followed her outside, others stood inside, and were then allowed to come up to the front of the room to make comments or ask questions. With Castor gone, there was really nobody around to respond, although the Florida Consumer Action Network’s Bill Newton gamely tried.

After reports surfaced earlier this week of Democratic Town Hall Meetings being taken over by conservatives, organized unions this week said they would begin to directly engage protestors. In a memo issued on Thursday, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney laid out a directive to have their members speak up for health care reform.

Norwood Orrick is a member of the IBEW 824, and is a Verizon telephone worker. He began directly engaging with critics who were shouting out at Representative Castor, and at one time stood directly in the line of sight of one protestor.

Congresswoman Castor says she will participate in a town hall meeting by telephone next week, something other Democrats say they’ll be doing this month as well.

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