Big crowd packs Frelinghuysen’s Morristown office, presses for town hall meeting

Members of NJ 11th for Change wave in unison outside the Morristown office of Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, Jan. 27, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Members of NJ 11th for Change wave in unison outside the Morristown office of Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, Jan. 27, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Demonstrators raise hands in unity outside Morristown office of Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, Jan. 27, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier.
Demonstrators raise hands in unity outside Morristown office of Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, Jan. 27, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier.

By Kevin Coughlin

More than 100 people from the grassroots group NJ 11th for Change crowded outside the Morristown office of Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.) on Friday, in what they promised will be a weekly event until the Congressman schedules a town hall meeting.

Sisters Becky and Debra Caplan of NJ 11th for Change. Becky, 29, is a gymnastics coach; Debra, 32, is a theater professor. Both live in Montclair. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 27, 2017.
Sisters Becky and Debra Caplan of NJ 11th for Change. Becky, 29, is a gymnastics coach; Debra, 32, is a theater professor. Both live in Montclair. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 27, 2017.

“We have some really urgent questions. People are concerned. These are difficult times, and I think we believe that we should have the right to speak to our Congressman,” said Debra Caplan, a Montclair mom who organized the gathering.

“How can our Congressman represent us if he refuses to meet with us?”

Frelinghuysen, who breezed to his 12th term in November, was not at his Morristown office.

Staff member Anthony Pryer thanked the group for its courteous demeanor — protesters waved instead of shouting or cheering, and gave a chocolate bar to the staff–and said his boss “absolutely” was aware of their visits.

“I love the fact that you guys come in because you’re getting your voices heard. You’re doing the right thing. As long as you guys keep up this attitude we’ll have a great correspondence and relationship. I look forward to seeing you every time you guys come in,” Pryer told the group.

On Thursday about a dozen members had traveled to Philadelphia, where they hoped to encounter Frelinghuysen at a retreat for Republican lawmakers. They did not succeed. 

So far, NJ 11th for Change has collected 1,300 signatures on a petition requesting a meeting with the congressman, Caplan said.

Slideshow photos by Bill Lescohier and Kevin Coughlin

Members of NJ 11th for Change wave in unison outside the Morristown office of Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, Jan. 27, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Anthony Pryer of Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen's staff addresses demonstrators, Jan. 27, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Elsa Sjunneson-Henry of Morristown has serious medical conditions and is grateful for Obamacare. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 27, 2017
Becky and her son John demonstrate outside Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen's Morristown office, Jan. 27, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Debra Caplan of NJ 11th for Change speaks outside Morristown office of Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, Jan. 27, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
'TRYING TO MEET WITH RODNEY IS LIKE PLAYING TENNIS WITH ONE PERSON': Morristown resident Linda Carrington, Jan. 27, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Sisters Becky and Debra Caplan of NJ 11th for Change. Becky, 29, is a gymnastics coach; Debra, 32, is a theater professor. Both live in Montclair. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 27, 2017.
Ashley Barnes,left, and Debra Caplan present messages for Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, Jan. 27, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Susan Luciano of Mendham speaks in favor of Obamacare, Jan. 27, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Callie Rae McCarthy of NJ 11th for Change, Jan. 27, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier.
Questions from NJ 11th for Change, Jan. 27, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier
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Members of the group expressed concerns on Friday about Republicans’ vote this week to expand the anti-abortion Hyde Amendment. Frelinghuysen, who was Pro-Choice in the past and donated to Planned Parenthood, voted with the GOP majority for the amendment.

The group also questioned whether Frelinghuysen, the new chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, would support funding the Trump administration’s plan to build a wall on the Mexican border.

Others voiced fears about Republican plans to scrap the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

“I know friends who will die if they don’t have insurance,” said Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, 31, of Morristown. 

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry of Morristown has serious medical conditions and is grateful for Obamacare. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 27, 2017
Elsa Sjunneson-Henry of Morristown has serious medical conditions and is grateful for Obamacare. Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Jan. 27, 2017

Born with a congenital condition affecting her vision, hearing and cardiac health, Sjunneson-Henry said she would be in serious financial trouble without Obamacare and its requirement that insurers cover pre-existing conditions.

A local woman named Becky, who has boys aged 5 and 2, said she and her husband also fear losing Obamacare. It has allowed her to pursue an advanced degree, and enabled her husband to start his own business, she said.

“It’s incredible in this country how [the high cost of health] insurance can bring total upheaval for a family,” said Becky, who declined to give her full name.

Earlier this month, the group delivered paper bags with lumps of coal to Frelinghuysen, to symbolize the GOP’s lack of an alternative to Obamacare.

Caplan, 32, a professor of Yiddish theater at Baruch College in New York, said she never envisioned herself as a political organizer.

“The election galvanized me,” said Caplan, who has children aged 4 and 6.  “I wanted to find out what was happening locally.”

She called Frelinghuysen’s office a couple days after the election, she said, and was assured it would be easy to speak with him.

“They never called back. I kept calling,” she said. “I want my voice to be heard.”

Demonstrators gather outside Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen's Morristown office, Jan. 27, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier.
Demonstrators gather outside Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s Morristown office, Jan. 27, 2017. Photo by Bill Lescohier.
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13 COMMENTS

  1. Under Obamacare, citizens are legally mandated to purchase health insurance. Therefore, the previously under-insured can now visit their primary care physician and receive personalized and robust healthcare. Does this not make federal funding to charitable medical organizations (whether focused on male or female healthcare issues) somewhat redundant?

  2. Many of us trusted Frelinghuysen. Among other things, he was a long time supporter of Planned Parenthood because he knew first hand, the important work they did and the lives they saved in his own district. He lives here and has been part of the community. Then,, he began to ignore the truth that his party was changing. His purpose changed from serving those he represented, to proving his loyalty to a party that no longer reflected their values. After many years, he no longer has my support.

  3. Where were all of these demonstrators in the months leading up to Nov 8? Perhaps if they had exercised their voting rights as strenuously as they are currently exercising their first amendment rights the results could have been different.

  4. Clarification to post in regard to the 11th District Essex County composition:

    Essex County:

    Bloomfield (part; also 10th), Caldwell, Cedar Grove, Essex Fells, Fairfield, Livingston, Montclair (part; also 10th]), North Caldwell, Nutley, Roseland, Verona, West Caldwell, West Orange (part; also 10th)

  5. Has any one of the protesters offered their time on Frelinghuysen’s many town meetings by phone? I’d estimate he has three, maybe four or more per year (at least this past decade) that are meant for public input.

  6. Why does everyone think they need their voices heard? When Obama was in office and giving all the handouts that the Democrats wanted you all kept your mouths shut. But now that you might have to give up your advanced degrees(that you probably won’t use) and all other handouts because the Obama agenda will hopefully soon be history you want to be heard. Why is that Demon-strating-crats? You will have to find real jobs and actually work if you want insurance. Hopefully Trump builds this wall and cleans up the streets of Morristown. Great job Congressmen! Keep up the good work. Keep supporting Trump and you have my vote again.

  7. Please stop refering to it as Obamacare. It is the Affordable Care Act. Part of the reason we are where we are is because the previous administration & the media did not understand the negatives connotation of the term Obamacare vs the more positive connotation of the term Affordable Care Act

  8. These women from Montclair don’t even live in the 11th district, why aren’t they knocking on their own congressmans door?

  9. “How can our Congressman represent us if he refuses to meet with us?”
    Next week there will be more of us.

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