Members of NJ 11th for Change threw a retirement party without the guest of honor on Friday.
But they’re used to Fridays Without Frelinghuysen.
“We will definitely go on to November. We aren’t going anywhere,” Elizabeth Juviler promised, after a few dozen people had gathered in Morristown to mark one year of what has become a weekly ritual: Attempting a sitdown with Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.) to persuade him to hold his first town hall meeting since 2013.
With songs, chants, and cakes, they celebrated their grassroots movement and the 12-term Congressman’s “retirement” they hope to engineer at the polls this fall.
Candidates Mikie Sherrill and Morristown resident Mitchell Cobert, both Democrats, and Martin Hewitt, a Republican, attended the festivities. Activists who ducked into Frelinghuysen’s building to escape the rain were directed by police to a parking garage; they ate cake in the nearby Morris County Democratic headquarters.
Video by Bill Lescohier:
Frelinghuysen, chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, for years had a reputation as a political moderate. But his support of President Trump’s policies and the conservative GOP agenda has prompted opposition he never has encountered before.
Lately, the Congressman has been more critical of Trump. In a statement on Friday, Frelinghuysen joined the universal chorus condemning the President’s widely reported disparagement of Haiti and African nations, calling Thursday’s remarks “deplorable.”
In his weekly e-blast to constituents, Frelinghuysen included a link to a 2016 article about a Haitian immigrant who shed tears of joy at his West Point graduation.
On Friday, Trump denied he had used vulgarities with lawmakers while discussing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Lizzie Foley of NJ 11th for Change recounted her first visit to Frelinghuysen’s office a year ago.
“It seemed to me that he was not voting in a way that represented the best interests of his constituents,” said the Montclair resident.
After some very persistent knocking, Foley said, she and Susan Luciano and Marion Jacobson were allowed into the Congressman’s locked Morristown office.
“Once inside, we were told that Congressman Frelinghuysen didn’t really like to interact with constituents, but they’d share our concerns and encouraged us to go away. The Congressman’s seat was safe, you see, and he didn’t need to bother with people like us,” said Foley, a Harvard graduate and community organizer.
The trio returned a week later, with about 30 others. Action Together New Jersey, BlueWaveNJ, the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, Make the Road New Jersey, the Environmental Defense Fund and Morristown-based Wind of the Spirit are among groups that have made appearances.
At times, more than 100 activists have made the trek. “They are smart. They care about their country,” said Foley, who continues waiting to meet Frelinghuysen.
Video by Bill Lescohier:
“It’s been a year, and he still shows no genuine interest in hearing the concerns of his constituents. He’s told us to ‘back off.’ He told us that we’re wasting his staff’s time when we contact his office.
“He said arranging a town hall meeting was too difficult, and then refused to attend when we arranged five of them for him. He’s called us paid protesters. But he has never listened to us,” Foley said.
Juviler, also from Montclair, considers these weekly gatherings among her most gratifying and “unbelievably frustrating” endeavors.
Visiting Frelinghuysen’s staff is “like feeling a repeated dull ache,” she said.
“Their opacity and their boss’s disinterest in engaging with his own constituents can be seriously depressing.”
Correspondent Bill Lescohier contributed to this report.