One year ago, dozens of activists gathered in chilly rain outside the Morristown office of then-Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.). for their weekly “Friday without Frelinghuysen,” a vigil that for over a year had pressed unsuccessfully for a town hall meeting with the 12-term congressman.
On Monday, dozens were welcomed into the warm, dry Parsippany office of his successor, rookie Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill, for her first “Monday with Mikie.”
“I had promised one of first things I would do is have a Monday with Mikie… I want to make sure I’m as accessible as possible,” said Sherrill, whose first town hall meeting is set for next Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019, at 7 pm in the Hanover Community Center.
The Democrat from Montclair also pledged to visit libraries and municipal buildings across the 11th District to meet with constituents on a regular basis.
Video: Mikie Sherrill on the border wall:
Her district office at 8 Wood Hollow Road–near several highways, with ample parking and two nearby bus routes–is a blank slate. Walls are bare so far, and Sherrill’s district representatives, Kellie Doucette and Jill Hirsch, don’t even have official phone numbers or email addresses yet.
But none of that mattered to well wishers, many of whom spent many Fridays in the cold waiting for a Monday like this.
“It’s nice to have a representative who will spend time with constituents and listen to us,” said Jefferson resident Christine Clarke, who brought son James, 3, and daughter Sarah, 5, as she often did to Fridays without Frelinghuysen as a member of the activist group NJ 11th for Change.
“This is amazing,” said Debbie Harris of Cedar Knolls. “I feel like all the times we went to Rodney Frelinghuysen’s office we weren’t welcomed. We were looked at with contempt. They didn’t care what our issues were. We were just bothering them.”
Sherrill said her first priority is working to end the partial government shutdown forced by President Trump’s demand for Congressional funding of a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. She has opted to stop taking her paycheck as long as federal workers go unpaid.
When the shutdown is resolved, she plans to press hard for the Gateway Tunnel project, and work with New Jersey’s delegation to reverse the federal cap on state and local tax deductions, she said.
Video: Mikie Sherrill welcomes constituents to her new Parsippany office:
Asked about Trump’s wall, Sherrill said those discussions must wait until the government is reopened.
But she acknowledged Americans’ concerns about border security, and suggested there are other ways to achieve it, “with the very best bang for your buck.”
“I have some real concerns that a lot of our drug traffickers go under the walls that we already have. We need sensors, we need towers, we need more border security agents,” Sherrill told Morristown Green.
“We have a lot of drugs that come in through our ports of entry, and so something that’s really concerning me right now is the fact that our TSA agents aren’t being paid. We have got to make sure we’re paying people, getting people paychecks, and then we can talk about the best move forward on border security.”
Sherrill also said she congratulated Rep. Nancy Pelosi, whose re-election as House Speaker she opposed.
“I said, ‘Look, I won’t be able to support you because this is a commitment I made to the district that I feel is very important. But I do want to be able to continue to work hard on the issues that are important in New Jersey, and so I’ll be open to meeting on the issues that we care very much about, and I’d love to talk to you about them,'” Sherrill recounted.
Pelosi responded: “You know, I wish you would reconsider. But thank you for talking to me about this,'” according to Sherrill.
With giddy enthusiasm–the former Navy helicopter pilot and federal prosecutor likened herself to a freshly minted kindergartner–she spoke of co-sponsoring her first bill (calling for universal background checks), casting one of her first votes (to re-open the government) and making her first speech in Congress (broadcast on C-SPAN).
Video: Show and Tell in Congress:
Sherrill also expressed excitement about participating in the 98-member New Democrat Coalition, as a “frontline” member from a purple district. Infrastructure, healthcare and the future of work are issues she anticipates tackling.
“This could be good platform for using what we’ve learned in New Jersey about creating broad coalitions,” she said.
Rick Bye, a Morris Township resident who volunteered on Sherrill’s campaign, said he felt she was a long shot–until Frelinghuysen bowed out and the more conservative Jay Webber emerged as the GOP candidate last year. He was impressed by what he observed on the campaign trail.
“From Mikie on down, her whole campaign staff was so wonderful, and treated the volunteers so well, that it reflected well on her,” Bye said. “I always felt good after talking to her, and hearing her talk.”
Monday’s crowd of about 100 people included Morris County Democratic Chairman Chip Robinson, Parsippany Mayor Michael Soriano and Morristown First Lady Mary Dougherty, a realtor who helped Sherrill find the Parsippany office space.
Former Parsippany Mayor Mimi Letts also lined up to shake Sherrill’s hand–and to put the Congresswoman’s accessibility pledge to the test.
“I’m a member of the local Kiwanis,” Letts said. “We always invited our Representatives to speak to us. Mr. Frelinghuysen came, most of the time. So I figured, let’s get our invitation out.”