GERMANTOWN–By the time Representative Antonio Delgado (D-19th) walked through the side door of the Kellner Center hall Saturday afternoon, every seat in the metal building was taken, a turnout of more than 150 constituents for the freshman congressman’s first town meeting in the county.
Following a brief welcome from town Supervisor Robert Beaury, Mr. Delgado, unfazed by an uncooperative microphone, described the government in Washington as “out of control.” After less than two months in office it’s clear to him, he said: “Our system is broken.”
The first situation he confronted as a lawmaker was the partial shutdown of the government. That left him with “an eerie feeling.” He and other lawmakers introduced bills for a bipartisan budget to end the “irresponsible” shutdown, until a veto-proof deal was arrived at in negotiations that Democrats as well as many Republicans in the House could support.
Moving briskly through the headline story, Mr. Delgado said he was disturbed by President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the border with Mexico, saying, “There’s no basis for it.” Congress spoke in the budget vote on the matter of funding a border wall, by not funding it. He called the emergency declaration “undemocratic” and if Congress votes on the declaration, Mr. Delgado will cast his vote against it.
That statement drew applause.
Despite the disruptions and discord, the congressman, who lives in Rhinebeck, said he went to Washington to work for the district. He said his first amendment to be adopted was for extending stipends for childcare services for veterans. In later remarks he explained that the bill will, for example, reimburse veterans who need care for a child before or after school when they have an a medical appointment for a service-related disability.
He also joined with other lawmakers to create a bipartisan Congressional PFAS Task Force and cosponsor a bipartisan bill that would lead to the cleanup of these hazardous industrial chemicals at sites in New York and across the country. The chemicals are known to have polluted drinking water in Rensselaer County and the City of Newburgh.
The first of more than a dozen questions from the audience was about immigration at the Mexican border, specifically about the criminalization of those who are seeking asylum and the separation of children from family members. Mr. Delgado said that the president had rescinded some of the harshest policies against migrants, although he acknowledged that greater oversight was needed. On the families already separated, he said, “We have to reunite these children… with their parents.”
A veteran said the federal Veterans Administration had taken away his benefits after multiple surgeries and now he could not reach an actual person at the agency, and was shunted to an automated phone system.
It “blows my mind,” the congressman said of the way he said veterans are unfairly treated when they need help. He said what’s needed is “more investment in the V.A.”
That also drew applause.
But while the crowd and the questions were generally supportive of Mr. Delgado’s positions on the issues, there were moments of political tension, most notably on the proposal by another first-term member of Congress from New York, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-14th) for a Green New Deal, a proposal for a national “mobilization” to move the country to renewal and non-polluting energy as a means of combating climate change.
Asked by one questioner where he stood on the proposal, Mr. Delgado said he had talked about the these issues in his campaign but that with the Green New Deal, he was “not clear what it actually is.”
“I am for green jobs,” he said. “I will support concrete, practical steps toward a bold vision.”
Pressed on the issue, Mr. Delgado said, “I’m not after the headline…. I’m working for bold change that will work now, in the short term.”
The subject changed briefly with the next questioner, who sought help for anti-Semitic bullying in an Ulster County public school. The congressman said he was the first African American to represent Upstate New York. The population of the 19th District is 90% white and the district is the “third most rural district” in the House of Representatives. He said his wife is African American and Jewish and they are raising their twin sons as Jewish.
“I will do anything in my power to speak out against the hate,” he said.
The next speaker returned to the Green New Deal, saying at one point, “All of us in this room believe in the green deal.”
“No we don’t!” shouted a man seated deep in the audience. Many in the crowd clapped for him.
Rep. Delgado repeated his concerns about the proposal. “I’m focusing on the things I can vote for,” he said. At that a woman stood up and said she had a list of such things, starting with a congressional investigation of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which she said is approving pipelines the U.S. does not need.
“I like your list,” said the congressman.
There were also questions on:
• The federal deficit: the congressman says it’s a problem that’s been made much worse by last year’s tax cut. He said Congress should close corporate tax loopholes, making the income tax more progressive and ending tax disparities that force low-wage workers to pay higher tax rates than hedge fund operators. “We should be focusing on the big boys,” Mr. Delgado said
• Law enforcement: What can be done to prevent the deaths of so many young black men killed in encounters with police. Racial bias training needs to be incorporated in law enforcement, the congressman said
• Farming: A local farmer said the administration’s tariffs on milk had hurt dairy farmers. Mr. Delgado, who sits on the Agriculture Committee and well as the committees on Infrastructure and Small Business, said if the U.S. is going to impose tariffs, we had “better figure out how to do it with our allies.”
Another questioner asked where Mr. Delgado stood on rights for farm workers. The congressman said, “We should ensure basic protections for farm workers”
• Healthcare: A woman who said she had not voted for Mr. Delgado, asked about Medicare for All. He said it is one of his priorities to allow the Medicare program to negotiate the price of prescription drugs with big drug companies.
He also said that Medicare should be allowed to compete for business in the private market, because that would help drive down costs.
Toward the end of the program the congressman recognized three local Boy Scouts at the front of the crowd. Their attendance was helping them earn merit badges. “You give me a lot of hope,” he said. “I see the future.”