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Eruptions at Sen Specter Town-Hall Company

Eruptions at Sen. Specter’s Town-Hall

Senator Arlen Specter and his staff tried mightily to control a town hall meeting this morning but he was repeatedly booed and heckled by a majority of the 250 people inside a large hall here at the Harrisburg Area Community College. At least 700 more were kept outside, police said.

Inside, fury erupted over a range of topics, from health care to immigration, government spending and the cap-and-trade program to control pollution. Many also expressed broad if unspecified disdain for the government and for President Obama.

“Where do you see an honest man in politics?” one man asked Mr. Specter. “Tell Obama to represent us as an American and if not, there’s other countries!”

Senator Specter responded, “President Obama knows he’s an American,” when the crowd shouted back, “No!”

In one angry confrontation, Craig Anthony Miller, 59, standing two feet from the Senator, shouted into his face, “You are trampling on our Constitution!” A half-dozen security people quickly swarmed in on Mr. Miller but refrained from touching him as Mr. Specter, raising his voice, said sternly, “Wait a minute! Wait a minute!” He said the man had the right to leave.

Mr. Miller, shaking, stood his ground. He said he was furious that the Senator’s staff had limited the questioning by handing out cards to the first 30 people who wanted to ask questions. “I got news for you,” Mr. Miller shouted. “You and your cronies in the government do this kind of stuff all the time,” at which point the audience burst into loud applause. “One day, God is going to stand before you and he’s going to judge you!”

As the man left the hall, Mr. Specter said, “We’ve just had a demonstration of democracy.” He said later in an interview that he did not want the man ejected because that “would have become the story.”

Mr. Specter sought to control the meeting, having had a rough experience a week ago Sunday when his town hall meeting in Philadelphia was disrupted by shouting crowds. This time, he allotted 90 minutes for 30 questions. His staff handed out cards to the first 30 people who had filed into the room. They had been lining up since 6:30 in the morning for a meeting that started at 9:30.

The overwhelming majority in line and in the hall seemed opposed to any overhaul of the health care system; those in favor were quiet and hard to find. The questioners repeatedly complained that they had been called a mob.

Rather than flinch at the shouting, as he appeared to do in the Philadelphia meeting, Mr. Specter stood close to each person who asked a question and stood silently while they shouted at him. He and his staff controlled the microphones, a deliberate strategy to try to prevent the event from getting out of hand.

The questioners did not hide their anger, and they egged each other on, but after a half hour or so, the meeting found a calmer rhythm. Afterward, Mr. Specter declared it a success.

He told reporters that the crowd was “more sedate” than one in Philadelphia. He said he thought some of the objectors were genuine grassroots and some were organized, egged on by talk radio. He also noted that his office had sent out mailers notifying them of the event.

Still, he said these events had showed him that “there’s more anger in America today than at any time than I can remember.” He blamed the anger largely on the ailing economy and high unemployment.

But many of the attendees blamed their anger on the government and what they described as its increasingly socialist slant.

“This is the Soviet Union, this is Maoist China,” one man yelled to him. “The people in this room want their country back.”

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Eruptions at Sen Specter Town-Hall Company
Eruptions at Sen Specter Town-Hall Company

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