The term “Fridays with Frelinghuysen” really is not the type of thing that just rolls off the tongue. “Rallying against Rodney” probably would sound a little better.
No matter. The weekly “Fridays with Frelinghuysen” protests instigated by the group, “N.J. 11th For Change,” outside the congressman’s Morristown office have now gone on for precisely one year. And as today’s demonstration ended, the 75 or so protesters headed to Morris County Democratic headquarters to commemorate the occasion with a cake. The self-congratulations were understandable.
Protests and demonstrations are normal political fare. Still, given the county’s traditions and makeup, the weekly gatherings are remarkable.
Most know Frelinghuysen’s story. His family was here long before the Revolution and helped build the country. He’s represented the 11th District in the House since 1995, mostly with only token opposition.
But now that he has risen to chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Frelinghuysen whether he likes it or not is whetted to President Donald Trump, a man with a totally different temperament.
Frelinghuysen, long accustomed to a comfortable ride, is not handling things well at all. Rather than engaging his detractors, he’s been ignoring them for a year now.
It’s instructive to keep in mind that the genesis of the protests was Frelinghuysen’s refusal to hold a town hall meeting, or to speak one-to-one to constituents.
Michael Evangelista of Nutley said he routinely attends the rallies, because he has tried unsuccessfully over the years to see the congressman to discuss gun issues.
As is their wont, the group chanted, “This is what democracy looks like,” and held signs, one of which read, “Repeal, Replace Rodney.”
Most of the time, the demonstration takes place on the street and sidewalk outside the Schuyler Place office building where the congressman’s district office is. But in deference to today’s heavy rains, the gathering was held insider the building’s parking garage.
Nancy Wright of Mendham said she’s missed only one gathering dating back to last January.
She said she is “absolutely” and “totally frustrated” with Frelinghuysen’s recent actions.
It is tempting to say that Frelinghuysen’s role as Appropriations Committee chair is going to help his reelection. Perhaps.
For one thing, average voters do not normally put as much stock in such positions as political insiders do.
Then you have Wright’s view.
“What good is he as chairman?” she asked, noting that there is no federal money for a rail tunnel under the Hudson River and that state residents are seeing deductions for state and local property taxes limited under federal tax reform. Frelinghuysen opposed the tax bill, but Wright’s point is that he was unable to change it, his chairmanship notwithstanding.
One of those in attendance today was Mikie Sherrill, the perceived Democratic frontrunner to challenge Frelinghuysen this fall.
Sherrill, a former Navy pilot, stretched a bit for a military term in complimenting the demonstrators for “holding the line.” And she expressed amazement that the protests have been ongoing for a year straight.
Sherilll said that if Democrats are going to take control of the House, they are going to have to win in districts like the 11th. That’s not a bad point. If Democrats can win in what has been a solid GOP bastion for years, it bodes well for their chances elsewhere in the country. Political analysts in Washington say that Frelinghuysen may be vulnerable.
That can be, but it’s still hard to see Frelinghuysen as anything but a favorite, albeit a slight one.
The curious, if not truly mind-boggling thing here, has been the congressman’s refusal to diffuse the situation. He can do that by holding a town hall meeting, which is something many of his Republican colleagues have done, even when they knew some in the crowd would be hostile.
Here’s an even better idea. How about showing up one day to actually engage the protesters in an open and free-wheeling conversation?
Why would that be so difficult for a man who has been in public life for more than 30 years?
And guess what? Frelinghuysen should have a chance to do just that next Friday.
Or perhaps, the Friday after that, or the Friday after that. You get the idea.