The last time U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy held a “Congress On Your Corner” event in Simsbury, dozens of Tea Party Patriots showed up and drowned out the Congressman with chants such as “No National Health Care!” The mood was tense and police were called.
Thursday’s “Congress On Your Corner” at Fitzgerald’s in Simsbury was much more subdued in the wake of the Arizona shooting, which left six dead and U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and more than a dozen others wounded.
“I’ve been holding ‘Congress On Your Corner’ events for the last four years and I think it’s important to show people that we can still have an open and civil dialogue in this country,” Murphy said. “It’s cold out here today, but worthwhile because it’s important the events in Arizona not dissuade public officials or the public from having a public dialogue.”
Tom Deeds, who teaches at the Ethel Walker School, said he came down to the store for a gallon of milk and saw Murphy on the sidewalk and thought he’d stop to say hello and express some concerns.
“I’m concerned about civil liberties and the erosion of those,” Deeds said.
He said he was happy to see Murphy outside the store Thursday talking with constituents.
“Public service takes courage in this country with guns in every pocket. I didn’t bring any guns,“ Deeds said as he pulled his hands out of his pocket and looked over at the lone police officer keeping a watchful eye on the event.
Deeds said at the moment the tenor of the debate has changed, but he’s worried about whether the events in Arizona will have a lasting effect on the country.
Deeds wasn’t the only constituent who stopped to speak with Murphy. Others, including a local board of education member, wanted to know about federal education funding. And Simsbury First Selectwoman Mary Glassman stopped by too to offer her support.
The issue of national health care reform, which caused a bulk of his constituents to shout him down at the event in August 2009, didn’t come up.
“This is a very different feel than the event down the street,” Murphy said. “I want to show that we can continue to have open and civil conversations about the direction of our country and no madman halfway across the country is going to stop us from continuing to talk.”
Murphy said he’s never felt his safety was threatened and he doesn’t feel that today.
Glassman said she asked the police chief if he could send an officer by the event Thursday to monitor how things were going. She said the officer’s presence is not costing the town any additional money.
Glassman denied she was concerned about the event outside Fitzgerald’s Thursday. But she added that “it’s a new reality when a public servant involved in controversial votes is out there, it’s a concern for safety.”
“I think that it’s really significant that he’s here tonight,” Glassman said. “I think people are grieving about what happened in Tucson and I think everybody who stopped tonight wanted to know how she was doing.”
Murphy had a book of condolences for Giffords on the table outside of the store, which people were signing. Murphy’s staff said it will be sent to her once it’s completed.
“It’s no coincidence that Representative Giffords and I both call our supermarket events ‘Congress On Your Corner’,” Murphy said. “Our offices were next to each other our freshman year. We talked all the time about the importance of getting back to our districts and keeping in touch with our constituents. I know how much Gabby treasured her ‘Congress On Your Corner‘ events and I know she wouldn‘t want us to stop ours.”