UPDATED 10:12 p.m.: This story has been updated with a response from U.S. Representatives Leonard Lance’s office.
Constituents of U.S. Congressman Leonard Lance (NJ-07) are frustrated that they have been unable to successfully RSVP to two recently scheduled town halls.
Lance scheduled his 41st in-person town hall meeting for Wednesday, February 22 beginning at 7:00 p.m. at Raritan Valley Community College in Branchburg.
Due to strong demand a second town hall date was added on Saturday, February 25 from 9:00 to 10:30 a.m. also at Raritan Valley Community College in Branchburg. Both dates are open only to NJ-7 residents upon RSVP, which is now closed.
Many constituents in the district have experienced unusual problems trying to confirm their seat at the town halls, Lance’s first since July 2016.
The 7th district includes towns in Hunterdon, Morris, Somerset, Union and Warren counties and one municipality in Essex — Millburn.
“Essentially — we were asked to RSVP for a seat at the event. Then the RSVP was closed because they said they had ‘reached capacity.’ No confirmation emails were sent. Then, when people heard the reservations were closed, they wanted to be sure they had a spot. Finally, word was that everyone who RSVPed would get an email with instructions,” wrote Margaret Illis, resident of Berkeley Heights and one of the leaders of the group New Jersey 7 Forward, in an email.
Many people who RSVPed as soon as the town hall was announced have received no email confirmation to date, while some received multiple emails at 4 a.m. Thursday morning.
“The room he booked holds 984 people. Since he is doing it twice, and overflow room (we think it holds about 200). If they are being honest, they took RSVPs from 2,200 people when they only had seats for 984,” wrote Illis.
According to Lance spokesman John Byers, “The Congressman wanted a second town hall added to accommodate as many people as possible. All those who RSVPed were sent an email with the chance to pick from one of the two events and then a choice of ticketing for the auditorium or an overflow room. The response was strong and we want to make sure constituents get in and that constituents get to ask questions. The ticket system will make sure that as many as possible are accommodated through the two town halls and that seats in the theater are not taken by out-of-staters.”
Local activists have expressed concern this may be a tactic to fill the seats with ardent supporters of the current administration’s tactics.
Byers denies this claim, “It is a complete falsehood that anyone was given preferential ticketing. Any person who has attended any of Congressman Lance’s 40 in-person town halls or his 45 telephone town halls knows he takes questions from Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike.”
Byers added that, as of Friday evening, there were still auditorium seats available for the town hall scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 25.
When asked if the Congressman is opening to adding future town halls to accommodate those unable to get tickets for Wednesday or Saturday, Byers stated that, schedule permitting, the Congressman will continue to be as accessible as possible to constituents. However, he noted that, as in past new administrations, Congress expects the spring to be an aggressive legislative period; meaning the Congressman will be required in Washington to vote.
During the town hall meeting, Lance is expected to discuss issues facing Congress. He will take questions and share his views on topics such as the economy, tax reform, border security, international affairs and repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.
Additionally, members of Lance’s staff will be available to assist residents who are experiencing difficulties with federal agencies such as the IRS, Social Security Administration, Veterans Affairs, the State Department or any other federal agency.