Josh Welle, the Democrat running against Congressman Chris Smith in the 4th congressional district, held a campaign event, dubbed a town hall meeting, in Jackson on Thursday night that appeared to be designed to capture footage for television commercials, rather than to hear from the people of Jackson, as advertised.
Rather than the free wheeling give and take of town hall meetings New Jersey residents are accustomed to, like those of former Governor Chris Christie, and the ObamaCare town halls held by Congressman Frank Pallone and Rush Holt in 2010, Welle’s event featured pre-screened questions read by a moderator. The person who submitted the question was instructed to stand (for the video cameras) while Welle delivered prepared answers.
Room dividers cut the meeting hall in half which created the illusion of a full house. There were roughly 100 attendees in the room that could hold over 300. Most in attendance appeared to be supporters that Welle already knew. Few were from Jackson. The candidate thanked one questioner for coming from Little Silver and another from Belmar. The final question came from a Brick resident (3rd congressional district.) Welle handled 8 pre-screened questions, some with the assistance of flash cards handed to him by the moderator after she read the question.
Robyn Gedrich, a millennial Democrat politician from Brick, which is in the 3rd congressional district, introduced the candidate and his wife, Angela. Gedrich gained national exposure in 2016 when she was suspended from the hook up app, Tinder, for using the platform to recruit Bernie Sanders volunteers instead of casual sex partners.
The hour long performance, which started thirty minutes late, started with the candidate delivering a 23 minute stump speech heavy with attacks on Smith’s character and lies about Smith’s record, followed by 30 minutes of answering pre-screened questions that were read by a moderator who asked the person who submitted the question to stand.
Towards the end of Welle’s answer to the first question, the candidate said “no one is above the law,” referring to President Trump and the Mueller investigation. This prompted to one of the few Smith supporters on attendance to shout out, “what about Hillary Clinton?” Welle awkwardly attempted to continue with his prepared answer until the moderator stepped in and quieted the crowd with the next question.
There were no further interruptions to the scripted event. However, a member of the Anti-Christian, Anti-Cop hate group, District 4 Coalition for Change, a woman from Tinton Falls, approached Butch Budai of Pt. Pleasant Beach, the man who shouted the question about Hillary Clinton being above the law, and offered to have Welle answer his questions one on one. Budai said he wanted to ask Welle about his position on Sanctuary Cities and New Jersey being a Sanctuary State. Welle declined to answer on camera and left the hall, leaving his wife behind, when he saw me setting up my camera to record the exchange.
Joe Sullivan, a member of the Jackson zoning board and rent leveling board, said that Welle has very little support in Jackson, even from Democrats, as evidenced by the fact that the campaign had to go to Brick, in the 3rd congressional district, to get someone to introduce him. Sullivan noted that Welle refused to take any “real questions, all the questions were pre-screeened, This is what you get from a Democrat,” Sullivan said.
As I was leaving the hall, I saw Welle standing by the passenger door of an imported compact car which happened to be parked next to my SUV. He got into the car and closed the windows when he caught my eye as I walked towards my vehicle. I guess he didn’t want to answer my questions either. Angela showed up a few minutes later an they drove away.