Last Thursday night Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania held a town hall event in the city of Bethlehem which was broadcast live. Part way through a representative from Indivisible called the event a “fake town hall” and asked when he would be holding a more open forum. Toomey disputed the characterization but added, “let’s be candid, there are some people that don’t want to have a constructive conversation.”
As if to prove his point, a short time later a man named Simon Radecki used his time at the microphone to ask if Toomey had heard the “news” that his daughter Bridget had been kidnapped. From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
After thanking Mr. Toomey for appearing, Mr. Radecki said, “We’ve been here for a while. You probably haven’t seen the news. Can you confirm whether or not your daughter Bridget has been kidnapped?”
The ensuing four-second pause was punctuated by Mr. Toomey uttering “uhhhh,” before Mr. Radecki added, “The reason I ask is because that’s the reality of families that suffer deportation …”
As Mr. Toomey called that a “ridiculous question,” Mr. Radecki himself was removed by Bethlehem police, who later said he’d be charged with disorderly conduct and disrupting a public meeting.
Tim Fallon, the CEO of PBS39 which aired the town hall, told the Post-Gazette, “If you were in the room, it was one of the scariest things that I have ever been a part of.” He added, “All I was processing was ‘Oh, my God, what has happened?’ … It was perceived as a threat by myself [and] folks I have had interactions with.”
For the record, Toomey does have a daughter named Bridget who would be about 16-years-old now.
My take is that the question is disturbing and inappropriate as phrased, i.e. not as a hypothetical but as news. A spokesman for Toomey called the question “reprehensible” and that really seems to fit. Suggesting a politician’s teenage child has actually been kidnapped completely violates one of the few clear rules in American politics: leave the kids out of it.
Radecki told the Post-Gazette, “My only regret right now honestly is that the focus has been on me and the question I asked. And the substance of the conversation has taken a sort of back seat.” Well, that’s because you made yourself the focus by going for the shock value instead of the “substance.”
While Radecki’s comment was way, way over the line of decency, that doesn’t make it a crime. Frankly, I think Toomey handled it well by calling it an absurd question and moving on. It didn’t deserve a response from the senator or the police. Obviously, the police feel differently but I doubt the charges are going to hold up. You don’t get a more clear cut example of free speech than someone talking to their elected representative at a public meeting. As of Tuesday, charges still hadn’t been formally filed. Maybe the police will think better of it.
There’s a video of the entire town hall but as you can see below the audio cuts out part way into Radecki’s question (about 44:00 minutes into this clip):