In an elevation this week of the usual Orange County political rivalry, the temperature steamed as the saga went on. What Assemblyman Colin Schmitt saw as a perfectly appropriate 5-minute or so sendoff to a group of residents representing “The Right To Life” (anti-abortion), a single party system, and opposed to a new executive order from Governor Andrew Cuomo that will allow removal of a potentially dangerous/ill individual from a situation where he or she could affect the health and/or safety of others, the Assemblyman (who the same day took the oath of office for his second term) had no idea of the mire he might be stepping into.
Schmitt said he spoke to the group, after being asked by Right to Life, to come and say a word or two along with a prayer, adding “many of them were young mothers and others were seniors, some needing canes”. Little did he know that a photographer taking a photo of him in the bus with the group, (and maskless, although there appears to have been adequate distancing), would bring it where it made its way to the Times Herald Record and Orange County Democratic Chairman Brett Broge. The photo then took on a life of its own, with dems saying Schmitt was contributing to the Washington DC chaos that erupted later in the day. Broge called it behavior unbefitting of a representative, poor judgment, and asked for Schmitt’s resignation. Schmitt called Broge’s comments part a socialist smear campaign connected to the NYC Socialist crowd, and added “These are not terrorists. These are people I go to church with. We spoke for a few moments and prayed.” He demanded an apology to himself and to the group of faith-based constituents, from Broge, James Skoufis and Sean Patrick Maloney (who had joined Broge in condemning the sendoff).
The busload, Schmitt said, had nothing to do with any of the rioting that deluged the Capitol. Then, after his young staff and family received what he said were credible threats, he blasted the dems for putting them all in danger. He then reassembled the group to show how unlikely they were to be terrorists (young moms and seniors…some with canes), and that they had been only on the outskirts at the capitol and not even close to the riot, and that he himself believed there was no excuse for the DC violence. He again demanded an apology from Brett Broge and asserted it in a videoclip with the former bus participants. The video cannot be shared due to Facebook sharing security constraints, but can be seen on his Facebook page. From his website Schmitt called on his supporters to write letters to Broge asking for an apology and posted a form letter they could use.
But the controversy would not quite end there. At least one more chapter ensued as the dems showed an extremely short clip of an interview of the bus trip participants. It did not go quite as planned. One of the participants began by saying that when they arrived they saw “You know, Antifa/BLM members infiltrating”. “How did you know they were BLM members?” the interviewer asked (DC authorities have not found evidence of any significant BLM participation). Another of the trip participants said “Oh, you can tell who’s a Trump supporter.” Colin Schmitt abruptly ended the interview, saying “I think that’s enough”, with the group seeming to show more controversial views than expected. That video also cannot be shared because of Facebook’s security restrictions.
Usual politics? A bad judgment call by Schmitt by not realizing the group was quite as ‘right-leaning’ as it was, or an overreaction by Broge asking for Schmitt’s resignation over something relatively minor? The public responded in dialogues of hundreds of social media posts, some saying that despite the politics this group of likely at-risk of COVID seniors should have been staying safely at home. Others asked “Why?, they have as much a right to protest as anyone, and bottom line is they had nothing whatsoever to do with the violence.” So was it fair calls on both sides? Much ado about little or nothing? Or an overall ugly sample of the dangerous politics of our time?
Broge continued the political ping-pong again today (Saturday 1/9) with the following:
“In my role as chair of the Orange County Democratic Committee, I believe I have a duty to call out Assemblyman Colin Schmitt and his supporters on that bus for their dishonorable acts of supporting a rally which had the implicit and ultimate purpose of carrying out the violence that we watched on Wednesday. The bulk of the blame for Wednesday’s violence I place on the actual participants and the President of the United States. However, politicians like the Assemblyman, who have failed to stand up to the President’s lies and those on the bus that have failed to question the lies, share responsibility as well. As Senator Mitt Romney stated the other day, “Republican politicians need to tell Trump voters the Truth.” In this case there was no election fraud or stolen elections. And further, this was not Antifa that did this. This is primarily aggrieved white Americans radicalized by the false narratives being fed to them by Republican politicians and the right wing media. So the Assemblyman and his supporters can continue to curse at me or call me a “Socialist”, but as long as he continues to indulge these false narratives that radicalize his misguided constituents, I am going to continue to tell him to step down.” But Schmitt has a strong group of supporters as well. Within a day and a half, a dozen Orange County officials sided with him and wrote letters of support, including Blooming Grove Deputy Supervisor, George Doering, Monroe Town Supervisor, Tony Cardone, Orange County Clerk, Annie Rabbitt, Orange County Right to Life, and the Rockland County Republican Committee as well as residents from the area who are also sending letters of support.
This story does simply not want to go away. The Orange County Post welcomes any comments sent to us as Letters to the Editor.