Democrats walk out of meeting over claims of bigotry and hate speech

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POUGHKEEPSIE – Several Democratic Dutchess County Legislators walked out of the monthly meeting on Tuesday to protest what they claim was a protest of “hateful speech” by a member of the public who addressed the lawmakers.  The Democrats are accusing Legislature Majority Leader Will Truitt (R-Hyde Park) of inciting the alleged “hate speech.”

Majority Leader Will Truitt

According to Minority Leader Yvette Valdes Smith (D-Fishkill/Beacon), Truitt read a letter condemning Governor Hochul’s stance on the new state gun laws and was followed by participants who upset the minority caucus when they spoke during the “public comment” portion of the meeting.

The Democrats say, “One speaker claimed ‘illegals’ are the cause of the gun problem in the country, while another lamented not being able to bring his gun with him since he had to travel to the City of Poughkeepsie to attend the meeting.” Minority Leader Valdes Smith noted that the speakers thanked Legislator Truitt for inviting them to the meeting.

Legislator Brennan Kearney (D – Clinton/Rhinebeck) pointed out that their comments were improper but did not receive any support from the Legislature Chairman Greg Pulver (R – North East, Stanford, Pine Plains, and Milan).  In a statement, the Democrats claim that in the past Pulver has objected to “statements with which he disagrees, even taking the step of stopping public comment. On these issues, however, he remained silent.”

At that point, several Democratic legislators walked out of the meeting.

After the meeting, the Democrats sent the statement that also said, “We welcome all comments by the public, but felt that to remain in the chambers while speakers insulted the City of Poughkeepsie and undocumented residents of Dutchess County, could encourage legislators to organize similar comments in the future,” adding “Legislator Truitt’s theatrics last night were offensive and unacceptable.”

Legislator Giancarlo Llaverias (D-Town of Poughkeepsie) considered the public comments to be racist.  In explaining why he walked out of the meeting, he said, “I won’t tolerate the disrespect of my community or of my hometown,” adding “The fact that Will Gunnar Truitt orchestrated this attack against the residents of Poughkeepsie especially the black and brown community is wild,” when referencing the comments from one speaker who complained about having to park a distance from the meeting and he felt unsafe by not being able to carry a weapon due to the new gun laws, which are winding through the courts.  The Mid-Hudson News account of the court battle can be found here.

On Wednesday, Chairman Pulver rebuked the actions of his Democratic colleagues. “Members of the public have a First Amendment right to express themselves and as elected officials, we have a duty to listen- regardless of the topic of their comments.”

Pulver stressed the rules of the legislature. “Our legislative rules allow members of the public three minutes to address our body on any business affecting the county and it is shameful that some democratic legislators choose to abandon their duty to listen to their constituents.”

In response to what he considered an unwarranted walkout by Democrats, he denounced those who left the chambers. “I, and my fellow Republicans, always respectfully listen to those with which we disagree, even when those comments are very pointed and critical, we always offer the public the respect they deserve as their representatives.”