Public officials must take a lot of criticism from constituents. This, after all, comes with the territory.
Angry letters and phone calls come in to the office frequently. Protests staged outside of events are common. And with the growth of social media, it must seem like the naysaying never ends.
But U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, endured something Saturday that is completely unacceptable. Someone left a disturbing note on her car in a parking lot, which read: “Rot in hell FASCIST PIG”
“It is truly sad that the radical Far-Left cannot see beyond their vicious hate,” Ms. Stefanik wrote in a post on her Twitter account. “My husband and I went grocery shopping this morning before district events and enjoyed chatting with constituents throughout the store. This vile anonymous note was left on our car.”
She also wrote in another tweet: “As an elected official, I understand that respectful & passionate policy disagreements are foundational to our democracy. But this note is just sad hatred. We are praying for the author. This hateful rhetoric should be publicly condemned by my opponent immediately.”
Tedra L. Cobb of Canton is seeking the Democratic nomination to run against Ms. Stefanik in the race for the 21st Congressional District. In response, she tweeted the following: “@EliseStefanik, you’re right, that type of discourse is damaging and wrong. I think it’s time you joined me in pledging not to name call in this campaign. I’d love to work with you to set a better example for -NY21.”
That drew this comment from Ms. Stefanik on Twitter: “This is not a condemnation. Here is my opponent equating ‘Taxin’ with ‘ROT IN HELL FASCIST PIG.’ One is a policy difference (you have voted numerous times to raise taxes); the other is a vicious, vile, sick attack. They are not the same and voters know it.”
It’s unfortunate that the candidates chose to reduce this reprehensible act to a show of who can top the other in the campaign. But politics being what it is these days, that’s not surprising.
We all need to grasp the seriousness of this unnerving incident. It raises the issue of how to ensure the security of those who represent us on legislative bodies, particularly in Congress.
How did the perpetrator know this was Ms. Stefanik’s vehicle? Was this individual following her and her husband?
That wasn’t the only awful message made about Ms. Stefanik. Former Democratic Committee Chairman Howard B. Dean, who previously served as governor of Vermont, implied that Ms. Stefanik deserved what happened to her.
“I don’t condone this, but ‘as ye sow, so shall ye reap.’ There is no excuse for the note writer or for you,” he wrote on Twitter. “You are a shame to your district and to a democratic United States.”
This response is truly offensive. As someone who has held several public offices, Mr. Dean should recognize the threat to our system of government from unknown individuals taking harassing measures. His message of “You had this coming” is outrageous.
Regardless of whether we support an elected official or not, there is a proper way to express our views. Just like the rest of us, our community leaders are human beings who have a right to feel safe as they conduct the routine tasks of life.
We hope Ms. Stefanik takes the necessary precautions to reduce the likelihood of a more perilous encounter. We all need to learn when, where and how it’s most appropriate to interact with those who govern us. And whatever our views are, this act of intimidation must be rejected.