By Margo Cruz and Maura Vernice
On Monday, April 11, Port Washington got an unexpected visit from presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Clinton came to the Landmark Theater on Main Street to discuss gun violence prevention with Rep. Steve Israel and families who have lost loved ones to gun violence. The forum was free and open to the public. Residents lined up several hours before the event to get a seat in the theater, though not everyone who was in line was able to get in. Speakers were outside so those who couldn’t get in could still listen to the forum.
The family members who have lost loved ones to gun violence included Erica Smegielski, who lost her mother at Sandy Hook; Sandy Phillips, who lost her daughter in Aurora, CO; Natasha Christopher, who lost her son in Brooklyn; Marie Delus, who lost her nephew in Brooklyn; and Rita Kestenbaum, who lost her daughter while she was attending college in Arizona. They all addressed an audience of approximately 500 people in the theater who embraced them and their cause.
The audience received Clinton with warm and lively applause as Israel introduced her as a future president who will protect and keep citizens safe by introducing sensible gun laws while standing up to the gun lobby. After thanking the family members and saying she was honored to share the stage with them, Clinton opened the dialogue with statistics, which included the fact that 90 people a day, or 33,000 a year, lose their lives to gun violence. She went on to present her agenda on preventing gun violence. This included comprehensive background checks, the elimination of gun-show loopholes and eliminating online gun-sale loopholes.
She also spoke about revoking the laws that grant those making and selling guns special immunity from the responsibility of showing reasonable care when making and selling their products. This, she said, is a rule every other business that makes and sells products must follow. She compared future gun laws with laws which have been passed due to unnecessary deaths from car accidents. This is why, she said, we have seat belts and airbags. She stressed passing gun laws that are consistent with the Constitution.
Family members told their stories—Kestenbaum spoke of her daughter, Carole, and her daughter’s best friend who both lost their lives. Her daughter’s roommate had an abusive boyfriend, he received a gun for his 13th birthday, had it mailed to him when he became of legal age in Arizona and then used it to commit murder.
Delus was in the military, is a sharpshooter, believes in the Second Amendment and is an advocate for her nephew who lost his life to gun violence. She does not own a gun and believes we need strong gun safety regulations.
Smegielski lost her mother who, in her words, “was an amazing mother and a great educator and principal at Sandy Hook.” She speaks at town hall meetings, congressional meetings and to anyone who will listen because she wants to make sure no one will have to hear the words she had to hear the day her mother died.
Phillips lost her daughter in a movie theater in Aurora, CO. She spoke of the AK-47 that was used and the ammunition that was designed to do the most bodily harm. She apologized for being graphic but tells her story because in her words, “He did all this with the click of a mouse.”
Christopher’s son was shot on June 27, 2012, and died on July 10 of that year. He would have turned 15 on that day.
These family members don’t tell their stories to get sympathy, but to gain strength and get more people involved in the fight for preventive gun laws.
“This whole event came together in just three days,” said Laura Mogul, executive director of Landmark on Main Street. “We heard from Congressman Steve Israel’s office late on Friday that they had recommended us to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign staff. We rent out the theater all the time, but this event was a little different. From the pre-meeting with the Secret Service and police departments (Nassau and Port), to the construction of a giant platform in the center of the theater to handle the press cameras, it was clear that this was no ordinary show.
Although the campaign broughtin technicians, a set construction crew and media handlers, it was the coordination and support of the Landmark office staff, building staff and Port Washington Police that enabled the whole event to work seamlessly, and with as little impact as possible on our fellow building tenants. We were honored to have been chosen as the site for this important dialogue, and pleased that we could share it with our community.”
The arrival and departure of Clinton and the event itself went off without a hitch. The crowd was peaceful, though there were a handful of NRA and Bernie Sanders supporters outside with signs.
Deputy Chief Robert Del Muro said, “Though we were notified about the event very last minute, we were able to prepare for it and handle the logistics of the event with no problem. The crowd outside the venue was large but peaceful, thankfully.”