At least 40 people gathered on the sidewalk outside of Good Earth Greenhouse, 7900 Madison St. in River Forest Friday night, hoping that their signs and chants would catch the attention of Republican Rep. Peter Roskam (6th District). The Congressman was headlining an RSVP-only affair hosted by the Oak Park-River Forest Republican Organization.
It wasn't clear what Roskam would talk about. Despite being cleared to enter earlier in the night, and having RSVP'd with no issues hours prior to the event's 6 p.m. start time, a Wednesday Journal reporter and a photographer were shown the door shortly after Roskam arrived and not long before he would start speaking.
The flyer advertising the meeting didn't go into specifics. The slogans, "Stronger Together," "Stand Together," "It's Morning Again in America," and "What Can We Accomplish" made up the majority of the flyer's content, which directed readers to RSVP Tom Cronin, Good Earth's owner.
Cronin said he suggested that guests RSVP as a courtesy to Roskam and to the affair's guests, which included Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Dan Patlak (1st), the only Republican on that three-person board.
"I know Peter, I've known him for many years," said Patlak. "I think he does a wonderful job. I think he's a great congressman. He certainly represents the constituents in his district. As far as individual issues, I'm not going to get into all of them. That's his thing. I'll let him answer the question."
But Roskam, a six-term incumbent who is the House Republican Chief Deputy Whip and a member of the powerful Committee on Ways and Means — which is responsible for making recommendations on all revenue-raising bills in the House — has been rather evasive of late, according to several of his constituents who gathered outside of Green Earth. The congressman entered the Madison Street facility discreetly through the backdoor.
"I have called him and left messages," said Phyllis Salerno, who lives in Roskam's district, which includes all or parts of Downers Grove, Glen Ellyn, Hoffman Estates and Wheaton, among other municipalities that span Cook, Lake, Kane, DuPage and McHenry counties.
Salerno, who described herself as a former Republican who has voted for Democrats recently, and who "votes the issues" more generally, said she disagrees with Roskam on numerous measures.
"I'm here to protest how he has voted on various bills, including allowing the mentally ill to have guns, allowing dirty water to go into streams," she said. "I want to keep the ACA [Affordable Care Act] and I disagree with Paul Ryan's wanting to privatize Medicare and Social Security."
"I write thank-you cards to Sen. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth," said Salerno. "So when things go well, I let them know. But Peter has been very rude, running away from town hall meetings."
Video posted to Twitter by Citizen Action Illinois shows Roskam leaving out of a back door to chants of "Shame on you!" after addressing a Feb. 4 meeting of the Palatine Township Republican Organization. That event attracted more than 300 protesters, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The Chicago Tribune reported that the meeting had originally been advertised "as 'free and open to the public,'" but "was changed to a 'members only' gathering" on Feb. 1, a move that some protesters believed was made after Roskam learned they wanted to speak with him.
Video footage shot by Chicago Tribune reporters who were inside of the Feb. 4 meeting shows Roskam commenting on the demonstrations outside.
"The way that we're interacting with opponents today, the ability of people to come out and express their views, we celebrate that," Roskam says in the video. "People can come out and let their views be heard. We're free to meet now. We're free to gather freely and have a discussion with one another."
Roskam, who is a member of the Ways and Means Committee's sub-committee on health, which has an outsized role in determining the future of the ACA, reportedly agrees with President Donald Trump "on replacing the ACA and overhauling the tax code," the Tribune reported, "but disagrees with the bid to impose a 20 percent tariff on Mexican imports."
Roskam said he supports "the underlying theme" of Trump's immigration ban, but conceded to Tribune reporters that the "implementation was bumpy."
Lynda DeLaforgue, Citizen Action Illinois' co-director, said that regardless of the congressman's personal views on particular policy proposals, his refusal to meet with the public is wearing thin with an increasingly outraged citizenry.
"He won't even meet with his own constituents," DeLaforgue said, while passing out the organization's literature during Friday evening's demonstration.
"These guys are going to have to wake up and smell the coffee," she said. "These are not the usual suspects who just show up at their office all the time protesting things. This is a lot of anger coming from people who are faced with a lot of uncertainty over how they'll be able to keep their health care. People's lives are on the line. This is happening all over the country."
On Thursday, CNN reported, two Republican Congress members, Reps. Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Diane Black of Tennessee, encountered angry crowds at their own public events.
The Chicago Tribune reported today that Roskam declined three requests made by the League of Women Voters to hold public meetings in his district. The congressman said that "large meetings tend to devolve into shouting matches," and that he prefers meeting with fewer than 25 constituents at a time.
Dr. Marian Sassetti, an Oak Park physician, said she hoped that Roskam would meet with experts like her — and take their advice.
"He needs to understand that he can be a hero here," said Sassetti, who was still wearing her white robe when she joined the protesters. "The ACA saves lives. If he votes against it, people will die on his watch. That's the truth. I know that for a fact.
"People are terrified. Women are coming in with IUDs because they're not sure they'll be able to get one. They don't necessarily want one, but they're coming in to get one just in case. People are coming in to see me for the first time because they're afraid they won't get a doctor."
Jean Meister, a River Forest resident, stood a few feet away from Dr. Sassetti, holding a sign that read, 'ACA saved my child's life.'"
"I am pissed! I am really mad!" Meister said. "I have a daughter with a chronic illness that was excluded from coverage on our private pay health plan for two years. It cost us more than $100,000 for hospitalizations, treatments, medications and lab tests. None of it was covered by insurance. The ACA allowed my daughter to be covered by our health care and she's alive!"
Later on in the meeting, Roskam would eventually speak, but his words went unheard by the people outside. A man who appeared to be providing security guarded the doors, asking people whether or not they had RSVP'd. At one point, he blocked the doors to a resident of one of the nearby apartment complexes who said he just wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
"What do we want? Town hall!" the crowd chanted, some people cupping their mouths, whenever the doors intermittently opened. "When do we want it? Now!"
Jeffrey Leef, a River Forest radiologist who ran unsuccessfully for Congress as a Republican against U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (7th), was among those who were allowed in as Roskam was speaking.
"Everybody has a right to protest; that's all fine, obviously, and it's all peaceful," Leef said. "But there are many people who are moderate, like myself, so it's not as though every Republican blindly agrees with what the administration is doing."
Leef said he believes that the ACA is "deeply flawed," but would not support repealing the law "if they don't have something that's able to make up for its huge inadequacies on day one."
In the meantime, people like Muriel Quinn, of Oak Park, just wants those with the power to repeal to at least talk about their intentions.
"Women are very scary evidently," Quinn said sarcastically. "Roskam runs away from moms."