Shontel Brown Drops In For A Visit

Congresswoman Shontel Brown visited Lakewood on Wednesday February 21, 2024. The event: “Coffee with Your Congresswoman” took place at Lakewood City Hall and was attended by over 100 of Brown’s constituents from Lakewood and surrounding cities. She covered a wide array of issues with prepared statements and off-the-cuff responses to live questions. Lakewood Mayor Meghan George introduced the Congresswoman who represents Ohio’s 11th Congressional District.

Brown opened by recognizing Lakewood as the largest female-led city in Ohio, referring to Mayor George, City Council President Sarah Kepple and Presiding Municipal Court Judge Tess Neff. The Congresswoman introduced 7 of her staff members who were also present: Chief of Staff Veleter Mazyck, Esq., Deputy Chief of Staff Kimberly Hodge Edwards, Communications Director Will McDonald, Caseworker and Field Representative Brehon Pittman, Caseworker and Field Representative Hayley Johnson, District Staff Assistant and Congressional Aide Jared Sherman, and Executive Assistant Jasmine Butler.

The Congresswoman began her report from Capitol Hill by stating that this is a “frustrating time, to say the least, to be in Congress." She spoke about the “Far-Right Republicans’” refusal to pass a long-term budget and how this would impact Lakewoodites, including the delay of $4,900,000 in federal funding for a new storage basin to help with storm overflow and protection of our local water supply. She emphasized that House Democrats are committed to keeping the government open.

This month, Brown filed legislation on gun safety after attending the funeral of Di’Mesha Wright, a 23-year-old victim of gun violence at Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church in Cleveland which is the representative’s home church. Additional gunfire broke out in front of the church during Wright’s Celebration of Life service where the Congresswoman was in attendance. New legislation passed last year strengthens background checks for people under 21 and domestic abusers, includes funding for community violence prevention programs, and cracks down on gun trafficking and illegal gun purchases. Brown’s bill would require the Department of Justice to report on the effectiveness of the new law.

The next portion of the event featured Mayor George reading questions that were submitted in advance. These were vague prompts on non-controversial topics for Congresswoman Brown to give her base confidence that she represents causes that are important to them. She spoke about her support of the LGBTQIA+ community and the Equality Act, of which she is a co-sponsor. This bill would ban discrimination based on “Orientation and Gender Identity.” Brown stated, “You can count on me to continue that fight from a local level; at the federal level.”

The next question was about Brown’s role on the House Committee on Agriculture and the Farm Bill. She stated that the Democrats’ goals in this area are to “Reduce hunger, help the small farmers; improve diversity and conservation efforts.” She highlighted the importance of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) to her District, stating that 82,000 households here rely on this program.

The final question gave the Congresswoman a chance to speak more on what she is doing for Veterans after asking all present Veterans to stand for recognition. Brown reminded us that she campaigned on the goal of making sure that Veterans received the benefits that they earned. She stated that the PACT Act was one of her proudest votes. This was the largest increase to Veterans’ benefits since the GI Bill according to Brown. She credited Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown with helping get Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange or toxic burn pits their full benefits.

At this point, Congresswoman Brown heard and answered live questions and concerns from attendees.

The first community member to speak asked why Congresswoman Brown has not called for a cease fire in Gaza and expressed frustration that their Community’s voice was not being heard after extensive protesting of the humanitarian crisis in the region. Brown began her response after listening intently by saying she would “Push back” on the notion that their voices are not being heard. She stated that she has spoken to leaders from the Palestinian Community and that what she would like to see is the release of hostages. She reminded the room that when given the opportunity to vote on packages including money going to the Middle East, she has voted “No” when Humanitarian Aid was not included.

The second community member thanked Brown for coming and for her support of community health centers while encouraging the Representative to rally her colleagues around the cause.

The third community member was concerned with affordable housing and asked how Congress could help. Brown expressed a desire to work with her predecessor in Congress, United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge. The Congresswoman referenced Fudge’s success in getting renters credit for good rent payment history. Brown stated that she learned today that Lakewood is the densest city in Ohio and that most of our houses here are “pretty old.” Brown hopes to facilitate an “Affordable Housing Symposium” in a few months with Secretary Fudge.

Fourth, a community member expressed concern with the number of mass shootings taking place around the country and asked what can be done. Brown responded by saying, “To change the laws we need to change the lawmakers.” She recognized that lawmakers in Ohio have made it easier to get guns and let us know that she is licensed to carry a gun. She said that many of her colleagues in Congress are resigned to the mentality that nothing can be done. She said she does not believe that we need assault or military-style weapons on the streets.

The Congresswoman then explained how hard it is in on Capitol Hill to get things done. She said when she was on a city council she only needed to get three people to agree with her and now she needs to get 217. She also stated that since she took office in November of 2021, 82 seats in the House have changed, illustrating how many relationships she needs to establish and develop.

The final member of the community to speak publicly asked Brown to speak on two Urban Farming bills that she has introduced and her values in that area. She stated a goal of leveling the playing field between larger and smaller scale farmers in terms of access to resources and removing red tape. She also spoke about her desire to get schools more active with small farms and encouraging entrepreneurship among students.

After speaking publicly for 30 minutes, the Congresswoman thanked Mayor George for hosting the event and welcomed anyone to approach her directly for a 1-on-1 conversation. I was second in line behind a group of eight wearing the black and white Palestinian Keffiyah. This group spoke to the Representative for over 10 minutes. The Group was speaking very passionately regarding the treatment of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. Two members of the group were holding up their phones to record Congresswoman Brown throughout their conversation. Brown heard them out and let them speak at length despite efforts of her staff to move things along. Brown made it clear that she wanted to hear what this group had to say.

I had a chance to give our Representative a copy of the Lakewood Observer with which she was happy to pose for a photo. I took the opportunity to ask her if she was concerned about the lack of regulation in the railroad industry. She displayed good knowledge of the issues that had led to the derailment in East Palestine and assured me that my elected officials are working on ways to prevent a similar disaster in Lakewood and across the country.

Volume 20, Issue 5, Posted 3:51 PM, 03.06.2024