Three 16-year-old Town Hall for Our Lives student organizers say CD11 Republican Jay Webber treated them unfairly. And they want to talk to him again.

Extra – Newtown’s Team 26 arrives in Morristown on Saturday:  26 people affected by the Sandy Hook School gun massacre arrive 5pm at Town Hall (200 South Street) on their way from Newtown, CT to Washington D.C. by bicycle. This is the team that rides to h\onor the 26 children & adults killed 12/14/2012, and keep the pressure on Congress. RSVP here to greet them as they arrive Saturday eve, and send them off again Sunday morning. Now, let’s get local: 

Three 16-year-old student organizers of the Morristown Town Hall for Our Lives say they were treated poorly by Republican Assemblyman Jay Webber, CD11 Republican candidate for Congress. They’d like to talk to him again, and they still have the same 11 questions that 6 other CD11 candidates did answer, live-streamed, questions Webber still hasn’t addressed. Webber declined to attend their April 7 event, as did several other Republicans and one Democrat. The assemblyman instead offered an office meeting. The students thought that meeting was extended to them to get Webber on the record on gun issues, as Dems like Mikie Sherrill & Tamara Harris, and two of Webber’s Republican opponents, had in the Town Hall. Before the Webber meeting they emailed twice to discuss their intentions, including their plan to live-stream.  Both emails went unanswered.

Bella Bhimani, 16, at Town Hall for Our Lives. Photo: Photo Jeff Sovelove

When they arrived, I’m told by organizer Bella Bhimani,16, they were surprised to find other students already at the office – clearly invited by Webber or his staff. They have no complaint about those students – “cheerful, well-prepared, and knowledgeable” – but it was quickly clear Webber had no intention of answering any of their Town Hall questions. Instead, the meeting was engineered as debate between two sets of students of differing minds on guns. Webber didn’t answer any questions, and they still don’t know what he thinks about the issues they came to him about, the reason for the meeting.

Instead, Bella says, both Webber and his chief of staff Tom Weisert turned their scorn on the Town Hall students, reprimanding them – “intimidating and attempting to humiliate” them – for a Facebook post in which they’d criticized Webber’s “stunning” lack of transparency when they were turned down on live-streaming.

Bella (West Morris Mendham HS), Meghana Maddali (Morris Knolls HS) and Alexandra Stephens (Morristown HS) signed the open letter to Webber. They’re 16. And they’re running point in their county on one of the nation’s most critical issues. I know people 3 times their age with jobs and mortgages who’d be terrified to take the public leadership roles they have; hosting events with big-league politicians, lobbying a seated legislator. If we had a live-stream record, Webber might look better than he’s described below (ditto Weisert). But they engineered a meeting that we don’t get to see – – even as Weisert raised his voice at teenagers for pointing that out. Bella, Meghana & Alexandra are asking Webber for do-over. They still have their 11 questions, they still want to live-stream his answers so voters can see. I hope Webber sees his way clear to going on the record, just as the 4 Democrats & 2 fellow Republicans at the Town Hall for Our Lives did.

Below, Bella, Alexandra and Meghana’s Open Letter to Assemblyman Webber. Below that, questions they’re still waiting to ask him. 

I asked Bella what she’d want to say to other students ready to take leadership on guns, or any issue that drives them:

“Whenever you speak up, there always going to be people who disagree and try to take you down ( especially as a a student who adults believe they can trick/ mistreat because we are young). Just remember how important this issue is and don’t let this stop you from accomplishing your goal. And as a student especially, don’t let any adult manipulate change your message.”

March for Our Lives (MFOL) Morristown Student Open Letter
to Assemblyman Webber

Morristown, NJ—In response to Assemblyman Jay Webber’s statement in Parsippany Focus about a meeting that Mr. Webber held with students on Friday, April 27th, the MFOL students are issuing the following open letter:

Dear Assemblyman Webber,

On Friday, April 27, the three students involved with the March For Our Lives in Morristown attended a meeting with you at your Parsippany office. As one of the candidates currently running to represent us in the 11th congressional district of New Jersey, we reached out to you and your campaign in good faith to invite you to participate in our Town Hall For Our Lives event. As you know, the town hall, centered on gun violence and school safety, was intended as a venue for all candidates running in New Jersey’s 11th congressional district regardless of party.

Your chief of staff responded that you could not attend the town hall due to scheduling issue, but instead offered to set up a meeting for us with you. Subsequently, we emailed your chief of staff to confirm our meeting with the additional hope of beginning a dialogue about the format of the meeting. Two emails went unanswered.

On April 27th, we arrived at your office in order to fulfill your request to meet with us separate from the event. Since this meeting was set up in response to our invitation to attend our town hall, we reasonably expected to have the opportunity to ask you the same questions we asked the other candidates who did attend the April 7th Town Hall For Our Lives, a group that included two of your fellow Republican candidates. Additionally, we were hoping we could live-stream your answers just as we live-streamed the town hall event. When we entered your office, we were surprised to find other students present. We had not been informed about the format of the meeting nor that there would be other students there. The other students were invited by you or your staff. Only then did your staff inform us that the other students had not consented to being filmed, and for this reason, we could not live-stream the meeting.

The students you brought to the meeting were cheerful, well-prepared, and knowledgeable about the topic of gun safety. Even though the format of the meeting was different from what we expected, we began the meeting thinking we might still have a chance to ask you, Asm. Webber, about your views on school safety and gun violence. We walked in to the room with our questions in one hand, and pens in the other to write down your answers. However, you insisted that the discussion should remain a debate between students. You did not answer our questions nor offer any of of your own opinions on the issues at hand. Unfortunately, the meeting devolved into arguments between students and ended with you feeling aggrieved by one of our Facebook posts.

Your response to that post, meant to simply update the other students who are a part of March for Our Lives Morristown, ended with you intimidating and attempting to humiliate us. Your actions belittled us, and one of us left that meeting near tears.

We walked out of the meeting in shock. We realized that we never had a shot in that room. We never expected this outcome. We have interacted with several politicians over the past months, including an informative discussion with Republican State Senator Kristin Corrado the previous week at a rally for school safety in Wayne, NJ. No one treated us like this. You treated us poorly and put us in an extremely uncomfortable situation. And we still don’t know where you stand on the issues.

As mentioned above, we invited every declared candidate in NJ congressional district 11 to our town hall which took place on April 7th. Two Republican candidates, Patrick Allocco and Martin Hewitt, along with four Democratic candidates, Mitchell Cobert, Tamara Harris, Mikie Sherrill and Mark Washburne, attended. We asked each candidate the attached 11 questions. The candidates were respectful to each other and to those of us running the event. A wide range of views was shared and we found the event very informative.

We are focused on making gun violence and school safety a nonpartisan issue. We don’t believe that any one political party owns all the right ideas and that progress will only be made if we all work together. We sincerely hope that you feel the same way. You stated in Parsippany Focus, “As the father of seven children, I know firsthand that the safety of our children and communities is of the utmost importance, and we should seek common ground on the best ways to ensure it.”

We came to the meeting with you, Assemblyman Webber, with no motivation other than to hear your ideas on gun violence and school safety. Assemblyman Webber, we’d like to extend an offer for a do-over. We’d like to meet with you again to ask you the same questions that your colleagues answered, and to record and broadcast your answers so that voters in the 11th district know where you stand. We humbly await your reply.

Alexandra Stephens, Morris Township
Bella Bhimani, Mendham Township
Meghana Maddali, Denville

Below, the questions the students intended to ask Asm Webber, that 6 CD11 congressional candidates already answered:

Questions from the Town Hall For Our Live on 4/7/18

  1. Where do you stand on banning assault style rifles/semi- automatic weapons?
  2. Do you have political ties with the NRA? How will you help prevent the NRA from pushing unsafe regulations and laws in Washington?
  3. Do you support legislative changes such as repealing the Dickey amendment?
  4. This issue of gun control and gun violence disproportionately affects people of color. How will you do a better job of considering their rights and protecting them?
  5. Many believe their right to maintain arms stems from the principle of protection. Do you think this is a valid argument? How would you respond to a concerned constituent who feels the need to protect themselves with firearms?
  6. How will you ensure the safety of those affected by domestic violence in relation to guns? What about police violence and guns?
  7. Do you feel that there should be more safety regulations in schools such as metal detectors, ID badges and overall stronger security?
  8. How do you feel about students being the ones to lead this movement? Do you fully support the students?
  9. How do you think campaign finance law contributes to the NRA’s hold on congress? What will you do to stop it?
  10. How do you plan on helping the problem of the lack of voter registration and participation from young people ages 18-24?
  11. Do you believe that the 2nd Amendment needs to be amended, removed, or left untouched?

Featured photo above: Jay Webber announces he’ll step down as Republican state chair, with Chris Christie & Sen. Tom Kean Jr, 2012, Photo: Amanda Brown, The Star-Ledger

Comments (3)

  1. Fern Wolkin

    These students are very articulate and motivated by all of the gun violence in this nation. They are tired of being afraid that their school will be next. They want answers from our candidates for congress so people who care about this issue know where the candidates stand. That is too much for Jay Webber who just wants to intimidate them and get them to stop asking. They won’t. Answer the questions on the record, on tape Assemblyman Webber or step aside.

  2. KellieD

    Mr. Webber and his wife fabricated a false narrative surrounding Senator Pou’s comments (Mikie Sherrill did not say them nor did her campaign which released an official statement before this one) about his voting record which is in fact terrible when it comes to the woman and girls of NJ, feigning outrage, practically wringing their hands over the mere reference of his daughters, being girls, and potentially being adversely affected by such anti woman votes- Nay on PP and woman’s health funding, Nay on Woman’s Equal Pay, Nay on Common Sense gun reform- but, when it comes to other people’s children Mr. Webber’s “father” hat comes off and his Hunger Games hat goes on. Ambushing, setting up a debate with their peers and refusing to answer questions or allow them to video it was awful enough- but then he berated and belittled the teens- and that is unacceptable treatment from any public official towards their constituents. Mr. & Mrs. Webber made the Pou statement about their daughters it was not- it was about his votes which are bad for NJ woman and iMs Pou does not need to apologize for stating records facts. What Mr. Webber should apologize for was using the MFOL kids as pawns in a political agenda.

  3. LFortgang

    Thank you to these young women who are persisting with more professionalism and respect than the adults involved can muster. When a public servant refuses to address his constituents with an open-mind, they’ve lost sight of their duty. Jay Webber is a loyal servant to those that elected him and the rest of his constituents are treated with disdain, blocked from his social media accounts and set up with dirty tricks. I applaud these young, engaged and socially/politically conscious students for even wanting a do-over when Assemblyman Webber has clearly demonstrated his true colors. Ironically, he recently (falsely) accused another candidate of dragging his young daughters into political discourse (totally untrue) but he sees no wrong with inviting these teens to his office to humiliate them. NJ26 deserves better and Mr Webber is not ready for prime time as a Congressman either unless we want more deceit in our nation’s capitol.


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