SALEM, N.J. — A long-sought-after town hall for Rep. Frank LoBiondo, a Republican from New Jersey's Second Congressional District, was finally held Tuesday night — without LoBiondo.
"@RepLobiondo Your constituents are holding a Citizens' Town Hall without you," tweeted Adam Sheridan of Pemberton. "There's still time to make an appearance."
A group calling itself Cooper River Indivisible sponsored the meeting at the Salem Inn. But LoBiondo had already declined the invitation to attend. And he did not show.
LoBiondo had declined the invitation and released a letter explaining that he prefers to meet constituents privately and in small groups.
LoBiondo, a 12-term member of Congress from Atlantic County, had said he was prepared to vote no on the Trump health-care bill, citing numerous face-to-face meetings with constituents who would have lost health care. And he has vowed to fight cuts to the Coast Guard and changes to the Federal Aviation Administration that would affect the William Hughes Technical Center in his district.
A dozen or more loosely organized protest groups have been a regular presence outside his office in Mays Landing, where he has held numerous meetings, but in private.
"As your letter referenced, this is a new era in which increased interest from South Jersey residents is readily seen," he wrote. "I welcome greater engagement from my constituents. Accordingly, I have increased my availability to meet with constituents."
LoBiondo said he has held more than 70 meetings with groups. He has adamantly resisted the town halls with their "YouTube moments."
"Some groups have had 2 or 3 hour long meetings with me," he wrote. "While it may not be viewed as the most efficient use of my time, this is a personal approach I have taken since entering Congress."
Even as he declined that town-hall invitation, which included a speaker about health-care funding, another group was inviting him to a town hall scheduled for May 31 at 6:30 p.m. at the Local 331 Hall in Egg Harbor City.
And constituents were already talking about who would challenge LoBiondo, considered a safe Republican seat in a blue state for decades, in the next election.