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Navy wife angered by meeting gets apology from S. Jersey congressman

U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo of South Jersey has resisted town hall meetings to avoid the "YouTube" moment. But he got a dose of social media attention when he angered a Navy wife at a small meeting. He apologized.

U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, a Republican who represents a large swath of South Jersey, has adamantly resisted holding a town hall meeting, preferring a series of meetings with 12 constituents at a time to avoid what he called the "YouTube moment."

But LoBiondo is getting a star turn on social media nonetheless.

One of those small meetings, held in Mays Landing, ended up angering a Navy wife, who took to Twitter and various Facebook groups over the weekend to express her shock at the treatment she says she received from a LoBiondo staffer when she said she had "understood what I read" of the Affordable Care Act.

"It's appalling that my takeaway, from a political meeting is that staffer & Rep think I'm dumb," she tweeted, with the hashtags :"resist, persist and scientist."

"His staffer lost it," the woman, Rebecca Ivory, 35, of Swedesboro, a spouse of a Navy pilot, said in one of several social media posts over the weekend. "He was rolling his eyes at me, gesticulating, and extremely animated."

When she pointed out that she was a nursing student and well-educated,  the staffer "loudly" shouted her down, she said, with LoBiondo "allowing the staffer to do so."

"I was made to feel like I was dumb," she said, "incapable because I am just a common citizen, and, of everything that happened at the meeting, this is the only thing that is sticking with me."

On Twitter, Ivory wrote: "Cannot be overstated: Rep's staff suggested I'm too dumb to read & understand the ACA at meeting with Rep yesterday (Saturday)."

She also objected to what she said was LoBiondo deleting critical comments on his Facebook page and said she had screen shots of the deleted comments. "You cannot silence your constituents," she tweeted.

Monday morning, LoBiondo tweeted his "fullest apologies."

"Appreciate your thoughtful & thorough review of ACA, service as nurse & military family," he wrote. "Completely apologize for my staff. Not how my office interacts w/constituents."

Ivory said on Twitter she accepted the congressman's apology. She also vowed to keep up advocacy on behalf of military spouses and "to schedule meetings with Congressional folks ... regarding getting more military spouses like me into elected government."

Ivory described LoBiondo's message and apology as "heartfelt." Her Facebook posts were liked by more than 16,000 people, some of whom then posted on LoBiondo's page.

Ivory said her husband is a Navy pilot stationed in Washington state. She said LoBiondo's apology followed "overwhelming social media pressure."

"He was deleting social media posts on his page," she said. "That's what enraged me. That was the worst part, that people were being censored."

Jason Galanes, a spokesman for LoBiondo, said the only posts deleted from his Facebook page were those from people "clearly identified from outside of his congressional district." LoBiondo's policy is to delete such posts "immediately upon identification." He said "plenty of posts" critical of the congressman remain on the Facebook page.

Ivory's posts about her meeting with LoBiondo included the post-election Pantsuit Nation group, which has a national following.

LoBiondo, who has said he will not support a repeal of the ACA without a replacement and is fighting cuts to the Coast Guard, reiterated his dislike of town halls. ("Individual meetings & personal calls have always been my style," he wrote.)

His spokesman said he held 40 such meetings this weekend and early this week before returning to Washington on Tuesday.

(Monday morning, Sen. Pat Toomey [R., Pa.], who has also been criticized for not holding any town halls, took a page out of LoBiondo's book with a small meeting.)

But Ivory said she believed the small meetings do not offer sufficient accountability. A native of New Jersey, she moved back in August to finish nursing school.

"What I don't like about the round tables is it's small groups of constituents," she said following a morning of nursing classes. "I don't know what he says around other constituents. People want accountability."

Ivory described herself as a "progressive Republican."

Galanes said Ivory participated in a meeting with the group United Progressive Democrats, organized after the group protested in front of LoBiondo's office.

He described the interaction with Ivory as "a regrettable moment in an otherwise productive, respectful hour-long conversation with the congressman."