Sean O'Connell / Sun News Editor

Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) arrived at a locked City Hall, where he had expected to raise an American flag.

October 30, 2020

Rep. Tom Reed Hosts Free Speech Rally, Marches to City Hall

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Days out from the election and following a number of racist incidents in Ithaca, Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) held a free speech rally through pouring rain and heckling protesters on Thursday afternoon. 

After the remarks, Reed, joined by 25 rallygoers, marched to City Hall to raise an American flag with Mayor Svante Myrick ’09, invited “as a show of unity between Democrats and Republicans at this time of extreme division.”

But Reed found the City Hall doors locked, and Myrick unwilling to meet with him. 

“As our sole representative in Congress, I’d urge you to skip the symbolic presentations of flags until a [stimulus] deal is done,” Myrick tweeted before the rally to Reed, rebuffing his invitation.

The rally — urging supporters to “stand up for your rights and freedom” — was a prelude to the flag’s delivery, according to Reed’s Facebook page.

“Our free speech is a guaranteed right that we will stand, in unison, to say we have a right to do,” Reed said — surrounded by supporters’ “stand for the constitution” signs and counterprotesters’ “no more fascist USA” signs.

Reed addressed the spate of anti-Semitic, racist and violent incidents that rocked Ithaca in the previous week: On Wednesday, the Sunny Days of Ithaca storefront was vandalized with white supremacist graffiti. Two other Ithaca businesses and five Black Cornell students were also targeted.

“We, as folks that may disagree with you on political ideology, join you in condemnation that racism is unacceptable in our country,” Reed said. “Violence is unacceptable in this country. We stand in unison in opposition to such extremism.”

Political demonstrations in Ithaca have become increasingly common in the lead up to the Nov. 3 election, with protest face-offs, arrested protesters and a Back the Blue rally and counterprotest that drew hundreds to the Ithaca Commons.

The turmoil — reflected both nationally and locally — had become personal for Reed: A dead rabbit and a brick labeled with the name of his child were left on the door of his Corning residence on Oct. 23.

“Those acts of intimidation, those acts of potential violence, will be not be acts that intimidate us,” Reed said, in response to cheers in the crowd.

The group — which included local Republican officials — marched down the Commons at around 2 p.m. after the speeches. Once at City Hall, Reed and the rallygoers faced a dozen counterprotesters, assembled in front of the hall door. One counterprotester burned a miniature American flag between cries of “no hate, no KKK, no facist USA.”

There were no significant altercations between the two sides, besides occasional jostling and jockeying for sign space.

By 2:30 p.m., it became clear that Reed would not be able to enter City Hall — a security guard met him at the door and motioned that he would not open it. The rallygoers began to disperse, leaving behind the sign-toting counterprotesters.

Myrick later tweeted that the door is locked “all day,” with Ithacans needing to make appointments to come inside. 

Still, hours after the rally ended, Reed took shots at Myrick in a tweet, slamming the Mayor for turning down a peace offering.

“You sent someone to literally lock the door in front of us,” Reed wrote. “Standing up to extremism and calling for unity shouldn’t be difficult.”

Myrick responded quickly, denying Reed’s assertion.

“I never ignored you, I responded to your emails in detail,” Myrick wrote, “If unity is your goal. Just call and check my calendar. If weird stunts are your goal, then carry on Congressman.”