With the House expected to vote on the Obamacare-replacement bill on Thursday, and the fate of the ACA still uncertain, progressive groups across the country have mounted a campaign aimed at pressuring still-undecided moderate Republicans to vote no on the bill.

Among these nine identified fence-sitters is New York's own Dan Donovan, the city's only GOP Congressman. Donovan, you may remember, became the subject of national controversy in 2014, when, as District Attorney for Richmond County, he impanelled a grand jury that declined to prosecute the NYPD officer who killed Eric Garner. He was elected to congress the following year, winning a special election after his predecessor, Michael Grimm, pled guilty to tax fraud. And now, according to some of his unhappy constituents in Staten Island and parts of southern Brooklyn, the representative has gone "missing."

The public outcry over the "Lost Congressman" stems from Rep. Donovan's continued refusal to hold a town hall with his constituents ahead of the upcoming vote on the health care bill. During a Chamber of Commerce forum last month, a crowd of protesters erupted over the representative's support for President Trump's Muslim ban. Staff members from his office cited that incident in defending the Congressman's rejection of town halls, with one spokesman accusing the protesters of "getting their tactics from a distributed manual on how to shout, name-call, and disrupt." (A spokesperson for Donovan said he has not held a town hall meeting since taking office, though he did host a remote "tele-town hall" with constituents in February.)

"He accused us of being professional protesters, with the implication that we're being paid," said Mallory McMahon, a Bay Ridge resident who helped coordinate the protest through a newly-formed grassroots group called Fight Back Bay Ridge. "We're just angry constituents who want him to talk to us, and he could do that with a town hall. If he's holding out for universal approval, he's in the wrong line of work."

The Staten Island congressman seems to be following the GOP playbook here, both in avoiding the bad optics of a rowdy town hall, and alleging that newly-engaged residents are acting in bad faith. Back in February, after video of an agitated crowd chanting "Do your job" at House Oversight Chair Jason Chaffetz went viral, the congressman claimed that many in the crowd were "brought in from other states to disrupt the meeting." Afterward, the chairman of the Utah GOP accused the protesters of "thuggish behavior," and warned congressional leaders to avoid town halls.

Anger over this perceived evasion has led some district residents to seek other means of reaching out to Rep. Donovan ahead of Thursday's vote. Over the weekend, Rebecca Goldberg Brodsky and Courtney Scott, also of Bay Ridge, released a video addressed to the representative highlighting how specific constituents have benefitted from the Affordable Care Act. They decided to create the short film after a meeting with the representative, in which they say he reiterated his position on not holding town halls until things "calmed down."

"We wanted him to see all the people that he's not meeting through a town hall, to see that this is everybody who's impacted and take the politics out of it," Brodsky, who runs a communications firm, told Gothamist.


The video's creators point out that the ACA repeal, which requires less than 22 "no" votes from Republicans, would be especially damaging to the 11th congressional district, as it's one of the country's top 10 republican districts to benefit from medicaid expansion. (In a recent CNN appearance, Donovan claimed, falsely, that everyone currently on Medicaid would be grandfathered in in perpetuity through the Republican proposal.) According to the Center For American Progress, 85,200 New Yorkers in the congressman's district would lose health insurance under the new plan.

One of the constituents highlighted in the video is Fred Zorn, a resident of Bath Beach, Brooklyn who suffers from ulcerative colitis, a treatable but incurable illness. Under the ACA, Fred received an income-adjusted subsidy that allowed him to pay for specialist care and six yearly infusions of Entyvio—open market price: $168,000—that alleviated his symptoms and permitted him to rejoin the workforce. "We've been married for 13 years," Fred's wife Sarah, the food editor at Brooklyn Magazine, told Gothamist. "Until the last three I didn't know who he was as a healthy person."

Under a Republican plan, the couple would receive a yearly tax credit of about $3,000, while their monthly premiums would hover at around $1500 per month. "We would go from barely hanging on middle class to below the poverty line," Zorn said. "It would be entirely undoable for us."

For the Zorns, the anxiety about rising healthcare costs is compounded by the frustration of feeling shut out by their elected representative. While Rep. Donovan told Gothamist in February that he'd "meet with any constituent who wants to share his or her opinions and concerns," Sarah Zorn says that this is a "bald-faced lie."

"I call every day—his Washington office, his Brooklyn office, his Staten Island office," she said. "I've asked for an in-person meeting and I haven't heard one single peep from his office, save for the occasional empty meaningless form letter."

Reached for comment, a spokesperson for Rep. Donovan repeated the congressman's commitment to meeting with constituents one-on-one, and noted that the office has an open-door policy, where residents are free to walk in and chat with staff members.

Other constituents we spoke with were eventually able to secure a meeting with the representative, though only after a sustained effort. "It took an act of civil disobedience, multiple phone calls, dozens of emails, several letters to the editor, almost two months and eventually a train ticket to D.C. to get my congressman to meet with me," said McMahon, who is scheduled to spend 30 minutes with Rep. Donovan at his Washington D.C. office on Tuesday.

"He just needs to have a f---ing town hall," said Sarah Zorn. "It'd be a real time saver if he'd just sit in a room for one day and answer some questions." The spokesperson noted that there were no plans to hold a town hall meeting ahead of Thursday's vote, and confirmed that the congressman had still not made up his mind on whether he supported the bill.

"There's a gigantic piece of legislation on the table, and before you make a decision you need to speak with your constituents," said Zorn. "We're waiting, we're right here, and we've got stories for you."