ELMIRA - Rep. Tom Reed’s town hall at the Steele Memorial Library in Elmira Tuesday afternoon started off with a tame discussion mostly centered around Social Security reform before turning into a passionate discussion regarding racism and abortion.

Much of the beginning of the discussion began with Reed, R-Corning, focusing on Social Security reform.

“Fundamentally - and there’s common agreement here today - we have to fix it,” said Reed.

Reed cited several issues surrounding the future of Social Security. In particular, Social Security costs currently exceed total income the program is bringing in, which Reed says means the program will be unable to fully pay beneficiaries beginning in 2035.

At that point, the program will only be able to provide beneficiaries about 80 percent of entitled benefits.

“I think people recognize… the problem doesn’t get better with age it gets much worse,” he said. 

Reed stated his intention to work with Democrats on the issue. He also said he does not believe increasing payroll taxes is a viable method to mend the program.

The discussion quickly turned sour when a dialogue arose centered around President Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric and allegations of racism, such as his treatment of the four Democratic congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

Reed said he has opposed Trump’s rhetoric both publicly and privately, but that he does not see him as racist. Reed was among the 187 members of congress that opposed an effort to condemn President Trump's Tweets on July 16.

“I do know the individual, and I don’t see a racist heart there,” said Reed.

That statement was met with disagreement from the audience.

The discussion then began to turn toward Reed’s opposition to funding Planned Parenthood. Reed affirmed where he stood on the issue.

“Because of my pro-life beliefs I am opposed to Planned Parenthood funding,” he said.

Some in the audience pushed back on his stance, citing the assortment of other women’s healthcare services Planned Parenthood provides.

For Cornell University Professor Joan Jacobs Brumberg, this was her first Tom Reed town hall she attended.

“I’m glad I finally came, I’ve never done this before,” said Brumberg. “A lot of people in Ithaca have. Some of them are very tired, they’re frustrated, and they feel we don’t have anybody up there because Tom Reed ignores us.”

Brumberg said she was impressed with Reed’s intricate knowledge of Social Security and economics but disagreed with him everywhere else.

“I’m not in favor of his other stances at all,” she said.

Southport resident Christa Heyward, a scientific researcher, said she came to Tuesday’s town hall over concern about Trump’s rhetoric. 

“I want a congressman that’s going to speak up about some of the rhetoric that is coming from the president,” she said. “I just feel as though many of the Republican representatives have ignored or brushed under the rug some of the comments made by the president that are offensive not just to me but to a lot of Americans.”

Reed said hosting town halls is all about listening to constituents around the district and considering multiple viewpoints.

“We believe to represent people you have to listen to people,” he said. “These town halls are designed all about that, to get input from folks, even folks that maybe we passionately disagree with, and that have a passion on an issue that maybe we can’t find agreement on. But I do believe, if you stay in the room long enough, you treat each other with respect, you can find common ground.”