Palestinian resolution supporters halt Aldermanic meeting

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Palestine flag
Supporters put up a Palestinian flag from the balcony inside City Hall on Feb. 20. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

MANCHESTER, NH – The Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) meeting was delayed after supporters of a resolution seeking a ceasefire in Gaza began to chant pro-Palestinian slogans, halting the possibility of any further progress in the meeting.

The resolution’s supporters had been present at previous meetings and expressed frustration with a lack of action by the BMA regarding their resolution request, which asks the City of Manchester to endorse a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas while also seeking to end investment in Israel.

Excluding a handful of statements from members of the public regarding housing costs, proposed zoning ordinance changes and making the city friendlier for bicyclists, members of the public provided a variety of comments for nearly an hour on the topic of the resolution and the conflict. That list included items such as South Africa’s claims of genocide by Israel, how U.S. money given to Israel would be put to better use helping Manchester, the fact that BMA Chairman Joseph Kelly Levasseur and Ward 8 Alderman Ed Sapienza left the room during public comment, and various attacks on capitalism and the Aldermen in general.

Once Manchester Mayor Jay Ruais believed that the list of public speakers had been exhausted, he sought to a motion to accept all comments under advisement, which is standard procedure for the BMA at the end of a public comment hearing. However, supporters of the resolution indicated that there were still people who had yet to speak, leading to the disruption.

After a discussion with Ruais, Manchester Police Chief Alan Aldenberg advised the audience that others seeking to speak would be allowed to do so provided that the audience could remain respectful. While supporters held up signs supporting the resolution for the rest of the meeting as well as the flags of Palestine and South Africa, there were no further verbal disruptions.

During the BMA’s first meeting of the new term earlier this year, Ruais indicated that his preference is to limit public comment to those who had signed up on a sign-in sheet, breaking with tradition that allowed those who had not signed up to speak after everyone who signed in to speak. However, those who requested to speak had still largely been allowed to speak even without signing up so far this year.

SA flag
A South African flag was held during the meeting as well after public comment initially shut down. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

During the meeting’s new business section, Ward 5 Alderman Anthony Sapienza indicated that he had never seen public comment shut off before, stating that he also did not want to see it again.

Ruais met with members of the audience after the meeting such as Kate West, who felt that guidelines on public comment during meetings should be placed within the charter and a separate public comment section should be allowed at the end of the meeting as well.

“All I did was point out a couple of gaps in the process,” she said. “I asked (the mayor) to look into that and he said he would.”

After the meeting, supporters of the resolution continued their attempts to sway Aldermen such as Ward 2 Alderman Dan Goonan.

“They’re certainly passionate, but I was pretty upset that they got really out of control. I don’t think this was the proper way to put their point across,” said Goonan. “As far as the Aldermanic board, I think they did (their cause) a whole lot more harm than good.”

Sebastian Rowan was one of the resolution supporters who spoke during public comment and expressed frustration after the meeting with a lack of action on the resolution and lack of opportunity to change the Aldermen’s minds, stating that only Ward 7 Alderman Ross Terrio and Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long responded to attempts to have a conversation on the issue.

While Rowan stated that any civilian killed in war is a tragedy, including Israeli civilians, he felt that the lack of any opinion by the BMA was an embarrassment for the city.

“One of the things we heard over and over again is that there are two sides to this issue, you guys have your side and the other side has their own position and I want to ask the Aldermen that if that’s true, what do they believe?” said Rowan. “Where are those people at public comment? We had 30 or 40 people in support, I think I saw only one guy in the crowd who was opposed to what we were doing.”

About this Author

Andrew Sylvia

Assistant EditorManchester Ink Link

Born and raised in the Granite State, Andrew Sylvia has written approximately 10,000 pieces over his career for outlets across Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. On top of that, he's a licensed notary and licensed to sell property, casualty and life insurance, he's been a USSF trained youth soccer and futsal referee for the past six years and he can name over 60 national flags in under 60 seconds according to that flag game app he has on his phone, which makes sense because he also has a bachelor's degree in geography (like Michael Jordan). He can also type over 100 words a minute on a good day.