Ohio Valley Residents Express Concerns to U.S. Rep. David McKinley

Photo by Ian Hicks Barbara Jenks of Valley Grove, left, and Carole Ryder of Wheeling hold signs across the street from the Federal Building in Wheeling Thursday, where a small group met with U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., to discuss concerns.

WHEELING — A group of Ohio Valley residents gathered in Wheeling Thursday to make their concerns known to U.S. Rep. David McKinley on issues such as health care, potential federal budget cuts, women’s rights and the rollback of environmental regulations under the Trump administration.

While a small group of about eight met with McKinley for about an hour and a half inside the Federal Building — representing groups including Move Ohio Valley Empowered, Indivisible Weirton and West Virginians for Affordable Health Care — another 20 or so people stood across Chapline Street in front of the Wheeling YWCA, holding signs in an effort to get their message across.

They waved as passing motorists sounded their horns, while others pulled to the side to inquire what they were doing there.

Mary Delozier of Wellsburg, West Virginia co-chair of Move Ohio Valley Empowered — a group that formed in the area when Congress was debating a potential repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act that later was pulled — said she felt the meeting was productive, although she thought McKinley focused a little too much on the health care issue early on.

“The problems in our state that we’re concerned about impact health care. … It’s more than people can’t afford health care,” Delozier said. “It’s people can’t get jobs. There’s a big picture that we’re trying to get across, and I think he was agreeable to a lot of the information we presented. So we’ll see what he does with it.”

After the meeting, McKinley got into a vehicle and left, as several of those who were waiting outside approached, shouting questions as to why he didn’t hold a town hall meeting. Later, he released a statement through his chief of staff, Mike Hamilton.

“Unlike some of the congressional meetings happening across the country, the meeting we held today in Wheeling was a courteous and positive exchange of ideas,” McKinley said. “We covered a lot of ground, not only on health care but also on other important issues like the drug crisis and diversifying the local economy. Discussions like these are a productive way to find common ground, and I am glad they took the time to meet.”

McKinley’s staff said the meeting was limited to facilitate a productive discussion on issues.

Delozier said the group was pleased McKinley took the time to meet with them.

“Would we have loved a town hall? Absolutely,” she said. “But we’ll take what we can get.”

Among those standing outside during the meeting was Martha Polinsky, chairwoman of Move Ohio Valley Empowered. She said she would like to see an independent congressional investigation into allegations Russia meddled in last year’s election.

“Just to put that to rest so we all know the truth,” Polinsky said.

Alicia McClintock of Glen Dale said the group had hoped for a larger turnout, adding there are many people who share their concerns but had other obligations Thursday.

“The timing was a little early for people who have nine-to-five jobs,” McClintock said of the mid-afternoon meeting. “Some of us could get here.”

Diana Magnone, who attended the meeting with McKinley representing Indivisible Weirton, said her group is concerned with the “dismantling” of environmental regulations such as the Clean Power Plan by President Donald Trump’s administration and legislation that impacts labor, among other things.

“We feel it’s so polarized at this point,” Magnone said of the country’s political discourse. “We are either far left or far right, and there are so many people in the middle, and we feel we are not being represented.”

Also invited into the meeting was Amy Bergdale, representing American Federal Government Employees 238, which includes U.S. Environmental Protection Agency employees. She’s an aquatic biologist who works at the EPA’s Wheeling office.

Bergdale said one in five Wheeling residents is malnourished, and she’s concerned about proposed funding cuts that affect organizations like Grow Ohio Valley, which aims to expand the area’s access to fresh, local produce. The AmeriCorps program is also on the chopping block, she said, and she’s concerned about potential cuts to research on water quality and how mineral extraction impacts radon levels — which she said are among the nation’s highest in the Northern Panhandle.