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November 17, 2016

Delco woman: Call to Toomey's office about Bannon appointment gets heated

In the eight days since the presidential campaign came to its stunning close, many people have expressed strong thoughts about the results and aftermath.

To voice her displeasure with President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to appoint controversial Stephen Bannon to the role of chief strategist, Rebecca Savastio said she took the Southern Poverty Law Center’s advice to call her representatives in Washington, D.C. on Monday.

In this case, that meant she phoned the local office of U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). To hear her tell it, the call did not go well.

As legislators’ staffers grappled with increased call volume in the wake of the appointment – amid other issues – Savastio said she is “very concerned with the appointment of someone widely known [to be] affiliated with ‘white nationalists.’”

This is particularly troubling, she said, because of an uptick in hate crimes in the days after the election, including property defaced with swastikas in Philadelphia and at Southern Lehigh High School, about six miles away from Toomey's hometown of Zionsville, Lehigh County. (That school's principal informed parents via email that racist and homophobic slurs, and "Heil Hitler" salutes, have been seen since classes started in September.)

What ensued was a heated semantic exchange, said Savastio, 46, who owns a small business in Collingdale, Delaware County. 

"I’m just very upset with this whole election. Our representatives aren’t doing anything about [the proliferation of hate crimes], and they just don’t seem to care.” – Rebecca Savastio, Toomey constituent

Savastio said she asked the male staffer who answered the phone, for Toomey’s position on “this proliferation of hate crimes which I believe is the direct result of the election and the appointment of Stephen Bannon.”

The response? “We don’t have any position on that.”

“As you can imagine, the call didn’t go too well after that,” Savastio added.

When she followed up, asking why Toomey “doesn’t have a position on hate crimes,” the staffer noted – according to Savastio – that “we don’t use that term for the individual you’re talking about; that’s your term.”

Savastio – who said other callers have told her that when they mentioned Bannon’s name, the office just asked for their name and zip code, thus cutting off the conversation – was outraged.

“When I said he’s widely known as, and is, a white nationalist, they said, ‘That’s just your opinion,’” she said, noting that the aide added that Toomey is against swastika-infused hate vandalism

“He was just very flippant and unsympathetic to what I was talking about. It was as if they were just throwing it back at me, like I’m the only person who thinks it, even though that’s not just my opinion," she continued. “A petition (asking Trump to rescind the offer to Bannon) has millions of signatures. I’m just very upset with this whole election. Our representatives aren’t doing anything about (the proliferation of hate crimes), and they just don’t seem to care.”

For Toomey’s part, Communications Director Elizabeth “E.R.” Anderson told PhillyVoice on Wednesday that “our offices have received calls from constituents about White House staffing decisions and other matters.”

She did not respond to follow-up questions about the volume of calls, and whether they’d heard other complaints similar to Savastio’s, or whether her viewpoint was an aberration.

Toomey, who has no say in White House hiring matters, came under fire during his successful re-election campaign versus Democrat Katie McGinty for not saying whether he’d vote for Trump, something he did an hour before the polls closed last week.