How things have changed for Paul Tonko.
Just two years ago he stood in Bethlehem's Elm Avenue Park as a raucous crowd of hundreds took the second-term Congressman to task on healthcare reform, the topic of the day.
Tonko faced a more even-keeled crowd with different concerns this evening during a town hall discussion at the Altamont firehouse. Though a whole host of subjects were brought up, nearly all came back around to a universal topic: the economy.
Tonko, a Democrat, kept true to a vow to let the crowd guide the conversation, speaking only for a few minutes before taking the first question of the evening. The meeting hall was packed and the crowd swelled further as people trickled in after finding parking on the streets of the village that's now hosting the Altamont Fair.
Tonko spoke often and at length about the need to stimulate job growth, and put in certain terms that he does not feel slashing the federal budget is the way forward, as some of his colleagues have suggested. He said the government can be shrunk in some areas, but there must be equal or greater investment in technology, research and education.
This is not the time to dumb down, disinvest and defund, Tonko said.
More than one speaker alluded to the country's dismal view of Congress at the present. Some polls have put the body's approval rating in the teens following political gridlock over the debt ceiling increase that some say led to a downgrade of the country's credit rating.
"We need thoughtful government, not just knee-jerk reaction," Tonko said, in what was to become something of a theme for the evening. "Civil discourse needs to guide the conversation."
But no matter what the topic at hand, the conversation in Altamont seemed to return to the economy. One attendee asked about a recent statement by billionaire investor Warren Buffett encouraging the government to increase taxes on the rich.