Upstaged: Hillsdale Drive Extension project dedication overshadowed by Garrett protesters

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Congressman Tom Garrett is in this photo, but you might not be able to see him because of the crowd of angry constituents that's engulfing him. Staff photo Congressman Tom Garrett is in this photo, but you might not be able to see him because of the crowd of angry constituents that’s engulfing him. Staff photo

The official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the nearly 30-year-old Hillsdale Drive Extension project was overshadowed by protesters who came to confront a congressman who was scheduled to speak.

Fifth District representative Tom Garrett was swarmed by a crowd of about 25 angry constituents as he arrived at the January 26 ceremony where at least 11 state and local police officers were present.

As City Councilor Kathy Galvin gave her opening remarks about the new roadway, the crowd lambasted Garrett about a bevy of topics, mostly including health care and his alleged refusal to meet with his constituents.

Law enforcement stood between the congressman and the crowd as he took the podium, and warned away protesters who attempted to hold their anti-Garrett signs behind him as he spoke.

Among those signs were “One Term Wonder,” “283 Days Until Midterms” and a blown up photo of the Republican House of Representatives member posing with Jason Kessler, the homegrown white nationalist who organized the summer’s Unite the Right rally that left three dead and dozens injured.

Todd Cone says he’s gone to Congressman Tom Garrett’s office, but he’s never successfully met with him. Staff photo

“You met with him. Why not the rest of us?” said the sign.

At times, Garrett was difficult to hear over the shouts from of protesters, but he commended the cooperative effort of the city and county on the road extension that’s been on the books since the 1990s.

Construction on the two-lane, multi-modal roadway began in June 2016. It runs parallel to Route 29, with dedicated turn lanes from the county’s Rio Road to the city’s Hydraulic Road. It includes 3,600 linear feet of a shared-use path on its east side and 5,800 linear feet of sidewalk on its west side, which is south of Greenbrier Drive. New additions also include the  roundabout at Zan Road and Hillsdale Drive and a new traffic signal at Seminole Court and Hillsdale Drive.

Garrett—along with Galvin, city manager Maurice Jones, Albemarle County Board of Supervisors representatives Ann Mallek and Ned Gallaway and VDOT engineer John Lynch—used a giant pair of shears to snip the ribbon near the roundabout. But the congressman didn’t stick around for much longer after that.

The angry mob followed him to his black SUV and circled it as he tried to leave, and most were responsive when the driver laid on the horn.

But detractors weren’t the only attendees—at least five people brought pro-Garrett signs, and even more showed up in support of him.

John Miska, a local veteran who’s often spotted at political events, said Garrett was able to solve a years-long problem for him in a matter of days.

Veteran John Miska stands next to his camo truck while collecting signatures to get Culpeper resident Nick Freitas, who’s running for Senate, on the ballot. Staff photo

The veteran says he’s taken opiates to manage chronic pain for years, which have caused his teeth to rot. He’s hounded the Department of Veterans Affairs for dental care for two years.

About three weeks ago, Miska filled out some paperwork at Garrett’s office at the congressman’s request, and Miska says he was headed to a dentist to have two necrotic teeth pulled on January 30.

“Something that would have cost a couple hundred dollars to fix if they would have done it in a timely manner is now going to cost the taxpayers thousands of dollars, and Tom is a little ticked off about that,” he says.

Adds Miska, “Tom got involved and I got seen. And so these people complaining about their health care and all, they fail to realize that the whole cascade of problems with health care is because they tried to eat an elephant with one bite.”

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