GREECE, N.Y. — New Yorkers generally aren’t used to capturing the attention of presidential candidates on the campaign trail, but John Kasich had quite a trip to Greece, New York, Saturday afternoon as he attracted the largest regular town hall crowd he’s seen since the start of his campaign
The Ohio governor ended up in multiple vivid exchanges with people who showed up to see him.
More than 3,000 people lined up around the Town of Greece Community and Senior Center, just outside of Rochester, crowding into a full gymnasium and also a large overflow room next door.
As Kasich walked into the room holding his overflow crowd before the main event, he marveled at the sea of beaming faces before him, strolling over to cameras gathered and remarking, "And they want me to drop out, huh?"
The governor’s audience chanted, "Kasich! Kasich!" and the governor looked over the swarm of people, and shouted, "and they say I should quit!" One man cried, back, "Donald can quit!"
Kasich’s events this weekend in upstate New York attracted some of the biggest crowds he’s seen in this campaign — he met roughly 1,500 people in Syracuse Friday night — but also attracted some protesters.
A group of disability rights advocates said they showed up to Kasich’s event in Greece at 7 a.m. so they could be in a position to ask him a question at the town hall.
Michelle Fridley, of Canandaigua, and Debbie Bonomo, of Rochester, were part of a small group who interrupted Kasich’s event, chanting, “Disability Integration, act now!” as they tried to gain attention by shaking soda bottles with coins inside.
A back-and-forth ensued as Kasich tried to engage with them from the stage as the audience tried to drown the protesters out with "Kasich!" chants.
Fridley and Bonomo are both disabled and serve on the board for the Center for Disability Rights in Rochester. They told NBC News they were upset they had to sit in a disabled area to the side of the stage and wanted to challenge Kasich on his record in Ohio and ask whether he would support the Disability Integration Act, legislation introduced by New York Sen. Chuck Schumer.
After most of the crowd from the event had left and gone home, Kasich returned to the gymnasium to meet with the group face to face.
"I’m not going to turn my back on you folks,” he told the group. "I’m going to do everything I can to help you, OK. I mean, are you kidding?"
"Here’s what I’m going to tell you," Kasich continued. "When everybody was like, they wanted to start saying, chanting my name and quieting you, I’m not going for that. Because I’ll tell you, the developmentally disabled have lived in the shadows for 100 years. Okay, I know that. I don’t want that to happen to anybody. And I’m not saying that because I’m a politician or I want your vote. I’m a human being just like you are.”
Kasich took pictures with the group and got their contact information so his staff could get in further touch.
"Do you know why I want to do this?" Kasich told them, after the pictures. "Because Jesus wants me to."
"That’s why I’m here," Fridley responded.
After the governor left, Fridley told NBC News she was "really grateful that he did come in and talk to us individually. He did let us know that we were heard. He was unfamiliar with the legislation that we were asking him to support."
"I am very happy that he took the time out — not only to leave when everybody thought he had left, but to come back in and find out what our issues were, for him to understand why we had to interrupt him, because we were in the back and not only could we not see him, but there was no way we were going to get the opportunity to ask that question," she said. "We did what we had to do. We took some empty soda bottles and put some change in there."
"It was so important for us to be able to connect with him and say, look, we’ve all been trying to connect with you to find out where you stand," Bonomo added. "Coming here to get the answer, and then put in the back, and then not being able to ask the question, our frustration just kind of built."
After the event, Kasich also met a local 17-year-old student athlete who said she ran to the event to see him, and was so overcome with emotion that she burst into tears when she met him.
Kasich pulled her aside for a private conversation, and later recalled the exchange at an event later in the day in New Rochelle: "I'm just a regular person," he said.
The meetings were the latest in a string of what has become regular encounters Kasich has people across the campaign trail that turn into emotional exchanges.