GLOUCESTER — Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken gave U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren a warm welcome back to the city with a gift bag of food, cannoli and a piece of advice.

"I keep saying, 'Elizabeth, you need to take care of yourself. You look too thin, I have to feed you,'" Theken said.

The playful opening had many of the 800 people filling the auditorium at Gloucester High School giggling after they shuffled through a slow moving line to hear Warren speak on Saturday. The town hall event was her first time back in the city since 2015 to see a production at the Gloucester Stage Company.

During her opening remarks, Warren touched on the final GOP tax bill that was released on Friday. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act slashes corporate taxes and includes a broad range of other tax reforms.

"I'm really worried about this tax bill for what it means individually for people in Massachusetts and across the country," she said. "The real aim of government right now in Washington is to try to improve the profitability of giant corporations and ask everyone else to pick up the bill. It's fundamentally unfair."

Warren fielded questions from the audience on a range of topics including the opioid crisis, gun control, net neutrality, health care, climate change, foreign relations, voter fraud, gerrymandering, the tax bill and political division within the country. State Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante acted as the moderator.

The first question came from Laura Fillmore Evans, of Rockport, regarding how net neutrality affects the internet-based publishing services company she started 35 years ago, which she said has employed hundreds of people.

The Federal Communications Commission recently repealed the Obama-era “net neutrality” rules, giving internet service providers like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T a free hand to slow or block websites and apps as they see fit or charge more for faster speeds.

"The abolition of net neutrality threatens not only our business, but education and freedom of communication worldwide," Fillmore Evans said. "What actions can we take here on the ground that will be heard in Washington that might win us back our internet?"

Warren responded by urging the audience to spend the next 60 days lobbying members of Congress to overturn the ruling. She said she is also introducing legislation on Monday to reverse the measure by getting Congress to override it. She will need 51 votes in the Senate and a bare majority in the House to be successful.

"I think this is a disaster — this is a disaster for America," Warren said. "This really is about democracy versus a handful of the rich and powerful who want to scoop up more and more of the benefits. I am in this fight all the way; if enough of us get in on it, maybe we can reverse it."

Another audience member asked about the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, a gun bill that passed in the House last week and would force each state to recognize the concealed-carry standards of every other state. Warren said the argument had always been to let each state decide on their own gun regulations.  

"That doesn't work well for a state like Massachusetts that believes in sensible gun regulations because people can bring in guns from other places," she said. "The NRA (National Rifle Association) is now pushing Congress to roll over states like Massachusetts.

"We have to fight back," she said. "But let me make the larger point that America is ready for sensible gun rules for all of us. Right now, this country is held hostage by the NRA and it is time to fight back." 

During the course of the town hall, Warren also touched on different ways she thinks President Donald Trump's administration has threatened fundamental pillars of democracy. 

"I ask you to do exactly what you're doing this morning — to stay engaged. Whatever issue pulls you into a room, stay in there. Stay in on all the issues because this is one of those moments in history where our country has to decide which way we're going to go," Warren told the crowd. "I'm putting my nickels in democracy, I'm putting my belief in you."

Mary Markos may be contacted at 978-338-2660 or mmarkos@salemnews.com.

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