PITTSFIELD -- U.S. Rep. Richard Neal officially opened his Berkshire campaign headquarters in Pittsfield on Monday, and he's brought along some office mates -- including the state Democratic Party.
The Democrats have yet to pick their nominee from the field of three in the 1st Congressional District race, which includes Neal, who has represented the state's Spring field-based district -- recently reconfigured to include the Berkshires -- since 1988.
Though a party spokesman stressed that the arrangement does not constitute an endorsement, the news that the state party would be working out of Neal's office space was met by his two primary opponents with equal parts befuddlement and condemnation.
Bill Shein, an Alford-based writer and activist, called the arrangement "inappropriate," while a spokesman for Andrea Nuciforo, a former state Senator and the current Middle Berkshire register of deeds, called the co-habitation "odd."
"My guess is, they may have done this in the past when there has been no contested primary, but this is a very different year, and what may have been unquestioned in the past is quite likely inappropriate this year," Shein said.
Nuciforo's spokesman, James Pollock, said he'd never heard of a state party sharing an office with a candidate during a contested primary, but he added that the campaign isn't concerned.
"It's no big deal," he said. "No matter what's going on behind the scenes with the state
Neal's campaign says it is covering the entire cost of the Wahconah Street office, which he has also made available to state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing and Elizabeth Warren, the leading Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.
Neal said in a statement that he offered to share the Pittsfield office, as well as his office in Springfield, because "Democrats are successful when they work together to achieve common goals."
"I look forward to working closely with Elizabeth and continuing the close relationship I have shared with Ben and the Massachusetts Democratic Party," Neal said.
Kevin Franck, a Democratic Party spokesman, said the party is neutral in primaries. He also disputed the notion that the party will "share" the space with Neal, noting that the office will not be continuously staffed by a party employee.
"We're not sharing an office: The congressman has set up a re-election office and has offered us space there for grassroots, volunteer activities," Franck said. "We will not have a continuous presence, it's not the Western Massachusetts Democratic Party headquarters -- it is, to us, simply a site that has been made available to help coordinate our work."
According to the Neal camp, Warren, whose campaign didn't return calls for comment, will keep a staffer in the office. Downing, who is currently running unopposed, does not plan to keep a staffer there but will use the space to coordinate volunteer activities.
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