BOSTON — Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, who made history when elected at 22 to lead his home city, will try to make history again by challenging a powerful committee chairman and the dean of the state's Congressional delegation, U.S Rep. Richard Neal, in the 2020 election.
Morse announced his decision to run with a Monday morning video that tells the story of his parents climbing out of poverty and his ascent into politics in western Massachusetts.
His decision to run against Neal comes one cycle after U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley knocked off incumbent Michael Capuano, showing that in the right district and with the right candidate even the advantages of money, clout and name recognition can be overcome.
"There's an urgency to this moment in Massachusetts' First District and our country, and that urgency is not matched by our current representative in Congress," Morse said in a statement. The district includes all of Berkshire County.
"The fact is, the Congressman has been largely silent on the issues that matter most. He's been absent, unaccountable, and unavailable. It's not just that we need new leadership in Washington. We need new leadership that understands that we can no longer settle for small, incremental, and compromising progress. We need to be on offense. We need to be fighting for something, not just against," he said.
Morse said that he would refuse to take any money from corporate political action committees to support his campaign.
Neal, 70, has served in Congress since 1988, and represents the First District spanning much of the western part of the state, including Springfield and the Berkshires. Peter Panos, a Neal spokesman, told Stephanie Murray of Politico that the congressman "will welcome anyone into this race" and said Neal has "fought tirelessly to ensure that the people of our region are not forgotten and receive our fair share."
When the Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives this year, Neal assumed the powerful chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee, and has used his position to subpoena President Donald Trump's personal and business tax returns.
Neal, however, faced criticism from some Democrats who wanted him to move more quickly to go after Trump's taxes, and he became the target of an advertising and organizing campaign led by billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer to convince Neal to support impeachment.
Steyer, who founded Need to Impeach, is now running for president, and Neal has urged patience while House Democrats continue to investigate the president.
The veteran Democrat has also raised over $1.1 million since the start of the year, and reported nearly $4 million in cash-on-hand after the second quarter.
Morse, who is now serving his fourth term as mayor of Holyoke, was the city's youngest and first openly gay mayor when he first entered public office, and cites decreased unemployment and crime, and improved high school graduations rates among his accomplishments.
"To the extent that we can show people your member of Congress can be an incredibly powerful tool to improve your quality of life, to improve your community, is something that needs to be reminded to every single person in every single city and town in this district," Morse said in his campaign launch video.
The mayor plans to host friends, family, and supporters to celebrate his campaign kickoff at the Unicorn Inn at 126 High St. tonight at 6 p.m.