U.S. First District Representative Richard Neal is under attack from some Berkshire residents, and residents in rural towns east of the Berkshires, for his inaccessibility. The promise of a Berkshire town hall in the fall is only a start in addressing those concerns.
In a letter to the editor Wednesday, Stockbridge activist Susie Kaufman and Sheffield Democratic Committee member Richard Brown spoke of their frustration in getting the congressman's staff to hold a town hall meeting in the Berkshires. This concern is shared by residents of the towns of Chesterfield, Cummington, Goshen, Huntington, Plainfield and Middlefield. The organization Indivisible Williamsburg is running ads in area media featuring a photograph of the congressman with word "Missing" written across the top asking why the Springfield Democrat hasn't met with voters in that rural section of Western Massachusetts in five years.
In a recent interview with Joshua Miller of The Boston Globe, Representative Neal responded to the concerns of Berkshire County residents that he is out of touch by saying "Nobody's complaining in Berkshire County." Plainly people are complaining in Berkshire County but their complaints aren't being heard, or being addressed if they are heard. But the congressman shouldn't wait for complaints before he shows up in the western reaches of his district. There are issues within his purview that people want to discuss — broadband access, the GE-EPA Housatonic river cleanup, the federally approved Otis State Forest pipeline plan among them — that they should be able to bring up with their congressman directly on occasion.
According to William Tranghese, the congressman's communications director, Representative Neal can't come to the Berkshires before fall because of a busy schedule in Washington. Summer recess, however, should provide the congressman opportunities to visit the Berkshires, especially considering that the Republican Congress in recent years has - through no fault of Mr. Neal - earned notoriety for inactivity and lack of accomplishments.
Representative Neal, who with 29 years in Congress is the dean of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, has an extremely secure seat. He rarely faces a serious electoral challenge and with about 70 percent of his constituency residing in Springfield and nearby cities he doesn't have to rely on votes from the Berkshires and other rural towns to get elected.
That of course, doesn't reduce Mr. Neal's obligations to the Berkshires, which he has represented since redistricting in 2013 following the loss of one of the state's congressional districts merged his Second District with the First District. His visibility and accessibility should be no less than that of former First District Representative John Olver, who also had a geographically sprawling district. Residents should expect to see more of the congressman — and ideally before fall.