Amatul-Wadud on congressional race: 'You can feel the excitement'

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Tahirah Amatul-Wadud feels it is her "moment." Though she faces long odds in challenging a 30-year incumbent for a U.S. House of Representatives seat, the Springfield attorney believes that her message is connecting in a year of political upsets.

At the end of a WGBY-TV forum this week, Amatul-Wadud looked into the camera and told viewers in the 1st Congressional District: "I am the face of the future."

Tuesday's Democratic party primary will reveal whether forces that ousted long-serving members of Congress like Joseph Crowley in New York are at play in Western Massachusetts.

Amatul-Wadud believes that change is in the air.

"You can feel the excitement around having choice," she said. "If this can happen in New York, it can happen here."

In the past eight months, Amatul-Wadud, 44, has worked to position herself as a more progressive Democrat than U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, particularly on health care. She backs single-payer insurance, known as "Medicare for all," while Neal says his priority is preserving the Affordable Care Act.

When asked why she chose this contest as her first bid for elective office, Amatul-Wadud said she felt it offered the best opportunity to have an impact.

"This is the seat that I'm fighting very hard to earn," Amatul-Wadud said.

Outside the WGBY-TV studio Thursday, dozens of supporters of both candidates clustered along East Columbus Avenue, waving signs at passing vehicles.

"We need progressives who really have a vision for what's possible. We're tired of the old Democrats," said Dolores Root of Shelburne, an Amatul-Wadud backer.

"He feels like a politician and not a representative," Oona Coy of Northampton said of Neal. "I find her to be an incredibly inspiring person. I really feel she's a unifying candidate."

Amatul-Wadud weathered an outbreak of bigotry when anti-Muslim flyers were sent to voters. She and Neal denounced their appearance.

"It was scary, frankly," she said of the materials.

What follows are highlights of Amatul-Wadud's candidacy:

CAMPAIGN CORE: Amatul-Wadud hopes to woo Democrats who feel Neal has been in office too long and has lost touch with constituents in the big district — which includes 87 cities and towns in five counties. She claims not to have heard voters express concerns about losing Neal's seniority as the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee.

KEY ISSUES: In addition to backing single-payer health insurance, the candidate says she will push for a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage, universal preschool, full broadband access, the ability of students to leave public colleges without debt, more affordable housing, job growth, immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for people who came to the U.S. as children, federal legalization of cannabis, and steps to protect air and water from pollution.

TOP GOALS IF ELECTED: Amatul-Wadud said she would be "accountable and present" as a representative. She expresses interest in serving on the agriculture committee in the House, and said she would push for infrastructure investment and improvements in national security, though she called the Pentagon budget bloated. "It allows defense contractors to get rich and richer," she said.

ENDORSEMENTS: Individuals include Pittsfield activist Shirley Edgerton, Helen Moon of the Pittsfield City Council, Justin Hurst of the Springfield City Council, and Jossie Valent n and Nelson Roman of the Holyoke City Council.

Also, the following Democratic town committee members from Berkshire County back her: Tommie Hutto-Blake, Becket; Kevin Towle, Lanesborough; Patricia Salomon, Monterey; Joyce Hackett, New Marlborough; and Brody Hale, Tyringham.

Groups in her corner include Massachusetts Peace Action, Progressive Massachusetts, the National Women's Political Caucus, the Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus, Progressive Democrats of America and Rise Up Western Mass.

WHO SHE IS: Married with seven children. She has worked as an attorney for 12 years, after graduation from the Western New England School of Law with a focus on family and probate cases. She has lived in Springfield since she was 9.

She serves as a member of the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women. After her daughter needed heart surgery as a newborn, she became a member of the Family Advisory Council of Boston Children's Hospital.

When asked about identity at the WGBY-TV forum, Amatul-Wadud suggested that her faith as a Muslim and race, as African-American, would inform how she approaches representing the district.

She also sees herself as skilled at negotiating, attributing it to her legal training in a WWLP-TV debate. "I know how to come across the table and reach agreement," she said.

FUNDRAISING: The candidate has called on Neal to stop accepting campaign donations from political action committees. According to Federal Election Commission reports, as of Aug. 15 she has raised $112,853, with $111,060 coming from individual donations. She reports no political action committee giving. As of Aug. 15, her campaign had $20,139 in cash on hand.


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