US Rep. Neal heads to Berkshires Friday for tax talk in Williamstown, Pittsfield forum


PITTSFIELD — Berkshire County residents and other interested constituents will be able to hold audience with U.S. Rep. Richard Neal this Friday night, and also be able to hold him accountable.

The Springfield-based Democrat represents Massachusetts' 1st Congressional District, comprising 87 cities and towns spanning Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire and Worcester counties, since redistricting in 2012.

Neal will host a Town Hall-style forum beginning at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, in the Robert Boland Theatre of the Koussevitzky Arts Center at Berkshire Community College. Doors open at 5, for this free, public event.

Neal's constituents voiced concern earlier this year about the congressman's availability, which included several letters to The Editor in The Eagle and other Western Massachusetts newspapers. In response, Neal announced in June that he would host a forum in the Berkshires this fall.

Neal's last similarly styled forum in Western Massachusetts took place at Elms College in Chicopee back in March, and the discussion focused primarily on the Affordable Care Act.

Back in June, Sheffield Democratic Committee member Richard Brown told The Eagle that Neal was long overdue in hosting such an event with Berkshire constituents. "We've been working hard to form a partnership with Rep. Neal," Brown said at that time. "Many people in the Berkshires are very anxious to hear from him directly."

Neal's District Press Secretary Margaret Boyle said the congressman was pleased to be able to secure a date with Berkshire Community College hosting the event. She said Neal will "be bringing an update from Washington, with a focus on tax, trade and health care," since the congressman is a ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee in the House of Representatives.

Prior to the forum at BCC, Neal will present the program, "Why Real Tax Reform Is So Hard," at 1:30 p.m., in room 3 of Griffin Hall at Williams College, which is sponsored by the college's department of Political Science. This program is also free and open to the public, and both of Friday's events will include time for questions and answers.

Boyle said Neal will also be present at several other Berkshire events this fall, including this weekend's Hometown Parade as part of Lee's Founders Weekend, as well as the upcoming Fall Foliage Parade in North Adams and the Lenox 250th Anniversary Parade scheduled for October.

Berkshire Community College President Ellen Kennedy will be on hand at Friday evening's forum, and says she hopes — despite the fact that the timing coincides with the start of the weekend for many people — that as many people as possible attend the program.

"We want this to be very representative of every corner of the community," Kennedy said, so that Neal can learn about "what's keeping the people of Berkshire County up at night."

The college previously hosted U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren for a Saturday morning forum back on July 8, also in the Boland Theatre. The venue has a capacity for just over 500 people, and Kennedy said that Warren's event maxed out seating in the auditorium and overflow space.

Kennedy said she hopes legislators and community members alike see the college as an open space for such public discourse on the pressing issues of the day. She said that compared to less-than-civil encounters between communities and politicians across the nation, "I feel so proud that in Massachusetts, our congressman and our senator are pushing to have these kinds of events to connect with their constituents, hear what their concerns are, and have a window into the soul of our community."

Kennedy said she would personally love to hear any of Neal's insights on issues affecting the public college campus community, including rising student debt, funding levels for federal student aid, and the latest considerations for the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals policy.

Kennedy said she's also eager to listen to the issues that forum participants bring up.

"We were delighted to host Sen. Warren, and now to have Congressman Neal here in person — it can give us great perspective in what's motivating our government, what's happening at the national level, and how it affects us at the local level," she said.


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