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Holyoke Mayor Launching Challenge To Congressman Neal

Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, left, will challenge Rep. Richard Neal in the Democratic primary. (Courtesy Alex Morse for Congress; Niall Carson/PA via AP)
Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, left, will challenge Rep. Richard Neal in the Democratic primary. (Courtesy Alex Morse for Congress; Niall Carson/PA via AP)

Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, who made history when he was first elected at the age of 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 on Monday morning with a video that tells the story of his parents climbing out of poverty and his ascent into politics in western Massachusetts.

"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 fact is, the Congressman has been largely silent on the issues that matter most," Morse said. "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."

A Neal spokesman welcomed Morse into the democratic process.

"Richie has been a champion for working families in western Massachusetts and has fought tirelessly to ensure that the people of our region are not forgotten and receive our fair share," Peter Panos said in a statement.

Morse's 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.

Neal, however, easily fended off a primary challenge a year ago.

"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."

Alex Morse

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 1st District spanning much of the western part of the state, including Springfield and the Berkshires.

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 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. 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.

With reporting by The Associated Press and the WBUR Newsroom

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