Alex Morse, the Holyoke mayor who is challenging longtime incumbent US Representative Richard Neal for the Western Massachusetts-anchored congressional seat, highlights his brother’s struggles with addiction in his first television ad of the Democratic primary.
Morse’s brother Doug died in February after a 20-year struggle with opioid addiction, according to Morse’s campaign. In the new 30-second spot, Morse cites his work as mayor launching programs to treat addiction while ripping Neal for “using his power and seniority to fight for the same drug companies that are fueling this crisis.”
“Doug was a good man, but he fell through the cracks of our cruel health care system,” said Morse, 31. “Too many families in Western Mass. know that same pain.”
Morse, who is currently serving his fourth term as Holyoke’s mayor, where he has implemented a needle exchange program, said he is running for Congress “to fight for people like my brother.”
The initial ad buy for the television spot was $100,000, according to Morse’s campaign.
The spot drew a sharp rebuke from Neal’s campaign.
“Addiction and loss are not political footballs and invoking the loss of a family member in an attack full of lies is despicable and appalling,” said Kate Norton, a spokeswoman for the Neal campaign.
Neal’s campaign on Wednesday also pointed to the congressman’s work fighting the opioid crisis, including helping secure a $2.1 million grant in 2017 that it said allowed a family drug court in Franklin County to help those in recovery over a five-year period.
In 2016, The Berkshire Eagle reported that Neal had accepted “more than $220,000 in campaign donations from pharmaceutical companies and their allies” during a 9-year period, which outdistanced any other Massachusetts representative during that time frame.
Neal told that paper at the time that donations have no bearing on his legislative agenda.
Morse first became mayor in his hometown at age 22, and is the first openly gay mayor in the history of Holyoke. His campaign has highlighted his progressive bona fides, saying that as mayor, he declared Holyoke, a diverse community of about 40,000 residents, as a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants. He was also the first mayor in the state to endorse recreational marijuana legislation, according to his campaign.
Morse has received backing from the national progressive organization that helped Representatives Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York upset incumbent Democrats in 2018.
First elected to Congress in 1988, Neal, a former Springfield mayor, is the longest-serving House member from New England. He is currently chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.
As of June 30, Morse’s campaign had $315,000 cash on hand. Neal, meanwhile, had more than $4 million in his campaign coffers as of that date.