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Progressive group backs Holyoke mayor in primary challenge to Richard Neal

Mayor Alex Morse of HolyokeFrederick Gore/The Republican via AP/File 2018/The Republican via AP

The Justice Democrats, a progressive organization that backed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley in their underdog races for Congress last year, announced Wednesday morning they have endorsed Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse in his primary challenge to Representative Richard Neal.

The group highlighted Morse’s record of declaring Holyoke a sanctuary city, implementing a needle exchange program, and being the first mayor in the state to support marijuana legalization. In a statement, the executive director of Justice Democrats, Alexandra Rojas, described Neal as a “bulwark against progressive priorities in the Democratic Party,” citing issues such Medicare for All, free public college, and “holding the Trump administration accountable.”


Neal, 70, is an ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. He was first elected to the Western Massachusetts district seat in 1988, but he’s taken a lot of heat from liberal groups for not pursuing President Trump’s tax returns more vigorously (Neal issued a subpeona for them in May).

“Congressman Neal is on the front lines of holding the Trump administration accountable and is the one being sued by this administration. Richie has always fought to make sure this district gets its fair share and we aren’t left behind,” said Peter Panos, a spokesman for Neal’s campaign.

Morse announced his candidacy in late July, calling Neal “largely silent on the issues that matter most” as well as “absent, unaccountable, and unavailable.”

One of the state’s first openly gay mayors, Morse, 30, told the Globe this week that he is excited about the endorsement and the enthusiasm that people have about this race across the country.

“I want to represent everyday people in Western Mass. who are struggling,” said Morse in a phone interview. “When you think about the struggles people have here, we would never think that we have one of the most powerful Democratic congressmen representing us.”


Aidan Ryan can be reached at aidan.ryan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AidanRyanNH.