Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse announced on Monday that he will challenge US Representative Richard Neal in the Democratic primary in 2020 to represent the state’s First Congressional District.
“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, 30, a four-term mayor, said in a statement. “The fact is, the Congressman has been largely silent on the issues that matter most. He’s been absent, unaccountable, and unavailable.”
Neal, 70, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, is serving his 15th term in Congress. He was first elected in 1988, and is the longest serving of the state’s nine-member congressional delegation.
In a statement, a spokesman for Neal said competitive campaigns are part of the democratic process.
“We are fortunate to live in a country where everyone can have his or her voice heard by running for office, and that’s why Congressman Neal will welcome anyone into this race,” said Peter Panos, a Neal spokesman. “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.”
The Globe reported last week that Morse was considering running against Neal. At that time, a spokesman said Neal remained focused on representing the people of his district, which covers all of Berkshire County and parts of Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire, and Worcester counties.
“With Donald Trump trying to turn back the clock on so much we’ve accomplished, Congressman Neal is focused on leading the fight for fairer taxes, affordable and accessible health care and preserving Social Security and Medicare,” said Panos. “Congressman Neal looks forward to continued engagement with voters about the work he is doing to improve the lives of working families.”
As Ways and Means chairman, Neal has faced increasing public pressure to have President Trump release his tax returns. This month, the committee filed a federal lawsuit to force the president to disclose his returns.
The leader of a Washington, D.C.-based progressive political organization said in a statement they would consider backing a challenger to Neal, but did not endorse Morse.
“We will very likely support a primary challenger against Richie Neal because he consistently sides with giant corporations and the political establishment against progress for his constituents,” said Adam Green, cofounder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in a statement.
Morse, one of the state’s first openly gay mayors, was new to politics when he was first elected mayor of his hometown in 2011 at age 22. He announced his candidacy while still a senior at Brown University in Providence.
During his tenure, he has focused on attracting new business growth in the city, and improving its public schools. He also declared Holyoke, a diverse community of about 40,000 residents, as a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants.
In his statement, Morse said it is time for new leadership in Washington that understands “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.”
Sophia Eppolito can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @SophiaEppolito. Christina Prignano of the Globe staff contributed to this report.