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Editorial: Looking forward to an informed debate over congressional seat this primary

  • Tahirah Amatul-Wadud will challenge incumbent Congressman Richard Neal for his seat this primary. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz


Saturday, December 30, 2017

Democracy loves a challenge. So, it should be good for democracy in western Massachusetts this fall when incumbent Congressman Richard Neal faces a primary challenge from Springfield lawyer Tahirah Amatul-Wadud. She seeks the congressional seat that Neal has held for about 30 years.

The First Congressional District includes Hampden and Berkshire counties and the western hilltowns of Hampshire and Franklin counties. Before 2011 it was largely a Hampden County district, a benefit to Neal, a well-liked, one-time Springfield mayor. Neal faced no primary or strong general election challengers in the last election in 2016.

But all incumbents — especially those who have been around a long while — should be challenged, by new ideas and new candidates. So, we were happy to see Amatul-Wadud announce her candidacy in Shelburne Falls at year’s end.

On the surface, the 44-year-old woman looks like a different sort of candidate than Neal, although as Massachusetts Democrats they likely line up on a lot of issues.

“We need a strong advocate. An advocate who hears the people. An advocate who understands the people,” Amatul-Wadud pronounced at her inaugural campaign event. Neal would probably agree about listening to and advocating for constituents and argue that is just what he’s been doing.

Amatul-Wadud would support “strong job growth and job development,” broadband for the underserved towns of the Berkshire foothills, and agriculture. It’s hard to see Neal objecting to that, either.

Although born in New York, Amatul-Wadud moved to western Massachusetts when she was 9. Home-schooled, she graduated from Elms College in Chicopee and Western New England University School of Law in Springfield. A Muslim, she has served as lead counsel in cases involving religious intolerance toward Muslims. She has served on the Commission on the Status of Women in Massachusetts for four years. She is also on the board of the National Conference for Community & Justice and the committee for the Hampden County Bar Association’s Children’s Law Project.

She predicts, based on her experience, there may be some biased reaction to her candidacy. “There’s going to be lots of fake news, elements of xenophobia, Islamophobia, there’s going to be elements of racism, it’s going to be sexist and elements of misogynistic.”

We hope that doesn’t come true — and certainly doubt it would come from Neal’s camp.

Democracy with integrity loves challenges based on the issues and informed by debate, and that’s what we are looking forward to this fall.

Amatul-Wadud plans to host a weekly check-in with constituents called “Plat-chat,” in which she takes up a platform plank and brings in an expert constituent from western Massachusetts to discuss the issue.

Ahead of last year’s election, Neal was criticized by some politicians in the smaller towns of Hampshire and Franklin counties as something of a low-show congressman for the more rural areas of his district, which is weighted toward Springfield and its populous neighboring communities. Since that critique was carried in The Recorder and Gazette, we’ve noticed our congressman making more frequent forays into the hills, which has been noticed and appreciated.

And now we appreciate that Amatul-Wadud has joined this coming year’s race and plans to challenge the status quo and to talk issues. Only good can come of it.