|Challenger Amatul-Wadud Dismisses Neal's Seniority Argument|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
02:37AM / Tuesday, April 10, 2018
|Tahirah Amatul-Wadud meets with Indivisible Pittsfield on Monday.|
A crowd of about 50 or so attended the Indivisible Pittsfield meeting at the Berkshire Athenaeum on Monday evening.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Tahirah Amatul-Wadud doesn't put too much stock in U.S. Rep. Richard Neal's seniority.
The talk around the sitting congressman is that if the House of Representatives turns in favor of the Democrats, then he'd be elected the chairman the Ways and Means Committee. The Springfield Democrat is currently the ranking member on that committee.
Amatul-Wadud is challenging Neal for the 1st Massachusetts District seat in the Democratic primary.
She says the district wouldn't be seeing anything special happen if he was leading Ways & Means. She asks, what has his clout done for the district?
"Shouldn't our district be the most on-point district in the country? Why do we have a higher than average unemployment rate? Why do we have a higher than average [number of] adults uninsured?" Amatul-Wadud asked the gathering of Indivisible Pittsfield members at the Berkshire Athenaeum on Monday.
Amatul-Wadud says Neal's decisions on Ways & Means haven't helped the sprawling 1st Mass congressional district. She cited Neal's Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership support, which she says threatens renewable energy policies. She said Neal pushed for corporate loopholes in 2015 and she accuses him of voting in favor of policies that help hasten the end of manufacturing. His corporate donors are often on opposite sides of issues the community he represents, she said, creating a conflict of interest.
"If the current congressman is unable to serve for whatever reason, resigned, retires, get sick, gets elected out, life goes on. If he is not able to serve and you all elect me, who is his succession in the Ways and Means Committee? Next, John Lewis, civil rights icon. Good choice right. Lloyd Doggett of Texas is also a consideration," Amatul-Wadud said.
"The Democratic Party would be in great hands with either of those two representatives at the helm. And the 1st Congressional District will be in great hands with me here and in D.C."
Amatul-Wadud's criticism of Neal is part of the second phase of her campaign for the congressional seat. The Springfield Democrat launched her campaign on Dec. 19, which included a stop at Dottie's to announce her candidacy.
"I considered the past three months the introduction phase of the campaign where I get to meet people, engage, and introduce myself. But we are slowly, but quite effectively, moving into the policy proposal part of the campaign. We'll be issuing policy statements and what I would do when statements," Amatul-Wadud said.
Amatul-Wadud's parents moved her to Western Massachusetts from New York City when she was 9. She received a degree from Elms College and started working at Mass Mutual in the legal department. She then enrolled at Western New England University to study law and took a job with ISO New England in Holyoke. Eventually, she moved on to family law with Western Mass Legal Services.
She also serves as a commissioner on the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women, which holds hearings across the state.
"By the end of 2016, things felt particularly desperate for too many people. And there were themes to what I was hearing, there was a frustration that I was hearing, and frankly, I was tired of hearing people saying that they were still waking up feeling like they had an elephant on their chest from the pressure and anxiety of what was going to happen in their future and the lack of feeling like they had a champion in the congressional seat. It was real and it was more than a Facebook post," Amatul-Wadud said.
She launched her campaign to take on Neal. And she traveled across the district on that December day promising that she wouldn't forget anyone or any community.
"What I learned on the campaign trails is that I'm on the right track. But what means the most to me is when people pull me aside and say yes, and give me examples of how their quality of life has suffered and how the issues that I am talking about will help resolve that. And if I'm not on the right track, I'm hoping to hear that as well," she said.
Her campaign is based on three major issues. She remembers when her 7-year-old daughter had a chronic heart defect and needed surgery at Boston Children's Hospital and she believes everybody in the state should have access to that care. But with the Affordable Care Act under attack, Massachusetts may not have the autonomy to ensure those protections. She worries that not everybody will have access to quality health care.
She said she'd push for a "Medicare for all" health-care model on the federal level.
"It is not about if, it is about when you or a family member suffer from a chronic illness and you deserve to have the same piece of mind we had," Amatul-Wadud said.
Secondly, she wants to address the drug problem. She wants to switch from a punishment model for dealing with those who are addicted to more of a clinical model.
"We have an opioid crisis, a crack crisis, a cocaine crisis, a heroin crisis. We have a disparity in how we treat addiction, between how it is looked at in the black and brown communities versus how it is looked at in a majority community. Until we bring it in close and deal with addiction in a clinical and compassionate point of view and move away from the punitive model, we're not going to solve this problem," Amatul-Wadud said.
And finally, broadband internet. She said 43 percent of Berkshire County and 39 percent of Franklin County lacks high-speed internet. She said it is a quality of life, safety, and economic issue. She said the children from towns without high-speed internet fall behind in skills to those who do.
"There are tools they do not have access to and technology they cannot use. That's going to create a gap. I'm worried about it being a gap they cannot recover from. You cannot have your first consistent access to the internet in college. You cannot make up for 15 years of not being online," Amatul-Wadud said.
The candidate's talk was recorded by PCTV. She also appeared earlier in the day "The John Krol Show," below.