Young mayor announces challenge to longtime congressman

HOLYOKE, Mass. (AP) — A mayor first elected at age 22 launched a Democratic primary challenge Monday to the longest-serving member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, one of the most powerful members of the U.S. House.

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Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, who was first elected in 2011 and is now in his fourth term, touted his record in attracting investment to the city, reducing crime and boosting high school graduation rates in announcing his plans to challenge U.S. Rep. Richard Neal.

"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, 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."

The city's first openly gay mayor, Morse is a graduate of Brown University and the first college graduate in his family. His campaign announcement told the story of his family's rise out of poverty into the middle class.

Neal, 70, was first elected in 1988 and is chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

Last year, Neal easily defeated challenger and Springfield attorney Tahirah Amatul-Wadud with more than 70% of the vote.

A Neal spokesman welcomed Morse into the democratic process.

"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," Neal spokesman Peter Panos said in an emailed statement.

The state's 1st District, the largest geographically, covers much of western Massachusetts, including all of Berkshire County, as well as portions of Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire and Worcester counties. It covers the cities of Springfield, Pittsfield and Holyoke, as well as dozens of rural towns.