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Congressional Corner With Alex Morse

Alex Morse

Will Congressman Richard Neal avoid the fate of Congressman Eliot Engel?

In today’s Congressional Corner, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse continues his interview with WAMC’s Alan Chartock about his campaign for the 1st House district seat.

Alan Chartock: We're here with Mayor Alex Morse of Holyoke, Massachusetts, who's running in the Democratic primary against Richard Neal in the Massachusetts First District. So you held a press conference to say that Richard Neal blew the window of opportunity to get the tax returns from Trump by waiting to file this lawsuit. Neal has said he's following the legal advice of the Ways and Means Council. What should he have done differently?

Alex Morse: Well, I mean, number one, he should have acted sooner. The Democrats knew they had the House back in November 2018. And he dragged his feet for months and months and months to even request the tax returns and put together what he calls a sternly worded letter. You know, I've been a mayor for nine years. I know it doesn't take several months, seven or eight months to put together a letter drafted by attorneys. And so that's number one. Number two lawmakers in the state of New York worked for years and Governor Cuomo signed a bill into law that made the New York State tax returns available to one person. And that one person was Congressman Richard Neal, and the one person that could get access was the one person that refused to ask and request those returns. And Richard Neal allowed for several weeks to go by, which allowed Donald Trump the time to file a lawsuit to prevent their release in the first place. And so it took organizing of thousands of people here in the district, and people around the country to put enough pressure on Congressman Neal to the extent that he finally requested those tax returns. And I believe that Neil made an intentional decision early on in his chairmanship to work with Mnuchin, to work with Donald Trump rather than to hold him accountable. And just like Congressman Eliot Engel, who had recently defeated, they are the two chairs of committees, led by Democrats that haven't had a single oversight hearing on this administration. And so I think he should have been much more aggressive and now we're unlikely to see any financial documents related to Donald Trump before the election because of Congressman Neal,

Alex Morse, you're the mayor of Holyoke, I wondered about something. One of the things that the Neal's people are saying about you is that your position on the education bureaucracy that you're supposed to be there, but you've never come. Is that right?

No, and I expect better questions in interviews than that.

Wait, wait, wait.

Number one, he never said I didn't come. He said I attended a small percentage of those meetings and…

I think they said none. Yeah. Okay, go ahead. I have to tell you, I'm doing the interview, not you. But you can tell me you don't like my questions. But I think it's a perfectly legitimate thing to ask, to say to you, this is what they're saying. Because I'm going to do the same thing with Richie Neal when I have him on next Friday. I'm going to say this is what Alex Morse was saying. So you know, let's lay off of that.

Oh, no, that's fine. I was questioning the premise because even Congressmen Neal hasn't said I haven't attended any. He’s acknowledged that I've attended some. But both claims are false, nevertheless. And so I've been Mayor for nine years. I'm the chair of the Holyoke school committee. I've attended a vast majority of those meetings. Have I missed occasional school committee meetings? Yes. But you know why? I'm the mayor. And so am I invited to city council meetings occasionally to present my budget, or for other matters before the council at the very time there are members in meetings of the school committee. Absolutely. And so it's a completely inaccurate description of my time as mayor and as chair of the Holyoke school committee, and I welcome a debate on our public schools any day of the week, because when I took office, only 49% of our kids were graduating from high school. Today, nearly 75% of our kids are graduating from high school, we've invested in early childhood education. We're close to achieving universal pre-K. We have dual language programming for the first time where students are learning English and Spanish, starting in preschool and for the first time in years, we have a waiting list to get into our elementary schools. And we also just introduced dual enrollment programs. So our high school students are taking classes at local colleges and universities. And, you know, there are three school districts in receivership and in Massachusetts, and two out of the three are in Congressman Neal's district, Holyoke and Southbridge out in in Worcester County. And Congressman Neal was nowhere to be found in 2015, when organizers and activists were fighting for local control of our schools five years ago, and on top of that, Congressman Neal is part of the problem. Over 60% of our federal budget goes to the Pentagon, goes to war and defense, and pennies I mean less than 5% goes to public education. And so it's time we have a member of Congress that wants to just change the federal paradigm and federal budget that actually reinvest in public teachers, and public education, and our kids.

Well, not to beat the horse but just because of the accusation, what percentage as the chair of the school committee, have you attended?

Yeah, probably at least at 80, 90 percent of my school committee meetings over the last nine years. And again, if I missed a meeting, I was at city council meetings or other mayoral obligations. So, I mean, I would ask Congressman Neal, when's the last time you had a town hall talk about accessibility? It's been nearly three years since we had a Congressman that actually showed up in the district. And I think when you look at his attendance record in terms of votes, he actually has one of the lowest participation rates of any member of our delegation.

So let me ask you, you're telling us, just so I want to get this straight, because, you know, obviously, we can follow up on all of this stuff, that you have attended 90% of the education department meetings? 90%?

I said 80 to 90%. But you're welcome to access the data, it’s public record, Congressman Neal can access that data and make a value judgment.


But I would just say these are either recycled attacks. I mean, I've won four terms as mayor of Holyoke, I've had opponents in 2015 that that leveled this attack and the people of Holyoke saw through it. In 2017, my opponent leveled the same attack. My constituents, and supporters and the residents of the city saw through it. And so this is just a really quite a silly attack and for Congressman Neal to boast that he never airs a negative ad or a negative mailer, well, that has ended in 2020. Because he knows this is the theory of challenge, and he's in jeopardy of losing a seat.

Okay, so one question on something you said about receivership. Is it true that Holyoke has had to go into receivership?

What do you mean?

Well, you know, you mentioned that several towns and villages had to go into receivership. Has Holyoke ever had to go into receivership?

Yeah, I just acknowledge that two out of the three school districts in Massachusetts that are in receivership are in Congressman Neal's district, the city of Holyoke School Department and Southbridge.

But you're the chairman of the committee. I mean, how is it Neal’s fault? That sounds to me like it might be yours.

Absolutely not. I became mayor in January of 2012, and inherited an incredibly challenging city and a challenging school system. And unlike Congressman Neal, I’m a product of the Holyoke Public Schools, I saw firsthand that they worked for kids that look like me, but they didn't work for everyone else. And it was important in a community and in a city where nearly 80% of our students are Latino, mostly of Puerto Rican descent, that we have a school system that works for everyone. And so I would say, I mean, Charlie Baker got elected governor in November 2014. And within a few months, Holyoke School Department and the district was in receivership. And the governor was very clear that we he wanted a Western Massachusetts example of what was happening in Lawrence out in eastern Mass. And I am more concerned with outcomes and making sure we have the best possible public schools than I am about control. And so over the last five years under receivership, which has been a partnership between my office, the superintendent and the state, we've made incredible progress in that vein. But to put decades and decades of disinvestment of education, again, the fact that we haven't had a new school built in Holyoke in over 30 years. Meanwhile, we're sending billions of dollars in corporate tax cuts to the Pentagon, to build weapons and bombs rather than invest in our public education system, this is exactly why I'm running for Congress. So mayors like me, mayors in Chicopee, and in Springfield and in Pittsfield, in North Adams, and the other cities and towns actually have a member of Congress that is bringing resources to public education and not putting the onus on working class communities like Holyoke.

Just to be clear, though, the department was in receivership right?

Yes, Alan, I was mayor in 2015, when the Department of Education put the Holyoke public schools in receivership and over the past five years, it's been a very positive thing that has led to the improvement of our public schools and the improvement of opportunities for kids in our district.

Okay. When we come back. I have some more questions for you. And I want to thank you Alex Morse for being with us today. And we have another session and we'll go to it. Thank you.

Dr. Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the University at Albany. He hosts the weekly Capitol Connection series, heard on public radio stations around New York. The program, for almost 12 years, highlighted interviews with Governor Mario Cuomo and now continues with conversations with state political leaders. Dr. Chartock also appears each week on The Media Project and The Roundtable and offers commentary on Morning Edition, weekdays at 7:40 a.m.