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Congressional Corner With Alex Morse

Alex Morse

In today’s Congressional Corner, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse wraps up his interview with WAMC’s Alan Chartock. Morse is running in the Democratic primary for the 1st House district seat held by Rep. Richard Neal.

Alan Chartock: We're here in the Congressional Corner with Alex Morse who is running for Congress from the First District in a primary against Representative Richard Neal of Massachusetts. Alex Morse, one of the criticisms that your opponents are leveling at you, is your relationship with the police department. And if I'm reading their stuff correctly, it's basically in a time when we are looking at police skeptically, that you haven't been assiduous enough in controlling your own police department or in standing up to them. Is that true?

Alex Morse: No, that's not true at all.

Well, can you give us some examples of how you have stood up to them?

Yeah, over the last nine years, we have implemented a number of reforms in our police department. I’m very proud of the fact that we in my first term implemented community policing. We got officers out of their cars walking the beat, on bike patrols. We've opened up a number of community policing substations throughout the city. We’ve also worked to demilitarize our police department. We converted a slot vehicle into a mobile community policing unit that we parked at local parks and our officers pass out books and order food and residents come out. We have a number of officers that are now serving on the boards of directors and volunteering at the local Boys and Girls Club and Girls Incorporated. And so we have by far improved the relationship between our residents and our police department. I'm also very proud of the fact in a city that is about 50% Latino, that 50% of the police officers that I've hired over the last nine years are black and brown members of our community that grew up in our neighborhoods that get into policing because they want to be partners, not adversaries to folks in our community. And just over the last few months, implementing the 8 Can’t Wait policies from the Obama Foundation. everything from banning chokehold to requiring a duty to intervene. And over the last nine years, we have trained our officers in implicit bias. Nearly 95% of officers had been trained by the Behavioral Health Network in de-escalation and how to identify a mental health crisis. And we've also made incredible progress on responding to the opioid epidemic and the in the mental health crisis and domestic violence issues in our community. And of course, like any police department and municipality, issues pop up. I have had to terminate a number of officers over the last nine years, even when the patrolmen's union or the supervisors union disagree with those decisions. But overall, we have a department that is well trained, that even in my nine years as mayor, not a single officer has had to fire a single shot in our community. And so we, like many departments, still have more work to do and I as mayor, I'm committed to doing that. But on a federal level, I would sign on to Ayana Presley Breathe Act. I think we need to end cash bail and qualified immunity and push for a number of other reforms.

What should Congress be doing to prevent another deadly COVID outbreak in the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home?

Well, I think number one, it's just a gross example of the kind of healthcare system that we have, that we have a healthcare system that that puts profit over people and there needs to be more investment in in the Soldiers’ Home and the state. If this is a state facility, as you know, it's not a federal facility, but the federal government needs to step in and do what they can to help they’ve begun to do so over the last couple of months. And as you as you probably recall, I was the one that blew the whistle that alerted the  governor and the lieutenant governor that led to Secretary Sutter's intervening so quickly and putting in new leadership and practices, and what we come to find out is that facility has been understaffed and under-resourced for decades. And so if the state is going to be in the healthcare business, we need to make sure that we remove politics from the appointment of the administrator, from the appointments of the boards, and actually hire healthcare professionals that are licensed nursing home administrators to run long term care facilities. I mean our veterans, whether they're in Holyoke, across Western Mass, or across our country deserve the best possible healthcare. And it's a shame on this country that we send folks to war and when they come back, they don't have the education, the housing, the healthcare, that they put their life on the line for. And this, again, is just an incredibly unfortunate example of incompetence at the Soldiers’ Home up to the state government for allowing this to happen.

Okay, so let me ask you this: In an earlier interview, here, you mentioned that you would have voted against the COVID package, the earlier COVID package. Now we have a Heroes Act also written principally by Richie Neal. Would you vote against that also?

Would I voted against the Heroes Act?



So why yes on the Heroes Act, Not on the earlier CARES Act?

Well, I do think the Heroes Act, there's still plenty of room to make improvements. I do think it includes much needed aid to states and cities. And we need to make sure that we bail out people, we bail out cities. And we bail out states. If not, public school teachers, firefighters, DPW employees will be impacted. The local government and state government will look nothing like it looks today. And it's already adapted over the last several months. I do take issue with the fact that the Heroes Act does not include the paycheck guarantee that I would support. And so I would continue again to negotiate a better deal. But in the current state that it is, it's important that it move forward.

Would you share with us and this is entirely up to you, who you voted for in the Massachusetts presidential primary this year?

Yeah, I was a proud supporter of Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Okay, so you now, speaking of our politics, how about Kennedy vs. Markey in the senate primary? Where are you on that one?

Yeah, we talked about this last time, Alan, I'm not going to wade into that race. I'm just going to focus on my campaign for Congress here in the first district. I have a relationship with both Senator Markey and Representative Kenny Kennedy. I think highly of both of them. And obviously, as somebody challenging an incumbent, I do think it's important that we have a lively democracy and people have a right to run.

Now the Neal campaign says you're unwilling to discuss an issue with the Holyoke city government from 2014 when the city solicitor resigned and signed a nondisclosure agreement. The Neal campaign says you should clear the issue up but you refuse to do so. The Neal campaign says NDAs, non-disclosures, are a way for elected officials to silence victims of wrongdoing using taxpayer dollars. What light can you shed on that?

Yeah, I mean, I could go through Congressman Neal's time as mayor, time as a counselor, 30 years in Washington and ask very much the same question there. I could ask Congressman Neal, you know why it is that his police department in 1986 I mean, just this past September in 2019, Congressman Neal's police department and inaction led to a $27 million settlement against the city of Springfield for something that happened in his police department in the 1980s. And so $27 million versus I mean, he talks about a few settlements here and there that are that are not even close to $75,000. And so this was a standard separation agreement between an employee and my administration. And that's pretty much it.

But what about NDAs as a general principle? Do you think they're a good idea? A lot of people do them for a lot of reasons. And I'm not saying that they're bad. But what do you think?

This was a separation agreement. It's almost like a legal settlement. And so oftentimes, what municipalities do is enter separation agreements with employees, and they get severance, and they head off, and this could be for any host of issues. And so as mayor over the last nine years, I know where a superintendent other mayors, I mean, this is not uncommon. And I would just repeat back in 2015 and again in 2017, past opponents of mine have again, tried to point to this as some sort of fallacious argument and it's never been able to penetrate. And again, the people of Holyoke have always seen through these baseless attacks, and I'm an executive of a city with nearly 2,000 employees, and nearly a $130 million budget, and I have to make decisions each and every day and I stand by that decision.

And let me ask you about this Alex Morse. Would you support Nancy Pelosi for speaker assuming you get to the House of Representatives?

I wouldn't commit to supporting her until I know number one, she's running again and number two, who else is running.

Okay. If you get elected, what committees do you want to be on?

Yeah, so the two committees that I'm most interested in being on are Energy and Commerce and Education and Labor. I think when I look at the work that Energy and Commerce Committee does, and the work that Education and Labor does, I think we can make the most difference on policies and legislation that would impact and improve the lives of people here in the first district.

Well, Alex Morse, thank you so much for being on with us. I have to say, I had one of your followers come up to me the other day and bawled me out for not inviting you to be on the air and of course, you're always invited on the air and it got a little vitriolic there. But thank you so much for doing it. And we look forward to speaking with you in the future.

Great. I appreciate the opportunity Alan. Take care.

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.