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Continuing Call For Change, Morse Concedes Progressive Primary Bid In Holyoke

A man stands at a podium facing bright lights, cameras, and a crowd
Josh Landes
Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse addresses supporters and the media after conceding to Congressman Richard Neal in the Massachusetts Democratic Primary.

Holyoke, Massachusetts Mayor Alex Morse was back in the Paper City last night to concede after his bid to unseat Congressman Richard Neal in the 1st House district fell short. WAMC was there.

Neal, who is running for his 17th term, defeated the 31-year-old progressive about 58 percent to 41%.

Morse ran on a pro-Medicare For All, pro-Green New Deal platform, and rejected corporate PAC money to highlight Neal’s vast corporate donor base. He conceded before supporters in downtown Holyoke.

“This election was really about the future of the Democratic Party, the future of this region, and what kind of party and country we want to be," said Morse. "And too often as Democrats, we point fingers at Republicans and think that they’re the only party guilty of being bought and paid for by corporations.”

Neal lead Congress in corporate donations in 2019, and his campaign relied on PAC contributions for over 60% of its fundraising in this election cycle.

Speaking to reporters after his concession speech, Morse did not rule out a 2022 run. He noted that fellow progressives Cori Bush and Marie Newman lost their respective primary bids in 2018 before triumphing this year.

“I think it was President Barack Obama himself that lost one of his first election in Illinois. So certainly nothing is off the table," said Morse. "I’m just as committed to the work and the values that we fought for over the last 14 months, and sometimes the first time around you don’t win. But in many ways, we did – because this congressman spent millions and millions of dollars. I think it was the first time in decades that he has had a challenge this serious, and if anything became clear over the last 14 months, it’s that the people of this district want better representation, want better leadership.”

As of mid-August, Neal’s campaign had outspent Morse $4.2 million to just over $1 million. The mayor was unable to secure his own city in the contest, losing Holyoke by around 400 votes – 4,366 to 3,940. He carried Berkshire communities like Great Barrington, Sheffield and Otis, while losing in Pittsfield and North Adams.

Morse blamed big money and the impact of an August attempt by members of the College Democrats of Massachusetts to accuse him of sexual misconduct – an effort he’s called homophobic and politically motivated.

“This dropped right before early voting started, and it goes to the very top of the Democratic Party leadership," said the mayor. "This corporate PAC labor-backed group, the American Working Families, literally pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into ads. Over the weekend, we saw their PAC release an ad that had details of my personal life, and they made a statement on Saturday morning that they took the ad down. The ad never went down. They think the people of this district are fools. I mean, this is how they work to hold on to power.”

While Neal has denied any connection to the allegations, Morse said the congressman relied on them to cover up the lack of a campaign plan.

“His plan in many ways was to orchestrate along with other partners a political attack in the final stretch that caused some voters some pause,” he said.

While specific accounts of misconduct never emerged, evidence of an effort to entrap Morse was reported by The Intercept. UMass Amherst said it will investigate Morse’s behavior while teaching at the college between 2014 and 2019. Morse has acknowledged he has had relationships with undergraduates, but defended them as consensual. Members of the Democratic State Committee have called for an investigation into party involvement in the situation. Morse acknowledged that the incident led to an expanded national profile and increased fundraising for his campaign, but that it was ultimately a blow.

“Elections here in the district aren’t won nationally, they’re won here on the ground," said Morse. "And while there were national publications that actually did their due diligence and really reported on the facts of the matter, that necessarily wasn’t the case on ground here on the ground in Western Massachusetts and the district. And so when I say that, what I say is that the people who were involved knew exactly what they were doing and the impact it would have.”

Neal does not face a Republican in the general election.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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