The Berkshire County chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America is backing the challenger in the 1st Massachusetts Congressional district primary.
The chapter was officially recognized by the national group in March 2019, and currently consists of 75 full dues-paying members. Now, it is wading into state politics for the first time.
“The Berkshires Democratic Socialists of America proudly announces that we’re endorsing Holyoke mayor Alex Morse who is also running against Representative Richie Neal," said chapter communications coordinator Amillie Coster. Morse is trying to unseat Neal, the former mayor of Springfield who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee and has been in office for over 30 years. Coster says a meeting with the four-term mayor secured the Berkshire DSA’s endorsement.
“We heard about a lot of the work he’s done through his terms in office, and the core issues that he brought up are definitely issues that the DSA is in alignment with: public education, representing the 50% Hispanic population there, making Spanish and English mandatory in primary school, reaching out and talking to his constituents rather than not being available like other people we know,” Coster laughed.
She also said Morse’s commitment to reducing Holyoke’s carbon footprint and investing in green economics appealed to the DSA.
“He’s all around just someone that we would really like to see get someone like Representative Richie Neal who’s not available and not transparent about his dealings in Washington and is clearly a corporate Democrat," Coster told WAMC. "On the contrary, Alex Morse is someone who is really in touch with the people in equality and protecting workers’ rights.”
“Any group characterizing Chairman Neal as being ‘unavailable’ should really take a closer look at Alex Morse’s attendance record as the Mayor in Holyoke, where the schools went into receivership and he attended ZERO of his city’s school building committee meetings," said Kate Norton, the spokesperson for Congressman Neal’s campaign. “In fact, his blatant years-long disregard for quality public education in his own city really undermines – and makes laughable – any real suggestion that Alex Morse is focused on equality and creating opportunity for the people who elected him."
The Berkshire DSA chapter expressed interest in Morse as early as August of last year. Coster described Neal as “out of touch” and underwritten by corporate interests.
“The other thing that really impressed us about him is his staunch support for true single payer Medicare for all, Bernie style healthcare reform," said chapter co-chair John Prusinski. “He does not waffle about it. He doesn’t pull any punches. Everyone should have healthcare free at the point of service.”
Morse didn’t quibble over receiving the nod from a political group often pilloried by the right.
“We asked him if he felt comfortable being endorsed by a socialist organization because there’s certainly some people for whom that would be considered a drawback, and his answer was he doesn’t think those people would vote for him anyway, so he’s happy to have us support him,” said Prusinski.
“I think often times people repel from certain groups and labels and we caught up in labels and what we call people. I’m more interested in the actual issues and doing the work," Alex Morse told WAMC. “I’m very pleased to get the endorsement of any group in the district that shares our values – a commitment to environmental justice, universal healthcare, public education, and a commitment to showing up in every corner of the district. And so whether it’s the Berkshire Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, Indivisible Pittsfield, or other groups throughout the district, I’m proud to get the support of people throughout the 87 cities and towns.”
Morse rejected the Neal campaign’s criticism of his record on the Holyoke schools.
“Congressman Neal has been in Washington longer than I’ve been alive, and look at the state of our schools in the district," said the mayor. "I mean, Holyoke schools are Congressman Neal’s schools too, and it’s exactly why I’m running for Congress, is that people that live in Holyoke and in Springfield, based on how much money they have – folks that live in poverty, the color of their skin, the language they speak, don’t have equal access to education.”
Along with working to support the campaign of Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and backing Morse on the state level, Prusinski says the Berkshire DSA chapter has local objectives as well.
“We’re meeting with local mayors to find out how we can help them, we’re meeting with immigrant groups to find out how we can be involved with them, and our labor committee is talking to the unions around here to see where we can interface there as well,” said the chapter co-chair.
The Berkshire DSA Chapter meets on the third Thursday of every month at the Berkshire Athenaeum, and hosts Socializing with Socialists the first Tuesday of every month at Thistle and Mirth in Pittsfield.