With the Sept. 6 congressional primary election fast approaching (yes, it's on a Thursday this year), it's certainly not too early to declare support for a candidate. I'm backing Congressman Richie Neal for a whole host of reasons. The simplest is that both our retiring Congressman, John Olver, and the wonderful Elizabeth Warren have heartily endorsed him. But there's more. A lot more.
With Congressman Olver's retirement, we are losing a very senior representative in Congress, where seniority really matters. As an Appropriations Subcommittee chairman, Olver has been able to boost economic development in the Berkshires in a way no freshman congressman ever could.
Fortunately for us, Richie Neal is even a bit more senior (he's the 46th most senior member of the Congress), and he holds a seat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. That's the committee charged with writing tax legislation and bills affecting Social Security and Medicare. If elected, he too will be able to boost economic development and job creation in the county, and in fact he already has. Just ask the folks at the Colonial Theater.
Back in 2000, Congressman Neal was an original sponsor of the New Markets Tax Credit program, which stimulates investment, growth and jobs in communities, like Pittsfield, that are often overlooked by conventional capital markets. If you've been to the Colonial Theater, you've seen how successful this program really
(Note to conservatives: While the NMTC program has cost the government $4 billion in lost revenue, it has resulted in $50 billion in capital for projects in low-income communities and created or retained an estimated 500,000 jobs.)
Congressman Neal has helped the Berkshires in other ways, too.
As a long-time proponent of renewable energy, he worked to expand the Investment Tax Credit to allow electric utilities to build solar projects such as the Silver Lake Solar facility in Pittsfield, which generates 1.8 MW of electricity -- enough to power 300 homes.
There are a couple other things I like about Congressman Neal. First, he was Springfield's mayor from 1984 to 1989. Next to the presidency, mayors have the toughest political jobs in America. They aren't insulated from the everyday problems of governing -- from fixing potholes and plowing roads to collecting garbage, financing schools, fighting crime and more. They are on the firing line every day, and that experience is invaluable. Richie Neal has it, and the Berkshires will benefit because of it.
Second, if you are collecting Social Security, have family members who do, or expect to do so yourselves, you should know that Richie Neal was Speaker Nancy Pelosi's point man in the fight against Bush's effort to privatize Social Security. Neal is an expert on the topic, and that expertise has very personal origins. Both of his parents died by the time he was 15, so he and two younger sisters moved in with relatives and were raised on Social Security Survivor Benefits.
Still, Congressman Neal hails from Springfield, and some people might wonder whether that could be a problem for us in the Berkshires. We heard the same concerns 20 years ago about John Olver, who comes from Amherst, but during the intervening two decades, Olver has become a fixture in the Berkshires. It won't be any different with Congressman Neal. Already, he's visited Berkshire manufacturers from Great Barrington to North Adams. He's been to Soldier On. He's met with seniors at the Froio Center in Pittsfield, Sugar Hill in Dalton and Kimball Farms in Lenox. He's toured our hospitals, met with local officials, and visited our high schools, colleges and cultural institutions.
A final thought: The Berkshires represents just 18 percent of registered voters in the new First Congressional District. Any other candidate might ignore such a small portion of the electorate, but by visiting the Berkshires early and often, Congressman Neal has signaled that the Berkshires is important to him. For that reason -- along with his Congressional seniority, job creation experience, and commitment to Social Security and Medicare -- I'm supporting Congressman Richard E. Neal. I hope you will, too.
In June, Lee Harrison stepped down as Chairman of Berkshire Brigades, the countywide Democratic organization, to take an active part in the primary campaign. He is a regular contributor to the Transcript.