A mayor first elected at age 22 launched a Democratic primary challenge Monday to the longest-serving member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, one of the most powerful members of the U.S. House.
Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, who was first elected in 2011 and is now in his fourth term, touted his record in attracting investment to the city, reducing crime and boosting high school graduation rates in announcing his plans to challenge U.S. Rep. Richard Neal.
He is also running to inject urgency into Democrats' push to "hold the president accountable," he said, a cause that's been championed by freshman Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Boston, among other new members of Congress.
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"It's not the folks that have been there 20 or 30 years that are leading the conversation, leading the fight, it's the people that have been there as few as seven months," Morse told NBC10 Boston.
The city's first openly gay mayor, Morse is a graduate of Brown University and the first college graduate in his family. His campaign announcement told the story of his family's rise out of poverty into the middle class.
Neal, 70, was first elected in 1988 and is chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
Last year, Neal easily defeated challenger and Springfield attorney Tahirah Amatul-Wadud with more than 70% of the vote.
A Neal spokesman welcomed Morse into the democratic process.
"Richie has been a champion for working families in western Massachusetts and has fought tirelessly to ensure that the people of our region are not forgotten and receive our fair share," Neal spokesman Peter Panos said in an emailed statement.
But Pressley was able to unseat a 20-year incumbant in a primary last year. She has made headlines with three other congresswomen in recent weeks after being attacked by President Donald Trump, who accused them of being un-American for criticizing him.
Asked if he could see himself as a member of Pressley's so-called "squad," which also includes Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, who recently unseated a top congressional Democrat in a primary in New York, Morse said, "Absolutely."
"I think it's important that we have members of Congress that are interested in disrupting the way Washington has worked," he said.
And Morse has a record of taking on an established incumbent with his 2011 mayoral victory over Elaine Pluta. He was holding a campaign launch party with friends and family Monday at the Unicorn in Holyoke.
The state's 1st District, the largest geographically, covers much of western Massachusetts, including all of Berkshire County, as well as portions of Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire and Worcester counties. It covers the cities of Springfield, Pittsfield and Holyoke, as well as dozens of rural towns.