Neal challenger Amatul-Wadud vows to work for disenfranchised

  • Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, of Springfield, who is challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, speaks Monday, Feb. 20, 2018 at Pathways Co-housing in Northampton. The talk was co-hosted by Badass Activists in the Pioneer Valley and Indivisible Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, of Springfield, who is challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, speaks Monday, Feb. 20, 2018 at Pathways Co-housing in Northampton. The talk was co-hosted by Badass Activists in the Pioneer Valley and Indivisible Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, of Springfield, who is challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, speaks Monday, Feb. 20, 2018 at Pathways Co-housing in Northampton. The talk was co-hosted by Badass Activists in the Pioneer Valley and Indivisible Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, of Springfield, who is challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, speaks Monday, Feb. 20, 2018 at Pathways Co-housing in Northampton. The talk was co-hosted by Badass Activists in the Pioneer Valley and Indivisible Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, of Springfield, who is challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, speaks Monday at Pathways Co-housing in Northampton. The talk was co-hosted by Badass Activists in the Pioneer Valley and Indivisible Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 2/19/2018 11:49:00 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Residents of the 1st Congressional District are not only the worst off economically in Massachusetts, they also have a sense of hopelessness stemming from a lack of responsiveness to their concerns from their elected official in the U.S. House, contends Springfield attorney Tahirah Amatul-Wadud.

“There is no reason our congressman should be in his position for 29 years and we are the poorest district in the commonwealth,” said Amatul-Wadud, who is running for the seat held by U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, since 1988. “It is unacceptable.”

That was as close as Amatul-Wadud, 44, came to mentioning Neal’s name during a campaign stop Monday at Pathways Co-housing in Florence. The event, co-sponsored by Indivisible Northampton and Badass Activists in the Pioneer Valley, drew nearly 50 people.

Amatul-Wadud, who is challenging Neal in the Sept. 4 Democratic primary, outlined three planks on which she intends to focus, noting her platform “unapologetically centers on people.”

“We are developing a policy we think that is responsive to what is happening in our communities,” Amatul-Wadud said.

First is economic prosperity that will include promoting high-speed internet for rural communities, slowing down the “brain drain” represented by population losses in Berkshire and Franklin counties, and supporting east-west rail.

Second, she said, the opioid crisis needs to be addressed holistically.

“Families are being ravaged by the opioid crisis, but we’re not talking about it in the right way,” Amatul-Wadud said.

Both clinical and compassionate ways to treat addictions are needed for everyone, including those in the black and brown communities, she said. This means confronting the crisis in the same way, whether the drugs involved are heroin, crack, cocaine, methamphetamines or other substances.

Third, she said will always support a single-payer health care system.

Amatul-Wadud said she doesn’t shy away from noting that she is just four generations removed from the African slave trade and, though born into a Christian family, is now a Muslim.

In fact, part of her work as an attorney has included fighting Islamophobia and seeking more forceful use of federal anti-religious discrimination laws. This included being involved in a civil federal case in upstate New York in which a man was sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison for his role in planning an attack against a Muslim community.

“As African-American Muslims, it felt empowering to play a role in the outcome,” she said.

Amatul-Wadud has also been a member of the Commission on the Status of Women in Massachusetts and notes her support for women’s issues, including reproductive rights.

Even though challenging a longtime incumbent, Amatul-Wadud said constituents are already benefiting from her presence in the race.

“I’m here for the people for whom the status quo is not working,” Amatul-Wadud said.

If elected, she intends to get input by setting up task forces in each county to advise on and prioritize issues. The district includes all of Berkshire County and parts of Franklin, Hampshire, Hampden and Worcester counties.

Besides criticizing Neal for what she termed his lack of responsiveness to concerns of those in western Massachusetts, she also took swipes at what she said was his $3 million to $4 million campaign war chest, arguing that the money comes from war profiteers, pharmaceutical companies and organizations that are at odds with families.

She said she rejects corporate contributions, even though that will put her at a financial disadvantage.

“We’re going to raise enough to put together a solid campaign,” Amatul-Wadud said.

Asked Monday if Neal had any local campaign events scheduled in the near future, spokesman William Tranghese said Neal had no response.

Even though Neal, 69, has seniority and is a ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, Amatul-Wadud said it’s not a reason to send him back to Washington. If Democrats regain control in the midterm elections, she said, civil rights icon John Lewis could be poised to lead that powerful committee.

Amatul-Wadud was introduced by Jennifer Taub, a Northampton lawyer, who called her an ideal candidate.

Taub said Amatul-Wadud is on the same page on the issues facing the region.

“She cares about the community because she’s part of it,” Taub said.

Beth Lev, a member of Indivisible Northampton, said the organization is aiming to make political change and right the country’s ship through its actions.

Though Indivisible Northampton often brings in guest speakers, including all three Democratic candidates for governor, founder Debby Pastrich-Klemer said Amatul-Wadud’s was one of the best-attended, perhaps indicating interest in her campaign.

“It was a bigger turnout than usual,” Pastrich-Klemer said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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