Two debates set for 1st Congressional District race 

  • Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, left, and Rep. Richard Neal. GAZETTE FILE PHOTOS

Staff Writer
Published: 8/17/2018 3:55:07 PM

EASTHAMPTON — It’s official: western Massachusetts residents will get to see two televised debates between the candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in the 1st Congressional District.

With just two-and-a-half weeks until the Sept. 4 primary, nearly 30-year incumbent Richard Neal and challenger Tahirah Amatul-Wadud have now agreed to participate in two televised debates. The first will be on Wednesday, Aug. 22, at 12:30 p.m. on WWLP Channel 22, and the second will take place Thursday, Aug. 30, at 8 p.m. on WGBY, the only station available to all households in the district. Both debates will last only 30 minutes, and will be available online afterward.

The debates have been a source of controversy between the two candidates. After Neal’s campaign sent news organizations a press release on Wednesday announcing the WWLP debate, Amatul-Wadud released a statement the following day saying Neal had done so unilaterally without discussing terms. In that statement, Amatul-Wadud also announced the Aug. 30 debate, which on Friday Neal confirmed that he will attend.

“I have been calling for a debate,” Amatul-Wadud said in her statement sent by email Thursday evening. “By contrast, only last night did my opponent publicly acknowledge a willingness to appear before constituents for a ‘debate.’”

Neal’s campaign manager, Peter Panos, declined to make Neal available for an interview about the debates. Panos also declined an on-the-record phone interview, instead responding to questions by email.

“Facts matter,” Panos wrote. “Multiple media outlets have reported on Congressman Neal’s willingness to debate so the entire premise of our opponent’s email is false.”

In a phone interview Friday, Amatul-Wadud referred to a June interview on WGBH, when in response to a question about possible debates, Neal said he’d have to “measure the metrics,” and seemed to question Amatul-Wadud’s “seriousness of purpose.” 

“I don’t really know what his strategy is, but what I can tell you is that, as a constituent of his, I’ve been disappointed with how he’s been dismissive of me as an individual, and dismissive of me as a candidate,” Amatul-Wadud said. 

Amatul-Wadud said she would have preferred an hour-long format, and in a public forum where people without television or broadband internet could attend. She said her focus is on the people of the 1st Congressional District.

“The people — this community — they want to be able to see the candidates, hear from us and make an informed decision.” Amatul-Wadud said. “That’s what this is about for me.”

“Congressman Neal is very excited to announce his participation in two televised debates hosted by WWLP and WGBY in partnership with the League of Women Voters which ensure that all voters across the district hear directly from the candidates,” Neal’s campaign wrote in a statement Friday

“Congressman Neal looks forward to addressing voters about his leading the fight against Donald Trump’s inhumane immigration policies, attempts to gut healthcare, slash Social Security and Medicare and cut taxes for corporations and the wealthiest 1 percent while sharing his vision for fairer taxes, making healthcare more affordable and accessible, defending Social Security and Medicare, combating the opioid epidemic and addressing income inequality,” Neal’s statement continued.

The 1st Congressional District includes all of Berkshire County and parts of Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire and Worcester counties, including the Hampshire County communities of Easthampton, Chesterfield, Cummington, Goshen, Granby, Huntington, Middlefield, Plainfield, South Hadley, Southampton, Westhampton, Williamsburg and Worthington.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at
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