This evening, voters in the 1st Congressional District were supposed to hear from the three candidates competing in next week’s Democratic primary, at a debate hosted by the Westfield News and Westfield State University.
But the debate was scrapped after U.S. Rep. Richie Neal opted out. Indeed, Neal, the incumbent, has passed on a number of proposed debates, agreeing to participate in only two: this one broadcast last week on WGBY, and an upcoming debate hosted by a group of Berkshire County radio stations.
Neal’s disinclination to debate leaves—by design, I’d hazard to guess—few opportunities for voters to compare the three candidates side by side. It’s also left his two opponents, Bill Shein and Andrea Nuciforo, with an opportunity to portray him as out of touch with his constituents and disrespectful of the democratic process.
“How can we expect Neal to stand up and represent the people of this district in Washington when he refuses to explain himself before voters in Pittsfield or Westfield?” Nuciforo, a former state senator and current Middle Berkshires Register of Deeds, asked in a press release yesterday. “His dismissive attitude toward the people he is supposed to represent demonstrates just how out of touch he is with his constituents, and his refusal to appear before the people is insulting.”
Nuciforo added: “It’s no surprise that Congressman Neal prefers to have as few public discussions as possible. Despite his twelve-term career, Neal has failed to deliver results time and time again. Defending a record like this is not easy, and it appears that he is avoiding defending it before voters whenever possible.”
Shein, a political activist and writer, also criticized Neal for dodging debate opportunities: “As longtime incumbents have done for years, Rep. Neal now appears to be running out the clock on this important election. He has not provided any explanation for his debate misrepresentations and he has made few campaign appearances,” Shein wrote in a release.
“The voters deserve a representative who won’t be silent or invisible. Ever,” he added.
And while Neal has taken a pass on tonight’s Westfield debate, Shein still plans to show up. He’s hosting a public forum meeting at the Westfield Athenaeum, at 6 Elm St., this evening from 6 to 7:30 p.m.—part of his plan to host alternative events to replace the cancelled debates, “to give voters an opportunity to share their concerns and talk with him about ideas and priorities,” according to his campaign.
“As I’ve said from the beginning of this campaign, it’s vital to have representatives in Congress who spend at least as much time listening to constituents as they do proposing ideas,” Shein wrote. “They need to hear directly from those struggling in our communities, not just wealthy lobbyists and corporate PAC directors in Washington. Forums like this are a good venue for that kind of substantive exchange, and an example of the direct, open-minded engagement with constituents that will be the hallmark of my service in Congress.”
With no Republican or third-party candidate on the November ballot, the winner of the Sept. 6 (and yup, that is a Thursday) Democratic primary will take the 1st District seat.