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A Newcomer To The Political Scene In Springfield

A Political Newcomer In Springfield Takes On A Political Institution

TAW at podium.jpeg
Tahirah Amatul-Wadud will square off against incumbent U.S. Rep. Richard Neal in a democratic primary election for the 1st Congressional District. She is the first to challenge Neal since 2012.
Courtesy, Tahirah Amatul-Wadud campaign
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A Newcomer To The Political Scene In Springfield

Congressman Richard Neal is one of the most powerful democrats on Capitol Hill. He's represented the Springfield area in western Mass for nearly 30 years, and is seen as heir apparent to the Ways and Means Committee, where he is now the ranking democrat, should democrats take back the House.

But that doesn't scare democratic political newcomer Tahirah Amatul-Wadud.

At a recent health fair in Springfield, Amatul-Wadud spent a lot of time introducing herself. And letting voters get to know her. The first-time candidate has a packed schedule of events. And that's meant reducing the hours she spends as a family and civil rights attorney.

"I have had to reduce my caseload because this campaign is my priority. It's my way of serving the community, which I also see as securing a future for my children, and I don't take that lightly at all," she said.

Amatul-Wadud and her husband have raised seven children. She's also Muslim and African-American. But she says while those attributes make her unique, that's not what sets her apart.

"I'm competent, I'm qualified. I know the community, I love the community. I'm a lawyer, I have a strong handle on policy and vision and conviction," she said.

That vision is something Tavar Jones, a community activist, said he has connected with.

"We definitely need more diversity in Congress," Jones said. "We can't keep going backwards."

Amatul-Wadud said bringing more diversity to Congress is among the many concepts she's discussed with voters on the campaign trail.

"People feel like there is no hope," she said. "So when I come and I'm speaking about the vision for our community and I'm able to identify global issues and universal issues across families, people listen more and look at me less. And that's how it should be."

As a candidate, she's crisscrossed western Massachusetts, paying special attention to smaller communities, like Shelburne Falls — with a population of about 1800 — where she launched her campaign. Some residents in rural parts of the district have said they feel overlooked by incumbent Neal.

"I heard and saw that this gentleman was not being responsive to the folks. My number one value, my number one platform was to unite and be responsive," said Amatul-Wadud.

But Amatul-Wadud — who has currently raised $35,000 to Neal's $1.9 million war chest — has her work cut out for her, said political consultant Tony Cignoli.

"[Neal] has been part of the public discourse now for 40 some-odd years as an elected official," Cignoli said. "He's got huge name recognition. He's a brand. He has a large campaign army. So, he's been out there."

Redistricting saw the loss of the 2nd Congressional District in 2012, which Neal had held for more than 20 years. That was also the last time Neal faced a challenge, when he ran for the 1st Congressional District along with former State Sen. Andrea Nuciforo Jr., and author Bill Shein.

The sprawling 1st Congressional District is the most rural in the state. That means there is a lot of ground to cover and money to be spent on advertising. Cignoli said even if Amatul-Wadud doesn’t win the election this time around, she has played things smart, having run an issues-oriented campaign.

"She's talking about things that are important to her and her support base. It sets the stage perhaps for something down the road," Cignoli said.

As for the current road, until people cast their ballots in the September 4 primary election, Amatul-Wadud will likely be out there on the campaign trail, working for the votes that she hopes will put her in Congress.

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