Rep. Richard Neal (D)
Massachusetts 2nd District
It’s as American as apple pie, the place where basketball was invented, the city where the Webster’s unabridged dictionaries (2nd and 3rd editions) were edited and published, and the site of the armory where unhappy soldiers mounted the Shays’ Rebellion in 1786-87. This is Springfield, Mass., the third-largest city in the Bay State, but far from Boston. Historically overshadowed by Hartford as the center of the Connecticut River Valley, it is a medium-sized American city built by New England Yankees. Immigrants from a dozen countries have worked their way up here. Blacks and Hispanics account for nearly half of its population. Like other New England city centers, Springfield’s downtown has emptied and its tax base has shrunk. Business leaders have tried to revive it, in part with the expansion of the Basketball Hall of Fame. But the once-powerful city has suffered from corruption and serious crime, and in 2004, it was forced to submit to state control in a financial bailout. In 2007, the online bizjournals rated Springfield the worst metropolitan area in the country for small business, and in 2006, the Census Bureau said it was sixth in the nation in the number of children living in poverty. Recent efforts to revive downtown have included a new federal courthouse; a huge expansion of the Baystate Medical Center; and plans to redevelop Union Station, which has been empty since the early 1970s. Local companies, too, have had to adapt. In the 1990s, the gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson embraced the marketing restrictions sought by gun control advocates and then saw its sales sag, as gun control opponents—its natural market—shunned its products. Under new ownership, it abandoned that stance and sales rose again. Springfield is the home of Talkers magazine, known as “the bible of talk radio.”
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Springfield is the largest city in the 2nd Congressional District of Massachusetts, which stretches east from Springfield to a point 30 miles southwest of Boston. Its irregular boundaries travel north to South Hadley and Northampton (“Hamp” to locals; “NoHo” to the younger artsy crowd) and take in Mount Holyoke and Smith colleges. Since the downturn in the 1970s, trendy restaurants and avant-garde liberalism have revived these tourist destinations. To the east, the district stretches across stony hills and beyond Worcester to the antique center of Brimfield and the factory towns of the Blackstone Valley just north of Woonsocket, R.I. This was a Yankee Republican district for much of the 20th century, then a solidly Catholic Democratic district. Now it is more diverse culturally and even more solidly Democratic.
Rep. Richard Neal (D)
Elected: 1988, 11th term.
Born: Feb. 14, 1949, Springfield .
Education: Amer. Intl. Col., B.A. 1972, U. of Hartford, M.A. 1976.
Family: Married (Maureen).
Elected office: Springfield City Cncl., 1978–83; Springfield mayor, 1984–88.
Professional Career: Staff asst., Springfield Mayor William C. Sullivan, 1973–78; High schl. & col. teacher, 1978–83.
The congressman from the 2nd District is Richard Neal, a Democrat elected in 1988. Neal grew up in Springfield amid the acute racial tensions of the mid-1960s. His parents died when he was a teenager, and Neal and his younger sisters received monthly Social Security survivor benefits while being raised by their grandmother and aunt. He graduated from American International College and earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Hartford. In Springfield, he worked for the mayor; and in 1978, while teaching high school and college history, he was elected to the City Council. As mayor from 1984 to 1988, Neal worked to rehabilitate the downtown area and revitalize neighborhoods. His congressional predecessor, 36-year-incumbent Edward Boland, a longtime pal of former Democratic House Speaker Thomas (Tip) O’Neill, essentially bequeathed him the House seat. Boland announced his retirement just before the filing deadline, and after Neal had traveled the district for a year. Unopposed in the Democratic primary, Neal won the general election with 80% of the vote.
|Richard Neal (D)||234,369||(98%)||($766,166)|
|Richard Neal (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (100%), 2004 (100%), 2002 (100%), 2000 (100%), 1998 (100%), 1996 (72%), 1994 (59%), 1992 (53%), 1990 (100%), 1988 (80%)
Neal has a generally liberal voting record but has favored enough moderate initiatives to separate himself from more-liberal Massachusetts colleagues. Having depended on Social Security after the death of his parents, he reveres the legacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He voted for the 1996 welfare overhaul, a ban on partial-birth abortions, and a federal prohibition on same-sex marriages. He has reversed his earlier opposition to embryonic-stem-cell research. Neal serves on the influential House Ways and Means Committee. Major issues facing the committee over the years have included the North American Free Trade Agreement and normalization of trade relations with China, both of which Neal supported. He also sponsored legislation to drop the requirement that 401(k) plans offer at least one low-cost index fund. In October 2008, he helped to enact expanded tax credits for alternative forms of energy, but the Senate prevailed in blocking other tax hikes as offsets.
Neal is rising in seniority at Ways and Means, and he chairs the Select Revenue Measures Subcommittee, which handles many tax and tariff bills. He has tried to simplify the tax code and has crusaded for repeal of the alternative minimum tax, which was designed to ensure that the wealthy pay a fair share of taxes but which has been increasingly ensnaring middle-income taxpayers. In November 2007, he won House approval of a one-year fix of the alternative minimum tax that he “paid for” with offsets in other parts of the federal budget. The Senate, however, refused to support the bill. He took the lead for House Democrats on a popular proposal to clamp down on companies that incorporate in Bermuda and other offshore havens to avoid U.S. taxes. He gave the initiative additional bite when he directed its fire at companies that moved offshore after September 11, terming it the “Corporate Patriot Enforcement Act.” He has held hearings to explore such topics as how the tax code penalizes veterans and their families, and a proposal to require businesses to enroll their employees in retirement savings accounts.
Like many other Irish Catholic politicians over the years, Neal has encouraged American attempts at reconciliation in Northern Ireland. He personally lobbied President Bill Clinton to grant a visa for Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, to visit the United States, and he chairs the Friends of Ireland Committee. In 2005, he urged Adams to disband the Irish Republican Army “sooner rather than later,” and he traveled to Ireland in April 2007 to reaffirm support for the peace process as the power-sharing agreement was signed. In spring 2008, outgoing Prime Minister Bertie Ahern praised Neal in a speech before a joint session of Congress. In other foreign-policy arenas, Neal in 2002 voted against the Iraq war resolution.
Neal has also focused on the economic problems of Springfield and in 2007 was instrumental in securing a $22 million grant for renovation of its Union Station. He confronted serious primary challenges in 1990 and 1992, but won re-election by satisfactory margins. Republicans have never mounted a credible opposition against him. He last faced a GOP challenger in 1996. He was an early supporter of Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton for president in 2008 and actively campaigned for her. Neal teaches a course at the University of Massachusetts called The Politician and the Journalist.