PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Richard Neal and Tahirah Amatul-Wadud have agreed to two televised debates.
The two are seeking the seat of U.S. Representative in the September primary. The longtime sitting Congressman Neal is being challenged by attorney and activist Amatul-Wadud. The two will first meet on Aug. 22 for a debate on WWLP, channel 22 and then on Aug. 30 on WGBY.
The first debate won't be available for the public to view live in the Berkshires because the station was pulled off the air by the cable provider. It will be available online after it concludes. The WGBY debate will be aired live starting at 8 p.m. and will also be available online after it concludes.
The WWLP debate will be moderated by Rich Tettemer and the WBGY one will be moderated by Carrie Saldo. The WBGY debate is in partnership with the League of Women Voters.
Earlier this year Amatul-Wadud challenged Neal to debate in Pittsfield, hosted by the NAACP but Neal declined, leading to sharp criticism from Amatul-Wadud.
"My team and I have attended more than 350 community and candidates’ events since launching our campaign. When Rep. Neal declined the Berkshire County Branch of the NAACP’s invitation for a town hall debate on Aug. 15, the community and I were disappointed. When he failed to show for the Candidates' Forum hosted by the Springfield City Library in Mason Square last week, this too was disappointing," Amatul-Wadud said in a statement.
On Thursday Neal announced the WWLP debate, but Amatul-Wadud said at the time her campaign still hadn't agreed to it. Later, she said the two were able to settle the terms and the debate will go on.
"Congressman Neal is very excited to announce his participation in this debate which allows the most possible voters to hear directly from the candidates," said Neal's campaign manager, Peter Panos.
"Congressman Neal looks forward to addressing voters about his role in Congress 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."
Almost immediately, the Neal campaign received backlash from some in the Berkshires because the debate would not be available and the Neal campaign said it was still considering debates that included the Berkshires. On Friday, the Neal campaign released information regarding the WGBY debate.
"Congressman Neal is thrilled to announce his participation in this second televised debate hosted by WGBY in partnership with the League of Women Voters, ensuring all voters across the district hear directly from the candidates," Panos said.
Amatul-Wadud said the term of the debate was "painstakingly negotiated." She cited the race in the Seventh Congressional District in which there had been "between four to six debates with proper time allotment, skillfully moderated, and in the presence of votes" and she wants the same for the First Congressional District.
"I am running to represent the people of the First Congressional District of Massachusetts in the United States House of Representatives. The dignity of this seat requires a thorough and rigorous debate of the issues, in the spirit of democracy," Amatul-Wadud said.
Neal has been in Congress since 1989 and the Berkshires were added to his district in 2012 following redistricting. He is a former history teacher and former mayor of Springfield.
Amatul-Wadud is an attorney who first worked in the energy field before focusing on family law with Western Mass Legal Services.
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