The following article appeared in Northampton's Daily Hampshire Gazette on Tuesday, October 5, 2010.
By Congressman Richard E. Neal
When Dr. Jay Fleitman announced his candidacy for Congress last year, I welcomed the challenge. I respect anyone who enters the public arena and engages voters with honest discussions about the issues that matter most. He worked hard to get his name on the ballot in the Republican primary that was held on September 14th. He ran a positive and substantive campaign, but the voters made their decision on Election Day and he was defeated.
That is why I was surprised to read his angry and mean spirited comments in the Daily Hampshire Gazette last week. I have never met Dr. Fleitman, and I never commented on his campaign, despite being asked by reporters on several occasions. My position was to simply let him focus on his Republican opponent in the primary, and I would engage the winner of that contest in the general election. Following his loss, it was clear that there was more he wanted to get off his chest.
I have no doubt that Dr. Fleitman met many good and decent people on the campaign trail from western and central Massachusetts . The second congressional district is filled with thousands of hard working men and women from the Connecticut River to the Blackstone River and beyond. Many have become my friends and supporters. I have been to their chicken barbeques, porkettas and festivals. I have visited their Rod and Gun Clubs and VFW Halls. I have met them in their homes and at their jobs. I am proud to represent them in Congress, and I share their hopes and aspirations.
So when Dr. Fleitman suggests that I have neglected people from the eastern part of the district, he must not have met:
The young teacher from Hopedale who wrote to thank me for the tour of the Capitol I arranged for her class. I have her note in my desk;
The senior citizen who stopped me in North Brookfield this month to say that his Social Security issue had been favorably resolved by my office;
The father from Northbridge who e-mailed me a photo this week of his son at West Point after I successfully nominated him to the U.S. service academy;
The high school student from Southbridge whose painting I had hung on the wall of the United States Capitol Building ;
Or the Fire Chief from Douglas who just thanked me for securing federal funds to purchase a new fire truck for the town.
When Dr. Fleitman was traveling east, he must not have attended the annual financial aid conference I have held in Milford for more than a decade where hundreds of students and their parents appreciate the advice we provide them every January as they decide how to pay for college. He must not have visited Milford Pond, where I have worked with town officials and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for years to restore that local landmark. He could have even joined me for a cup of coffee at the office I have at the Post Office Building in Milford . I would have been happy to tell him that we are making progress on the local storm water issue that impacts the Charles River .
I don't know the nameless public officials that Dr. Fleitman says have been ignored. However, he should talk to people like State Senator Dick Moore of Uxbridge, State Senator Steve Brewer of Barre, State Representative John Fernandes of Milford and State Representative Geraldo Alicea of Southbridge who can personally attest to my accessibility and effectiveness. I have met with them at town halls, the State House in Boston and the U.S. Capitol in Washington . They will tell you their phone calls are always returned.
Ask the students and teachers in classrooms from the 41 cities and towns that I visit each year to talk about the importance of a good education. Ask the families enjoying the heritage corridors, the business executive in Spencer, or the hospital administrators in Charlton about my work fighting for them. These people do not care that I am from Springfield ; they just know that I have always been in their corner.
The most puzzling comments from Dr. Fleitman were about my work in Southbridge and the south county region. Let's start with the American Optical facility. Without the intervention of myself and the late Senator Ted Kennedy, that building would be empty or demolished. Instead it is a state-of-the-art hotel and conference center that is the crown jewel of the town. In addition to its partnership with the Department of Defense, both Quinsigamond Community College and Westfield State University have a presence on the Southbridge campus. Students are taking classes from morning to night six days a week with more coming. The medical company Karl Storz is a new tenant with more than 600 employees. Across the street is the police station that was built with federal funds that I helped secure. Not far is Harrington Hospital where medical equipment that provides better cancer screening for women was purchased with my help.
I learned long ago that politics is a tough business. And I know that during campaign season, many candidates say things they later regret. As far as Dr. Fleitman is concerned, I am glad he was a candidate and got to travel this beautiful, historic and diverse district. But when discussing my record, he is certainly entitled to his own set of opinions, but he is not entitled to his own set of facts.