By Joe O'Connell/ Metrowest Daily News staff
U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-2nd, is denying an accusation made by his challenger Tom Wesley earlier this week that the longtime congressman never returned letters sent to him by Boy Scouts from Hopedale.
Wesley, a Republican and Hopedale resident, is also the Scoutmaster for the town's Boy Scout Troop 1. In an interview published in the Milford Daily News Tuesday, Wesley said that on four separate occasions, Scouts in his troop sent letters to Neal as part of their Citizenship in the Nation merit badge, and on all four occasions, no Scout received a reply.
But Neal's camp says not only is that not true, but it can prove that writing back to local Boy Scouts is a top priority for the congressman and his staff.
"When Tom Wesley says Congressman Neal has lost touch with his constituents, he is not telling the truth," said Roger Lau, Neal's campaign manager, in a statement. "And when he receives letters from his constituents, particularly Boy Scouts, they get a personal response."
Lau provided the newspaper with a folder full of letters sent to Neal from Boy Scouts around the district.
On most of the letters, including two sent from Hopedale Troop 1, it was written that the Scout who wrote the letter received a personalized reply letter, a flag and a brochure.
"During campaign season, many people say things they later regret," said Lau in the statement. "With this latest attack, I believe Tom Wesley has gone too far."
Some of the letters in the folder were from Scouts working toward their Citizenship on the Nation merit badge, and others informed Neal that a Scout in the district has been named an Eagle Scout.
Mike Morelli, who has been Scoutmaster for Mendon Troop 1 for the last 10 years, said he has had a different experience when sending letters to Neal.
"In the last 10 years, we have helped about two dozen boys become Eagle Scouts," said Morelli. "In every one of those cases, we sent a letter to Neal, and every time he replied with a letter and a congressional flag that was flown over the Capitol."
It is a requirement that a Scout, to receive the Citizenship in the Nation merit badge, either write to his local U.S. senator or congressman about an issue that he feels is important.
Morelli added that a Scout will usually inform their merit badge counselor, not the troop's Scoutmaster, when an elected official has written back to them.
Therefore, Morelli said there is a chance Wesley was not made aware of when the Scouts heard back from Neal, if he is not a merit badge counselor.
"I am not trying to politicize this," said Morelli. "I just had a very different experience with the congressman than Tom Wesley did."