Neal visits Berkshires, says he can help economy

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Saturday February 11, 2012
PITTSFIELD -- Visiting various Pittsfield entities on Friday, U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal indicated that he was pivotally situated to help Berkshire County advance its arts, manufacturing, human and financial services sectors.

Refusing to call his trip to Pittsfield a campaign stop for the new 1st Congressional District, the Springfield Democrat nonetheless touted his position on an influential congressional committee as a means to advance the local economy.

Neal’s nearest opponent for the seat created by redistricting, Middle Berkshire District Register of Deeds Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr., has taken swipes at the 12-term congressman for being a Washington insider.

But on Friday Neal shrugged off the jibe.

"It’s beyond me why anybody would want to give up a Ways and Means Committee [seat]," said Neal, referring to the powerful congressional panel he sits on that has wide jurisdiction over taxes, trade, Social Security and Medicare. Neal is widely considered a contender for committee chair.

The Berkshires has long been accustomed to having its representative hold important congressional positions, Neal added. U.S. Rep. John W. Olver, D-Amherst, who currently represents the county and is not running for re-election, sits on the prominent Committee on Appropriations, as did his predecessor, the late Pittsfield Republican, Silvio O. Conte.

This fall, Nuciforo and writer Bill Shein of Alford are both challenging Neal for the seat in the newly reconfigured district, which will go into effect in 2013. Neal has raised about $2.4 million for the race, while Nuciforo has tallied only about $136,000. Shein, an organizer for the Occupy Berkshires movement, has promised to run a campaign based on only on donations under $100.
On Friday, Neal toured two city manufacturers, Interprint and Pittsfield Plastics, before visiting the Berkshire Life Insurance Co., the Barrington Stage Company, the Soldier On veterans home and Nuclea Biotechnologies.

"I have influence on just about all of them," he said.

Neal calls his recent trips to the Berkshires a "listening tour." At Soldier On, he walked through the condominium complex of formerly homeless veterans on West Housatonic Street, and heard from some of the residents, each of whom has his own story of struggle and recovery. Many of the vets went from sleeping under a bridge to owning their own units, officials said.

Addressing the issue of veterans broadly, Neal spoke to Soldier On leaders about the burgeoning demand on services as soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan return home.

"With a million new veterans coming back, veterans services are going to be stretched for years to come," he said.

The incumbent already has some friends among veterans. Soldier On resident Edward Watkins, who knows Neal from his days living in Springfield, said that after he had a heart attack, the congressman once helped him straighten out an issue he had with his Social Security.

"He’s willing to go out on a limb and help everybody out," Watkins said, adding that Neal was also "pleasant to talk to."

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