Tom Wesley challenges longtime Congressman Richard Neal in 2nd District

By Alyssa Creamer

Today’s election results will reveal who ends up victorious in the 2nd Congressional District race between Hopedale Republican Tom Wesley and incumbent Springfield Democrat Richard Neal, who has held the seat since 1989 and faced no ballot contenders in over a decade.

According to the New York Times FiveThirtyEight forecast map, as of its updated version on Oct. 31, the polls are looking strongly in favor of Neal, with predictions from experts and polling data suggesting votes will return with 71.1 percent backing Neal, and Wesley falling with a prediction of 25.6 percent.

After defeating the district’s Tea Party candidate Dr. Jay Fleitman, a Northampton pulmonary physician, in the September primary, Wesley publicly denounced the idea that he was ‘the underdog’ of the race.
Wesley has been running a campaign painting himself as “the neighbor” candidate, while Neal has declined to discuss political strategy to several media outlets. But both candidates appeared for a debate against Wesley on Springfield’s WGBY, Channel 57, sponsored by the Milford Area Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 22.

“I am very excited. It is my way of taking a position against those who are career politicians,” said Wesley during a phone interview, “those who have had politics in their blood their whole careers.”

“When you look at my opponent the only jobs he has had have been public sector jobs,” continued Wesley. “Mine is the polar opposite of that of someone who has been in public service as demonstrated through my military service and my earning of a paycheck in the private sector.”

Welsey, 55, graduated from the United States Merchant Marine Academy in 1977 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Transportation, and a recipient of a 1999 Master’s Degree in Management from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

He is a retired U.S. Navy serviceman, who currently works a civilian job as director of strategic planning and corporate sustainability at Waters Corp. in Milford, managing green activities and initiatives.”

According to Wesley, he created this role and believes it reflects the kind of thinking the government needs to have.

“Sustainability talks about the ongoing viability of a company or corporation. It’s not just about carbon emissions,” said Wesley. “Sustainability is about being prepared for all of the changes that need to occur to ensure the business can last.”

Wesley’s service in the Navy as a helicopter pilot lasted nine years, in which, according to his website, he became a “Naval Aviator and [completed] multiple deployments during to the Western Pacific during the height of the Cold War.” His website’s biography also states that Wesley worked in the “Pentagon as a member of the Organization of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he received a personal decoration for meritorious achievement.”

Neal, 61, is currently a member of Congress’ Ways and Means Committee and the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures. The Congressman was a former mayor of Springfield, the district’s most populated community. He graduated from American International College in 1972 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, and in 1976, Neal received a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the Barney School of Business and Public Administration at the University of Hartford.

Attempts to reach Congressman Neal for comment failed in the final weeks before Election Day.

However, throughout his terms, Neal has been known for his advocacy for health care reform, an issue his opponent disagrees with him on.

“Health care ought to be a state-run program, and not a federal program,” said Wesley in a phone interview. “I believe that is where the most responsive decisions can be made.”

“Romney care – one could argue it was too restrictive or too expansive – at least we controlled the leverage of the button in Massachusetts,” continued Wesley. “The needs of the people in New England are different from the needs of the people elsewhere. I’m looking to put the power of health care decisions back into the hands of the people. [Obamacare] is a death spiral that will lead only to single-fare option which is ultimately the desire that has been expressed by Obama.”

Neal also teaches a course at the University of Massachusetts called “The Politician and the Journalist,” and received several honorary degrees from colleges in Western Mass.

Wesley, meanwhile, called education “one of the pillars of his campaign.”

“At the secondary level (high school), it is important that we produce graduates that can enter the workforce and contribute immediately without remediation,” he said.

“They’ve got to be able to read, write and make change,” said Wesley of high school graduates, citing there is a 40 percent dropout rate among students attending the inner city public high schools in Springfield.

“From any socioeconomic standpoint, things are worse in Springfield than they have been in the past,” he said. “Education is part of it. It’s not just bout pouring money into cities, it’s about targeting that spending in the most effective programs, and it’s going to be a combination of cooperation between state and local government that fixes education.”

Wesley also said he wanted to try to retain international students studying in the nation’s universities to keep the best math and science students instead of “sending them home when they get their degrees.”

He stated there is a need to produce more college graduates skilled in math and science in order to remain a competitive nation.

According to Wesley’s site, Wesley believes the government needs to “reduce the tax and regulatory burdens on businesses, especially small businesses.”

“Complicated tax credit formulas don’t create jobs; increased demand does,” Wesley said on his campaign site. “We also need to lower corporate income taxes that compel corporations to export jobs to lower tax jurisdictions. We can bring jobs back to this country.”

Throughout his terms as Congressman, Neal has attempted repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax.

Wesley said he has been an active member of a Congregationalist United Church of Christ and is a Hopedale Scoutmaster. “I love it,” said Wesley about his involvement with Boy Scouts. “I was an Eagle Scout, and I have always been involved in scouting in my adult life, which takes up a lot of time, about 50 hours a month.”

According to a Worcester Telegram article published online on Oct. 10 by Bill Fortier, stated that “Wesley, as of the end of August, had raised $88,284 for the campaign…”

“[Neal] went into the race with almost $3 million in his war chest,” continued the article. “Mr. Wesley has been using social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook as ways to get his message out. He made a lighthearted video for his website explaining his fundraising situation.”

“We sent Richard Neal to Congress to represent us, not the special interests that fund his campaign war chest,” said a mission statement on Wesley’s website tomwesley.com. “Washington has failed to listen to us and much of the blame rests with politicians like Nancy Pelosi and Richard Neal. It’s time to return the Congress back to ‘We the People.’”

Wesley was quoted in the same article saying that “his chances were good because the 2nd Congressional District voted overwhelmingly for Scott Brown for the Senate,” and according the article, Neal smiled upon being told this and said “the voters in this district also voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.”

Alyssa Creamer can be reached at [email protected]