Gay Massachusetts congressional candidate Alex Morse, under criticism regarding sexual relationships with college students, has admitted the relationships but vowed to stay in the race.
Morse is challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Richard Neal in the Democratic primary in Massachusetts’s First Congressional District. The primary will be held September 1, and there is no Republican candidate, so the winner of the Democratic primary is assured of election in November, barring unforeseen events.
Morse, now 31, became the youngest mayor of Holyoke and the first openly gay one when elected at age 22. He is in his fourth term as mayor but decided to challenge Neal from the left, saying Neal is too beholden to corporate interests and has ignored the western Massachusetts district’s needs.
Morse has also been a lecturer in urban government and politics at the University of Massachusetts’s Amherst Campus from 2014 to 2019. Late last week the College Democrats of Massachusetts and its chapters at UMass-Amherst and Amherst College released a letter saying Morse had had sexual relationships with students and had used “his position of power for romantic or sexual gain.”
The candidate tweeted an extensive response Sunday. He said he had never had a nonconsensual relationship, nor had he ever “used my position of power as Mayor and UMass lecturer for romantic or sexual gain, or to take advantage of students.” He said he had never violated UMass policy against faculty-student relationships, but he has had consensual relationships with students at local universities he had met through dating apps. Morse has later clarified that none of the students had been in his classes. The university has no plans to rehire him, The Springfield Republican reports.
Morse added that he believes a full investigation will show he engaged in no unethical conduct, but he acknowledged that “some students felt uncomfortable with interactions they had with me.” He continued, “I am sorry for that. This is unacceptable behavior for anyone with institutional power.” There is an important conversation going on about power dynamics in relationships, he noted.
But he said some of his critics are invoking “age-old anti-gay stereotypes” and that his private life has been subjected to “scrutiny and fixation that are all too familiar to other members of the LGBTQ community.” He does not intend to shirk responsibility for discomfort he caused, he said, but he contended that he has been held to a different standard than straight politicians.
Morse said he will stay in the race and looks forward to debating Neal next week. Neal, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has been in Congress for more than 30 years and has a largely pro-LGBTQ+ record, with high ratings from the Human Rights Campaign. Morse also said he would understand if any of his backers rescind their endorsements.