The Massachusetts Democratic Party plans to investigate how accusations of sexual impropriety on the part of gay congressional candidate Alex Morse emerged, and meanwhile his opponent, incumbent Richard Neal, is denying any involvement on the part of his campaign.
The news comes after The Intercept reported Wednesday on conversations among leaders of the College Democrats chapter at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, which the site says provide evidence of an orchestrated effort against Morse.
Morse, currently the mayor of Holyoke, is challenging Neal, a veteran congressman and LGBTQ+ ally, for the Democratic nomination for U.S. House in Massachusetts’s First Congressional District, located in the western part of the state. No Republican is running, so the winner of the September 1 Democratic primary is assured of election in November.
Last Friday, the UMass-Amherst campus newspaper published a letter from the College Democrats saying Morse, a lecturer at the university from 2014 to 2019, used his “position of power … for romantic or sexual gain” in having relationships with students. Morse responded by saying he had relationships with area collegians he met through dating apps and social media but that all the relationships were consensual. Also, in an interview with The Springfield Republican Wednesday, he clarified that none of the men were current, past, or future students in his classes, so he violated no university policy. UMass-Amherst is conducting an investigation.
“I will not apologize for using gay dating apps and for having consensual sex with other adult men,” Morse told the Republican. “But I have never in my entire life had a nonconsensual sexual encounter with anyone.” The allegations against him are politically motivated, he said.
The Intercept’s article reports that leaders of the UMass-Amherst College Democrats “began discussing an operation they believed could sink the campaign of Alex Morse for Congress as far back as last October, a plan they then helped engineer and which came to fruition on Friday.”
Chat logs, the site reports, indicate that Timothy Ennis, chief strategist for the university’s College Democrats chapter from April 2019 to April 2020, “felt conflicted” about the campaign against Morse but hoped Neal would give him an internship. Other messages show that members of the group tried to lead Morse into making incriminating statements, according to The Intercept.
College Democrats leaders have not commented on the most recent report, but they have denied there was any political purpose behind the letter, which came from the state organization, the UMass-Amherst chapter, and the Amherst College chapter. It disinvited Morse from the group’s events.
Neal released a statement Thursday saying he was not involved in the effort; previous statements from his staff had made similar denials. “Any implications that I or anyone from my campaign are involved are flat wrong and an attempt to distract from the issue at hand,” he said, according to the Republican. “I have been and will remain entirely focused on the respective records of myself and Mayor Morse.”
He further said, “I learned about the allegations against Mayor Morse the same way everyone else did, in The Daily Collegian last week. I also want to be clear I will not tolerate my name being associated with any homophobic attacks or efforts to criticize someone for who they choose to love. That’s inconsistent with my character and my values.”
Now the state Democratic Party is going to investigate the College Democrats’ conduct, Politico reports. However, the work will not begin until after the primary, as the state party has a policy of staying out of primary elections.
The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which has endorsed Morse, welcomed the news of the investigation but called on party chair Gus Bickford to begin it immediately. “We commend the party chair for recognizing the importance of investigating this orchestrated political hit job on Alex, but we urge him to conduct an independent investigation immediately so voters can fill out their ballots with all the information available to them,” Victory Fund Senior Political Director Sean Meloy said in a press release. “We now know the leadership of UMass Amherst College Democrats was conspiring to damage Alex’s campaign since at least October. Yet they chose to release the information ten months later — literally as ballots dropped in voters’ mailboxes — and motivated by hopes of a future political career with Alex’s opponent. We said from the beginning that the allegations were timed with the political calendar and that it is a disservice to voters and to everyone involved. Now we know that timing was purposeful.
“While these allegations appear to be a political stunt, it is important to underscore how damaging lies can be to the fact that most sexual harassment allegations are true. We must ensure students and all people have safe ways to report cases of sexual harassment and that their cases are taken seriously and fully investigated.”