College Democrats in Massachusetts have issued an apology to openly gay Mayor Alex Morse of Holyoke for their role in what turned into unfounded attacks on Morse and “played into homophobic stereotypes that have been used to oppress gay men in politics.”
Morse, currently in his 4th term as mayor, is running to unseat Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) who has represented Massachusetts in the House of Representatives since 1989. The Democratic primary will be held on Tuesday, September 1.
Earlier this month, Instinct reported on a letter sent to Morse from three groups of College Democrats, including the UMass Amherst Democrats, informing him he was no longer welcome at College Democratic events and accusing him of using his “position of power for romantic or sexual gain, specifically toward young students.”
Morse had been a guest lecturer at UMass Amherst in 2019 and attended one event hosted by the school’s College Democrats.
Morse, 31, quickly responded to the allegations saying as an openly gay man he has dated younger people but all interactions were consensual and none were with any students who might have attended his lectures.
No students have come forward to say otherwise.
The story quickly spiraled and went national with ugly tones of homophobia.
The story became much bigger when The Intercept followed up the story with reporting that revealed leaders of the UMass Amherst Democrats had been discussing ways to discover Morse’s dating app profiles and perhaps “lead him into saying something incriminating that would then damage his campaign.”
The chief strategist of the chapter at the time, Timothy Ennis, wrote in chat messages that while he was unsure about digging up dirt on Morse, he was a “Neal Stan” and hoped to land a position in the congressman’s office.
“But I need a job,” wrote Ennis according to The Intercept. “Neal will give me an internship.”
A second report from The Intercept suggested state Democratic Party leaders might have played a role in the drafting of the letter to Morse as well as making the allegations public.
On Friday, the UMass Amherst Democrats executive board sent Morse a letter apologizing for the “public distress that the public reaction to the letter must have cost you.”
Admitting the letter was never intended to become public, they added, “We should have realized that the language of the letter was careless and played into homophobic stereotypes that have been used to oppress gay men in politics.”
“We understand that no apology of ours can make up for the homophobic attacks you have suffered as a result of our actions; nonetheless, we wish to apologize. We wish you the best of luck in your campaign.”
The College Democrats also included a copy of a letter sent to the general membership of the group explaining the board had only been shown the initial letter “briefly” and were asked to sign on by the chapter’s president, Andrew Abramson, “in solidarity.”
“We are deeply sorry that Alex Morse has faced homophobic attacks as a result of our actions and that our decision has negatively impacted the LGBT+ community, including our own membership,” read the letter to the general membership. “We wish Alex Morse the best of luck in his campaign and political career.”
Morse’s campaign shared the apology with the Daily Hampshire Gazette calling the initial letter “an unfortunate situation that happened.”
In an interview with Jacobin Magazine, Morse characterized the attack as “incredibly dangerous to our democracy,” and added the accusations could have “a chilling effect for young people, queer people, single people, basically telling us we can’t or shouldn’t run for office.”
Even though the apology was sent to Morse, other groups are still using the story to undermine his candidacy before the primary.
American Working Families, a Democratic group, pulled an attack ad it ran after catching flak for homophobic undertones in the spot.
The ad went after Morse’s record as mayor, made vague accusations that his campaign is being funded by “outside special interests” and brought up “sexual relationships with college students.”
The group told Twitter on Saturday the spot was “never intended to air” adding that “it was accidentally sent to stations instead of a corrected version.”
This is the ad they sent to stations with the concluding sentences: “Now Alex Morse admits to sexual relationships with college students — even while he was a university lecturer. Alex Morse, terrible judgment, we don’t need in Congress.” https://t.co/GcTSzmXBzV pic.twitter.com/6KyGT8p2Xw
— Daniel Marans (@danielmarans) August 29, 2020
There have also been robocalls reported that were “disguised as surveys” asking if respondents would still support Morse if he had “sent sexually explicit emails to college-aged students.”
The smearing of Morse continues. Voters are getting robocalls disguised as surveys telling them he sent sexually explicit to college students. Advocates for Neal wouldn't be doing this if they didn't think it was working. https://t.co/OZpvKFFsLG pic.twitter.com/I5B7uSZUxB
— Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) August 27, 2020
Congressman Neal, Morse’s opponent in tomorrow’s primary, has denied any involvement in the attacks.