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In Apology To Morse, UMass Dems' Leaders Say Letter Was 'Careless,' 'Played Into Stereotypes'

Alex Morse (center), the mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts, before a debate in August 2020 against his opponent in the Democratic primary, U.S. Rep Richard Neal.
Don Treeger
The Republican/ Masslive.com / photos
Alex Morse (center), the mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts, before a debate in August 2020 against his opponent in the Democratic primary, U.S. Rep Richard Neal.

Three weeks after signing on to a letter that shook up a congressional race in perhaps unexpected ways, leaders of the College Democrats at UMass Amherst are apologizing to Alex Morse.

Morse, the mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts, is challenging U.S. Rep. Richard Neal in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

The original letter was from several groups associated with the College Democrats of Massachusetts, according to an August 7 report by The Massachusetts Daily Collegian. The letter accused Morse, 31, of using his “position of power for romantic or sexual gain,” and told him he was no longer welcome at the their events.

Morse taught a class at UMass until last fall. He apologized at the time of the Daily Collegian's report to anyone he "made feel uncomfortable," and he acknowledged dating college students — but said none had taken his course.

UMass has launched an independent review of the allegations.

Morse has claimed he was unfairly targeted because he is gay.

In an email to Morse (PDF) Friday evening, the UMass Democratic executive board wrote that they never intended the letter to become public. (A copy had been sent to the Daily Collegian.)

From the email:

However, 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.

Attached to their email to Morse, the executive board included a letter they sent to the broader membership (PDF) of the College Democrats. It included an explanation of the leaders’ decision to sign on to the original letter at the request of their then-president.

From the letter:

We understood the purpose of the letter to be to make College Democrats events safer – not to censure Morse’s sex life or pass judgement on his use of dating apps. A majority of our eboard members agreed to sign on in good faith, believing it necessary for the well-being of our members based on what we'd been told.

In the days that followed the allegations becoming public, the website The Intercept reported the complaints against Morse may have been pushed by a UMass College Democrat who wanted to get hired by Neal. Another Intercept report said Massachusetts Democratic Party officials may have been involved.

The UMass Democrats’ executive board claimed they were “blindsided by the allegations of collusion.”

The email to Morse and letter to the College Democrats were provided by the Morse campaign after a request from NEPM. The correspondence was first reported Saturday byThe Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Morse told the paper the original allegations were “obviously… a coordinated effort that seems to have backfired in a big way.”

The Morse campaign, following a wave of national attention in recent weeks, has claimed major increases in fundraising and tightening internal poll numbers against Neal.

Neal, who has served in Congress since 1989 and chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, has denied any involvement in the allegations.

Adam Frenier contributed to this report.

Sam Hudzik has overseen local news coverage on New England Public Media since 2013. He manages a team of about a dozen full- and part-time reporters and hosts.
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