Gay Massachusetts Democratic congressional candidate and Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse is set to debate longtime incumbent Rep. Richard Neal, the chair of the powerful Ways and Means committee, at 7 pm ET amid allegations that leaders of the state’s Democratic party coordinated with the College Democrats of Massachusetts (CDMA) in a smear campaign against Morse, involving unsubstantiated allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior. Neal has denied any involvement in the allegations against Morse.
A new internal poll shows Morse within 5 points of Neal. The primary is in 15 days. Listen to the debate below on NPR. The lower video is an archive of the earlier part of the debate.
If you haven’t been following the story, officials from the Massachusetts Democratic Party, including both the chairman and the executive director, are alleged to have helped coordinate a recent attack on Morse, involving unsubstantiated allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct.
Morse last week responded “to a letter from [the CDMA], accusing him of using ‘his position of power for romantic or sexual gain,’ according to the Massachusetts Daily Collegian. The CDMA alleged that Morse had sexual relations with students at UMass Amherst, where he is a lecturer in the department of political science, as well from other schools in the Five College Consortium, during his campaign. They accused him of meeting students as young as 18 on dating apps such as Tinder and Grindr. He also connected with them on Instagram, adding them to his “Close Friends” story and direct-messaging them, which made some of them feel uncomfortable.
Morse denied doing anything inappropriate and responded that he was staying in the race in a lengthy statement published to social media. After Morse’s response, the bombshell report broke that alleged state Democratic party leaders colluded with the student group on the attack.
News also broke that 10 months before the allegations, the president of a Democratic student group reportedly vowed to “sink” the Holyoke mayor’s campaign in order to win a job working for Neal.
Late on Sunday, 48 Democratic State Committee members signed a letter calling for an investigation into whether state Democratic Party leaders were involved in the attack on Morse.
The Daily Hampshire Gazette reports: “Gus Bickford, the chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, sent a message to Democratic State Committee members on Sunday morning in which he said he had tapped other party higher-ups…to initiate an investigation of ‘recent news reports regarding certain activity of the Democratic Party staff and volunteers in the CD-1 primary.'”
Wrote Bickford in the letter: “This group will, upon their unilateral authority, select an independent investigator to review the matter, determine whether rules were broken, and publish in due order a report and attendant recommendations, if any. The report, in full, will be provided to the entire DSC membership upon its receipt.”
“However, the 48 Democratic State Committee members who signed a separate letter later in the day calling for a quicker review questioned ‘the ability of the party to investigate itself, and the role leadership may have played,'” the Daily Hampshire Gazette reports.
On Monday afternoon, The Intercept, which broke the story of possible collusion between the Massachusetts Democratic Party and the CDMA, reported that Massachusetts Democratic Party Executive Director Veronica Martinez “told student leaders to delete records of communications between themselves and the state party” after news of the coordination began to break.
In a story published Friday, the Intercept reported it is “undeniable … that the state Democratic party was behind the emergence of the allegations,” citing five sources within the state party and connected to the College Democrats of Massachusetts (CDMA), a review of messages between party leadership and the leadership of the CDMA, and call records obtained by reporters.
“The documents show that the Massachusetts Democratic Party’s executive director Veronica Martinez and chair Gus Bickford connected the students with attorneys, among them, the powerful state party figure and attorney Jim Roosevelt, who worked with the college group on a letter alleging Morse behaved inappropriately,” the Intercept reported. “A [Democratic State Committee] member told The Intercept that in their view, the different roles Martinez, Bickford, and Roosevelt played in the development and release of the CDMA letter—as well as the ensuing attempts to cover up their involvement after the fact—make the state party’s hostility to Morse, a young gay man, hard to ignore. ‘As a DSC member, it’s pretty angering that party resources and party staff were put into an effort to attack a gay candidate,’ the member said. ‘I don’t know how we can have any trust with the LGTBQ community going forward.’”
Roosevelt, the attorney, has twice contributed money to Neal’s campaign. Roosevelt has also fought back against the progressive wing of the party, and Morse is challenging Neal from the left.
Though Neal has denied any involvement in the allegations against Morse, a senior Neal staffer said privately earlier this year that the congressman wasn’t worried about the primary challenge from Morse “because the young mayor was known to have slept with college students and that information would emerge at the right time,” according to the Intercept.