Ten months before leveling anonymous, unsubstantiated allegations of sexual misconduct against gay Massachusetts congressional candidate Alex Morse, the president of a Democratic student group reportedly vowed to “sink” the Holyoke mayor’s campaign in order to win a job working for his opponent.
In a letter last week, the College Democrats of Massachusetts accused Morse, a progressive who’s challenging longtime Democratic Congressman Richard Neal in the Sept. 1 primary, of using “his position of power for romantic or sexual gain.” The group alleged that Morse, the four-term Holyoke mayor who is a former adjunct professor at UMass Amherst, had sexual relations with college students in the state, and made some of its members feel uncomfortable by matching with them on dating apps and messaging them on Instagram.
Morse, 31, responded to the allegations by admitting to having consensual sexual relations with college students in the past. But he denied any wrongdoing, and said the attack was rooted in “age-old gay stereotypes.”
The College Democrats presented no specific evidence to back up their allegations, which were not reported to the UMass Amherst administration prior to their letter, raising questions about their motives three weeks before a hotly contested primary. Then, on Wednesday, the Intercept reported that it obtained chat messages in which leaders of the College Democrats at UMass Amherst discussed an effort to smear Morse last October.
From the publication’s report: “Timothy Ennis, the chief strategist for the UMass Amherst College Democrats, admitted in the chats that he was a ‘Neal Stan’ and said he felt conflicted about involving the chapter of the College Democrats in a future attack on Morse. ‘But I need a job,’ concluded Ennis. ‘Neal will give me an internship.’ At the time, Ennis was president of the chapter, a post he held from April 2019 to April 2020, when he was term-limited out. Leaders of the College Democrats group went beyond merely plans to leak. They also explicitly discussed how they could find Morse’s dating profiles and then lead him into saying something incriminating that would then damage his campaign. … Ultimately, the College Democrats did not release any chats or any other specific claims against Morse, opting instead to level broader charges that he behaved inappropriately.”
As it turns out, Ennis and others were unable to come up with any dirt on Morse beyond a rather innocent Instagram conversation he had with Andrew Abramson, who now serves as president of the UMass Amherst College Democrats, as well as evidence that Morse once maintained a Tinder profile. Nevertheless, they contacted a Politico reporter in an effort to get the allegations published. After his campaign was contacted by the reporter, Morse reached out to Abramson and apologized if he had made him feel uncomfortable — at which point Abramson blocked him. When Politico didn’t initially publish a story, leaders of the Student Democrats reportedly fired off their inflammatory letter without the knowledge of rank-and-file members — and their allegations made national headlines.
Ennis reportedly hoped to launch his political career by going to work for Neal, the 15-term incumbent. Neal also teaches at UMass Amherst, and Ennis was enrolled in the congressman’s journalism class.
Neal’s campaign has denied any involvement in the apparent smear campaign against Morse. While a few of Morse’s supporters have withdrawn their endorsements in response to the allegations, others have stood behind him, including former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, the LGBTQ Victory Fund and gay Massachusetts state Sen. Julian Cyr. Meanwhile, one city council member in Holyoke launched a recall campaign against Mayor Morse, accusing him of “sexual activities with teenagers.”
Cyr said in a statement: “As an ‘out’ queer elected official who knows the sex lives of LGBTQ people are too often sensationalized in politics and in media, I find it extremely disappointing that vague and anonymous allegations have been levied against Holyoke Mayor and Congressional candidate Alex Morse without any on-the-record sourcing. It’s alarming that these claims have attracted this level of attention with a swiftness I fear they would have not received if Alex were straight.”
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