#collegesafety | CommonWealth Magazine

Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse is fighting for his political future, amid allegations that he had sex with students attending the university where he taught.

Now questions are being raised about what is behind the allegations. Are they true, are they politically motivated, or is there some anti-gay animus at work?

Morse, who is openly gay, is a Democratic candidate for Congress challenging US Rep. Richard Neal.

The UMass Amherst and Amherst College chapters of the College Democrats of Massachusetts recently published a letter accusing Morse of making students uncomfortable and abusing his power in order to have sexual relationships with them.

The group said Morse, a former lecturer at UMass Amherst, came to College Democrats events, met students, then pursued them on social media. The group said because Morse was a mayor, lecturer, and well-connected gatekeeper to Massachusetts progressive politics, refusing his advances would be “fraught” for students.
The Daily Collegian, which first reported on the allegations, said UMass is investigating Morse’s conduct. Morse is no longer employed there.

Morse admitted having consensual sexual relationships with students he met on dating apps. In his own statement, he said he never violated UMass policy – implying he did not have sex with students he taught – and never took advantage of his positions for sexual gain.

One major question is whether the allegations are politically motivated. The Intercept published a story Wednesday alleging that in October 2019, the UMass Amherst College Democrats began planning to sink Morse’s campaign by leaking messages between Morse and students and potentially by getting him to say something incriminating on a dating site. The group’s chief strategist was interested in working for Neal. Politico reported that Massachusetts Democratic Party chairman Gus Bickford is now planning to investigate the conduct of the College Democrats.

Morse had said he suspects Neal’s campaign of involvement, a charge that Neal denies.

The incident also raises questions about whether Morse’s sexual orientation has anything to do with how he was treated – and whether the reaction would have been different if he were sleeping with female students.

The College Democrats wrote that to suggest their letter had anything to do with Morse’s sexuality “is untrue, disingenuous, and harmful.” The group added: “The mayor’s sexuality in no way excuses his behavior.”

Morse, in his response, wrote that some members of the queer community are “genuinely outraged, as I am, by the invocation of age-old anti-gay stereotypes.” Morse said he believes he is being held to a different standard, “one deeply connected to a history of surveilling the sex lives of people like me.”

Holyoke City Councilor Mike Sullivan and three other councilors filed an order to create a process that would let them recall Morse as mayor. “Admitting he has been spending his time using his position and power to engage in sexual activities with teenagers at the University of Mass simply disqualifies him to continue as our Mayor,” Sullivan said, according to Western Mass News.
Morse called the order “a sad, ignorant, and homophobic attack by city councilors who have long fought against efforts to make Holyoke a welcoming community for all.”

The LGBTQ Victory Fund, a national group committed to electing LGBTQ officials, accused Sullivan of evoking homophobic stereotypes of gay men as pedophiles by using the word “teenager,” when there is no allegation Morse slept with underage men. The group called Sullivan’s language “homophobic dog whistles.”

But Holyoke City Councilor Linda Vacon, a Republican who signed onto the order, told MassLive her reaction would be the same if Morse were a 31-year-old man accused of sleeping with 18-year-old female students. “This is not about gay stereotypes, but is about age-old domination by those in power towards others who have little or none,” Vacon said.

State Sen. Julian Cyr, a Truro Democrat who is gay, wrote that the allegations appear to be leveled with an eye toward the political calendar. He also raised the issue of Morse’s sexuality. “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,” Cyr wrote. He added, “This race will set a precedent for whether vague and anonymous allegations can be easily launched against LGBTQ candidates to destroy their campaigns, or whether investigations will be required before LGBTQ candidates are condemned in the media.”

SHIRA SCHOENBERG


FROM COMMONWEALTH

New data indicate the spread of COVID-19 in the state is accelerating, with the number of high and moderate risk communities jumping 40 percent. The fast-changing situation is complicating decisions on whether it’s safe to send children back to school for in-person learning.

Not every school district is buying Gov. Charlie Baker’s guidance on which communities are at low risk from COVID-19.

It’s a renter’s market in Boston, as deals and perks proliferate amid a downturn in potential tenants.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack launches an environmental review of three rebuild options for the Massachusetts Turnpike “throat” at Allston Landing, but two of them already appear to be dead on arrival.

Faneuil Hall Marketplace tenants and their landlord appear to be at a standoff over rent.

Opinion: Sen. Julian Cyr questions the political timing of a letter from the College Democrats of Massachusetss regarding relationships Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse had with students. Morse is running against US Rep. Richard Neal in the Democratic primary.


FROM AROUND THE WEB             

BEACON HILL

In an op-ed, Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo urge state lawmakers to end qualified immunity for police officers. (Boston Globe) Massachusetts police officers rallied in Burlington urging Gov. Charlie Baker to veto police reform legislation. (Boston Herald)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Efforts to reform the Boston Zoning Board of Appeal have become a battleground in back-and-forth between Mayor Marty Walsh and City Councilor Michelle Wu, who is considered a likely mayoral challenger next year. (Boston Globe)

After seeing the controversy surrounding “thin blue line” flags in Hingham, Norfolk County Sheriff Jerry McDermott said he wanted to give the flag a place of prominence to honor police officers— and has decided to fly it in front of the county jail permanently. (Patriot Ledger)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The coronavirus may have already claimed 200,000 lives in the United States, 60,000 more than the official count, according to a New York Times analysis.

ELECTIONS

Former Obama speechwriter Dave Cavell is dropping out of the crowded Democratic primary race in the Fourth Congressional District and throwing his support to Jesse Mermel as part of an effort to block Jake Auchincloss, widely seen as a leading candidate, who has come in for criticism over comments on race and religious issues. (Boston Globe)

The Salem News profiles Democrat Jamie Belsito, who is challenging US Rep. Seth Moulton for his congressional seat, saying she sees a “lack of leadership” on a range of issues from education to mental health.

A WBUR poll indicates voters are evenly split on ranked choice voting, which is on the ballot this fall.

A new UMass Amherst poll puts US Sen. Ed Markey 15 points ahead of US Rep. Joe Kennedy in the Senate race, but several other recent polls have shown Kennedy ahead of Markey. (MassLive) Markey is going right at one of Kennedy’s perceived advantages — his family’s storied brand — as he alleges that Kennedy is getting help from a super PAC his family is helping to fund. (Boston Globe)

The three Democrats seeking to replacing Rep. Dan Cullinane get a chance to make their pitches to real voters. (Dorchester Reporter)

In their first joint appearance as the presumptive Democratic ticket, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris go on the attack against President Trump. (Washington Post) The Trump campaign hasn’t been able to settle on a line of attack against Harris, alternately tagging her a radical leftist and a deep disappointment to progressives. (New York Times)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A national study uses cellphone data to identify a huge drop in social interactions in March, with Massachusetts coming in 9th nationwide in how much social interactions have been reduced. The numbers are only halfway back to normal. (Telegram & Gazette)

EDUCATION

Early education leaders are sounding a dire warning that there may not be nearly enough day care center slots to accommodate demand in September. (Boston Globe)

The Cape Cod Reopening Task Force, which has been heavily focused on businesses reopening, is turning its attention to the region’s K-12 school systems as fall approaches. (Cape Cod Times)

Parents rallied in front of the State House to re-open schools in communities with fewer COVID-19 cases. (WGBH)

Salem had planned to bring its youngest children back to school in person – but after the city ticked up to “red” on the state’s new map, it is now going to all-remote learning. (The Salem News) Teachers place coffins and empty shoes outside Haverhill City Hall to symbolize teachers and students who could die from COVID-19 if they return to school in-person. (Eagle-Tribune) New Bedford has approved a hybrid learning plan.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh says determining what format the city’s schools will open using is “one of the hardest decisions we have to make.” (Boston Herald)

As public schools consider remote learning, most Worcester Catholic schools are planning to open in-person. (Telegram & Gazette)

Some advocates, including teachers unions, are pushing for a four-year suspension of the MCAS test. (MassLive)

ARTS/CULTURE

The shows go on at two theaters in Pittsfield,  but only by dramatically reducing the number of people who can attend to comply with the governor’s order limiting outdoor gatherings to no more than 50 people. (Berkshire Eagle)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The Massachusetts Bail Fund responds to criticism of its practice of bailing out people accused of violent crimes by accusing critics of “fear mongering.” (Associated Press)

Retired Boston Police Officer Pat Rose, a former president of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, is set to face a judge amid allegations of child rape. (WCVB)

Hampshire County Sheriff Patrick Callinane furloughs 77 employees. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Meet the Author

PASSINGS
Boston-born media mogul Sumner Redstone, who led ViacomCBS, dies at 97. (Associated Press)


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