AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) – The University of Massachusetts Democrats are apologizing to Holyoke mayor and congressional candidate Alex Morse, weeks after the group had dis-invited him to their events over what they had alleged to be inappropriate behavior. The group’s leadership is now saying their initial letter to Morse had “unintentionally caused homophobic conversation that we do not condone.”
The College Democrats’ executive board sent two letters late last week, one to Morse himself and another to their membership. The letter sent to membership, which has been released on Twitter, said that they had never intended for what had originally been a private letter to the mayor to “unwittingly play into homophobic stereotypes.”
In early August, the College Democrats had initially sent a letter to Morse claiming he had sexual relationships with college students, and had contacted students he had met at their events via social media “in a manner widely understood by our generation to indicate intimacy.” The allegations were made public through a report in the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, UMass’ student-run newspaper. It was later revealed that Morse had only attended one of the group’s events.
Morse has maintained that he has not done anything wrong, and says the accusations came as part of a political smear timed to coincide with the final weeks of his Democratic primary campaign against incumbent Congressman Richard Neal; citing reporting from The Intercept that the accusations centered around a student who wanted to enter politics through Neal, who had been one of his instructors at UMass. The Neal campaign has denied any involvement with the accusations.
Following the release of the claims, Holyoke City Councilor Michael Sullivan expressed intention to file a petition for Morse’s recall as mayor. He later publicly called for Morse’s resignation. Sullivan released a statement accusing Morse of sexual activities with “teenagers;” wording that the LGBTQ Victory Fund (which supports Morse) called homophobic– saying that referring to college students as teenagers “is meant to purposely evoke stereotypes of gay men as pedophiles.”
In their new letter to their membership, the executive board denied leaking the initial letter to Morse to the Daily Collegian. They also denied the accusations were made with any intent to help Neal or hurt Morse. They admitted, however, that the wording of their letter was “careless,” and said that the majority of their executive board are members of the LGBTQ community, and would never intentionally do anything to spread homophobic conversation.
“Although we never intended for the language of the letter to be scrutinized by anyone other than Alex Morse, we realize now the wording was careless and unwittingly played into homophobic stereotypes. 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. We wish Alex Morse the best of luck in his campaign and political career,” the letter reads.
For his part, Morse says he is continuing to move forward with his campaign. In a statement sent to 22News, he said “I appreciate the letter from the UMass Democrats and the apology. It’s tactics like this that push people away from politics. I look forward to going to Congress and doing my part to build a democracy that lifts people up, rather than tearing them down.”
The Massachusetts state primary is this coming Tuesday, September 1.