A gay mayor and Democratic candidate who had hook-ups with college students may have been set up by those seeking to sink his campaign, leaked messages suggest.
Alex Morse, 31-year-old mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts, is currently campaigning for a seat in Congress.
His bid was derailed a week ago, when three college groups — the College Democrats of Massachusetts, UMass Amherst Democrats and Amherset College Democrats — accused him of abusing his power by pursuing relationships with students.
On Sunday (August 9) Morse was forced to issue an apology in which he admitted to having consensual adult relationships with college students he met via dating apps. He said he was now “cognisant” of the power imbalance involved as a mayor and a lecturer, but refused to drop out of the Democratic primary.
He later added in a statement on Twitter that he had never violated university policy or used his position for romantic or sexual gain, and that he was “outraged” by the invocation of age-old anti-gay stereotypes.
Message logs obtained by the Intercept — reportedly from leaders of the College Democrats UMass Amherst chapter group, and from a private chat one of them had with Morse — appear to shed new light on how the scandal was deployed.
My statement on the last 48 hours. pic.twitter.com/2RU5ht6jZ8
— Alex Morse (@AlexBMorse) August 10, 2020
Morse’s accusers hoped to land a job with his political rival, chats suggest.
The scandal broke three weeks before Morse’s challenge to longtime incumbent Richard Neal, but it has now been alleged it was planned by supporters of Neal as far back as October 2019.
Screenshots of messages from this time appear to show UMass Amherst chapter leadership talking about leaking a story damaging to Morse so that Neal could maintain his position.
A message which claims to be from Timothy Ennis, the chief strategist for the UMass Amherst College Democrats and self-described “Neal Stan”, described feeling conflicted about the attack on Morse. “But I need a job… [and] Neal will give me an internship,” it concluded.
According to the Intercept, leaders of the College Democrats group explicitly discussed how they could find Morse’s dating profiles and then lead him into saying something incriminating that would then damage his campaign.
Having failed to find the evidence they were hoping for, they instead levelled broader charges that he behaved inappropriately towards college students, the outlet claimed.
“This will sink his campaign”
The group’s president, Andrew Abramson, met Alex Morse in person at a College Democrats event on October 5, and the pair later struck up a conversation on Instagram. Although they appear to have discussed nothing more than their weekend plans, message logs suggest they were considered incriminating enough.
“This will sink his campaign,” one of the messages, purportedly from Ennis, read.
At the time Ennis was a student of Neal’s at UMass Amherst, and messages appear to show him joking about leaking the information on Neal’s political rival in a paper for the class.
A friend of Ennis told the Intercept: “He spoke very highly of Mr Neal. What he said to me was he wanted Neal to be his ‘in’ to politics and work his way up from there.”
Abramson reportedly continued chatting with Morse for several more weeks. This appears to align with accusations that Morse “sought out students that he met at our events privately on social media, in a manner widely understood by our generation to indicate intimacy”.
Richard Neal has distanced himself from the college groups
In a statement to MassLive on Monday, Neal’s spokesperson denied any collaboration between the Neal campaign and the student group — but added that the Neal campaign “commends these courageous students.”
The College Democrats also responded to allegations of cooperation with the Neal campaign on Sunday, writing on Twitter: “To suggest that our decision to send the letter to Mayor Morse was a quid pro quo with Rep. Neal, his campaign, or anyone else is untrue, disingenuous, and harmful.”
The student group has also denied that Ennis’s professional ambitions played a role in the crafting of the strategy. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment from PinkNews.