Following three articles published in The Intercept this week that appear to reveal a possible plot by the College Democrats of Massachusetts leadership to derail Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse’s congressional campaign, Morse has called for an independent investigation into interactions between a lawyer connected to the state Democratic Party and the student group.
Last week, the College Democrats of Massachusetts, the University of Massachusetts Democrats and Amherst College Democrats sent a letter to Morse, banning the candidate from their events, which was first reported by the Collegian. The letter made references to Morse’s dating life and actions on social media, and claimed that he had made anonymous members of their groups feel “uncomfortable” in the past. Morse was not accused of sexual assault.
In an interview with the Berkshire Eagle Thursday, Morse called for an independent investigation into the role an attorney associated with the state Democratic Party played in sending the letter to Morse. The investigation would probe the actions of the College Democrats of Massachusetts, which sent the letter, and what, if any involvement, the state Democratic Party had with its generation.
In the latest of several jolting investigative reports, The Intercept detailed communications between College Democrats and top leaders of the state party, who, according to the report, helped the college students get in touch with a prominent lawyer, Jim Roosevelt, who is connected to the state party. According to one anonymous member of the Democratic State Committee who The Intercept interviewed, the state party was “trying to destroy” the College Democrats, which reached out to the political party for legal protection.
Hayley Fleming, president of the College Democrats and a political science senior at Amherst College, said in a statement posted to Twitter Thursday that she will cooperate with any investigation going forward.
“As reported in Politico this morning, there will be an investigation by [sic] the Massachusetts Democratic Party,” Fleming wrote. “I intend to fully comply with this investigation. In addition, I am committed to answering any questions from our membership to the best of my ability.”
Following articles about the letter, the University launched a review into whether or not Morse — a former lecturer in UMass’ political science department from 2014 to 2019 — had broken school policy, which prohibits relationships between professors and students with whom they hold a supervisory or advisory role over.
Consensual relationships, such as dating or sexual relationships, between faculty and students are “inherently problematic because of the unequal power dynamic between the parties to the relationship,” and “the responsibility of faculty for evaluating students’ work,” school officials said in a statement on Aug. 8. The College Democrats’ letter did not accuse Morse of having relations with students in his classes.
On Friday, the University announced in a statement that it had retained Natashia Tidwell, a partner at the Boston-based law firm of Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr, to conduct an independent investigation into the claims contained in College Democrats’ letter.
In a statement, Morse denied any wrongdoing during his time as a lecturer at the University and said all of his relationships have been consensual:
“I have never, in my entire life, had a non-consensual sexual encounter with anyone,” he said. “I have never used my position of power as Mayor or UMass lecturer for romantic or sexual gain, or to take advantage of students. I have never violated UMass policy.”
There was swift and widespread criticism of the letter on social media and elsewhere, including accusations that its use of vague language and innuendo reflected views that are homophobic.
On Tuesday, The Intercept first published a report revealing a possible plot by a key leader of the UMass Democrats to derail Morse’s congressional campaign. The details of the story centered on the group’s chief strategist, Timothy Ennis, and recountings by former UMass Democrats that Ennis had personal political ambitions to land an internship with Morse’s opponent, Congressman Richard Neal.
In an interview with WAMC, Morse said he believed Neal, his opponent in the race for Massachusetts 1st District, was possibly involved with the letter’s release.
“Any implications that I or anyone from my campaign are involved are flat wrong and an attempt to distract from the issue at hand,” Neal said in a statement Thursday. “I have been and will remain entirely focused on the respective records of myself and Mayor Morse.”
Clare Sheedy, a student at the University who left the UMass Democrats following the report of the letter, first told The Intercept about an interaction she had with Ennis, then-president of the group, on a car ride to a Pete Buttigieg campaign event in New Hampshire in the fall.
Sheedy, a Morse supporter, reiterated to the Collegian on Thursday what happened on that ride, saying Ennis expressed his interest in working for Neal in the future, and told Sheedy that he did not support Morse because of the mayor’s use of dating apps and his matching with students. A student Sheedy said was also in the car declined to comment on the interaction.
Text messages sent between a former UMass Democrats member and Ennis in October, which were also obtained by the Collegian, confirm Ennis’s support for Neal, with Ennis dubbing himself “a Neal Stan.” The Intercept first reported on the messages Wednesday.
The messages were sent to the Collegian by the same former member of the UMass Democrats, who wished to remain anonymous because of fears of retribution from group members. The Intercept and other media reported earlier this week that Morse said he had attended only one College Democrats event, in October, since announcing his congressional bid in June 2019.
“This could sink his campaign,” Ennis wrote in the messages, as the pair speculated about Morse’s alleged relationships with students.
On Wednesday, The Intercept reported additional claims of political bias by UMass Democrats, publishing screenshots of Instagram messages between Andrew Abramson, the group’s president, and Morse. Abramson sent the communication between him and the mayor to an someone who was not identified, writing “don’t mind me totally leading him on.”
Both Ennis and Abramson have not responded to requests for comment.
The Collegian was one of the news outlets, including the Boston Globe, that obtained the letter by the College Democrats. After the Collegian released a story on Aug. 7 about the political groups’ event ban against Morse, other news outlets followed suit, with the vague allegations garnering national attention. Several of Morse’s endorsers, including the Sunrise Western Mass Coalition, rescinded their endorsements.
The Berkshire Eagle reported that in the days since the Intercept’s first report, Morse has raised unprecedented funds for his campaign — a reflection of outrage and support for the mayor who continues to stress in interviews that three weeks before the state Sept. 1 primary he is disappointed to have to talk about his personal life instead of the issues.
“We’ve had the best fundraising week of the entire campaign, since Friday. [Wednesday] alone, we raised $130,000 from over 3,000 individual contributions. In one day,” Morse said in the interview with the Berkshire Eagle. “Our previous high day was $27,000.”
Morse and Neal will participate in a debate which will air at 7 p.m. on Monday.
Matt Berg is the Managing Editor and can be reached at [email protected]