UMass Democrats executive board issue apology to Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse

“We wish Alex Morse the best of luck in his campaign and political career”

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Alex Morse for Congress

By Matt Berg, Managing Editor

In a statement to its membership on Saturday, the University of Massachusetts Democrats executive board apologized to Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse after a letter, which was signed by the group, made national headlines for disinviting the congressional candidate from future events for making students feel uncomfortable.

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, and the letter did not claim that he engaged in illegal activity or broke school policy as a lecturer at UMass.

In the week following reports of the letter, The Intercept published several stories revealing a possible plot by the UMass Democrats’ chief strategist, Tim Ennis and the group’s president, Andrew Abramson, to derail Morse’s campaign in the Massachusetts First Congressional District race challenging longtime Congressman Richard Neal.

“We’ve avoided saying much about the events of the past several weeks because we haven’t had all of the information,” the executive board wrote. “However, we understand that we owe it to you, our membership, to explain what happened from our perspective and to apologize for actions that were taken without your knowledge.”

Executive board members were made aware of the letter to Morse in late July, the statement said. Abramson told the members that he had been working with Hayley Fleming, president of College Democrats of Massachusetts, on a private letter to send to the mayor. Abramson “briefly” showed the members the letter and asked them to vote in favor of signing it, according to the statement.

On Aug. 7, a day after it was emailed to Morse, details of the letter were reported by the Daily Collegian. Soon after, reports of the letter made national headlines.

“None of us leaked the letter to the Daily Collegian,” the letter said. “We were not prepared for this letter to be leaked to the public, and had no detailed allegations to come forward with because of the students’ desires to maintain anonymity.” 

The Daily Collegian was provided the letter by a source within one of the College Democrats of Massachusetts’ chapters, who was granted anonymity for fear of retribution. 

“We were told that multiple people who were made uncomfortable by Morse and wished to remain anonymous were involved in drafting the letter,” the executive board wrote. “We were concerned that these students would stop attending our events due to prior uncomfortable encounters with Morse, the details of which were not made clear to us.”

In the statement, the executive board denied the allegations that the group colluded with the Neal campaign to release the letter and derail the mayor’s campaign.

“To be clear: neither our political beliefs, nor the politics of Richard Neal and Alex Morse, played a role in our decision to vote to send the letter. We did not agree to the letter in cooperation with Richard Neal, or intend to help his campaign.”

After an interview with WAMC, in which Morse said he believed the Neal campaign may have been involved with the letter’s release, the Neal campaign swiftly denied the claim of collusion:

“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. “I have been and will remain entirely focused on the respective records of myself and Mayor Morse.”

Following the reports, there was 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. 

“Although we never intended for the language of the letter to be scrutinized by anyone except Alex Morse, we realize now that the wording was careless and unwittingly played into homophobic stereotypes,” the statement said.

The executive board said that the majority of its members are part of the LGBT community and did not condone any attacks that Morse faced following reports of the letter.

“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,” the board wrote. “We wish Alex Morse the best of luck in his campaign and political career.”

The primary election between Morse and Neal is on Sept. 1.

Matt Berg is the Managing Editor and can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @mattberg33.