As Holyoke, Massachusetts Mayor and congressional candidate Alex Morse responds to allegations of sexual misconduct, his supporters in Berkshire County are responding as well.
The Massachusetts Daily Collegian – the UMass student newspaper – reported Friday that Morse had been disavowed by the College Democrats of Massachusetts for inappropriate behavior with students. Morse, who taught at the college between 2014 and 2019, issued an apology to students he made uncomfortable while defending his conduct as consensual and not at odds with UMass policy. Morse did acknowledge having sexual relationships with college students.
While the university begins a review of the situation, Morse said in a statement Sunday that he understood if his supporters pull their endorsement of his bid to unseat 16-term Democratic Rep. Richard Neal.
“The seemingly purposeful vagueness of the highly publicized letter and the homophobic stereotypes riddled throughout immediately caused me to question its broader intent," said Pittsfield Ward 5 City Councilor Patrick Kavey, one of four leaders in Berkshire County’s largest community who are listed as endorsing Morse on his campaign website. “Alex has always been a man of his word. Through my past interactions and experiences with Alex, I have come to admire him for his transparent nature. I appreciate his candor in his statement, and I will continue to support him in Massachusetts’ first congressional district.”
“My feeling is that maybe he made some poor judgement calls, but I still feel strongly about his ability to make progressive change for the good for our district," said At-Large City Councilor Yuki Cohen. “And I read the articles and everything. It says it’s showing a pattern of abuse of power possibly, but I am waiting for the full investigation to happen. But that’s not going to happen for – it’s not going to be fully done until, before the election on September 1st, so I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt.”
Ward 6 City Councilor Dina Lampiasi says she’ll also continue to support Morse, saying the allegations lack detail and legitimacy.
“Unless more information is printed by the student journalists, I feel it’s important that we speak honestly about the article in question and the homophobic appearance of the so-called reporting," she told WAMC. "We’re living in a time of significant social progress and acceptance. However, the reality of homophobia and the policing of LGBTQ bodies is not behind us. This is what homophobia in 2020 looks like.”
Ward 1 City Councilor Helen Moon tells WAMC that she considers Morse a friend and a better candidate than Neal.
“But in saying that, I also hold spaces in places where the work that I do is about accountability and changing the dynamics and the culture around sexual assault and domestic violence,” she said.
Moon works with the Elizabeth Freeman Center, a nonprofit that addresses domestic and sexual violence in Berkshire County – as well as the countywide taskforce on the subject launched by the district attorney’s office in April 2019.
“I don’t doubt that his opponent had a lot to do with the timing and the way that this story was exposed and uncovered, but then I have to be critical of myself and think, if the opposite was happening, if this story was being uncovered about Congressman Richie Neal, how quick would I be to attack his relationship dynamic – because he’s also a professor at UMass – regardless of whether he was having relations with his own particular students or whether it was just a student body,” she told WAMC.
Couching her statements in the context of her identity – Moon is a cis-gender, straight woman, and Morse is gay – the councilor said Morse had behaved inappropriately.
“Students, organizations have come together to say that it has created such an environment that they do not wish to pursue any further relationships with him regardless of his position as a congressperson, and the student body being a political body,” said the councilor.
While she said politicians can’t be held to unreasonable expectations, Moon said Morse had challenged her ability to stand behind him.
“I don’t think that in good conscience I could continue to support and fully endorse a candidate when I seriously have questions about this particular part of his political life,” she said.
The Berkshire County chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America tells WAMC it will continue to support Morse.