Embattled Cohoes Mayor Shawn Morse tells WAMC News Tuesday afternoon he won't resign despite pressure from fellow Albany County Democrats after the Times Union published a series of reports detailing alleged domestic violence incidents against the first-term mayor dating back years. Morse also says he has never physically harmed a woman, and took shots at Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan and state Assemblymembers Patricia Fahy and John McDonald, himself a former mayor of Cohoes.
Below is a transcript of Morse's interview. This post will be updated.
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan declined to comment on Morse's statements. Fahy's office said the Assemblymember does not have any additional comment at this time.
What is Mayor Morse’s reaction to the Times Union’s reporting?
I gotta be honest with you, I’m trying to find out in life where the line is drawn in today’s society. You know, I’ve never disputed that me and wife had an argument at our house that was a very personal and probably the most historical disagreement that we’ve ever had. And I thought that, you know, somebody intentionally leaked stuff to them before I ever had a chance to try to clarify, and the Times Union, who has a history of not liking me, as you know, ran this horrendous story that was very hurtful to my family, my friends and my wife and I and my kids, but then, you know, they kept just trying to drag my life through the mud and try to make these allegations that I beat up people 34 years ago. And it’s heart-wrenching. I don’t know any more what the world has come to.
The allegations in the Times Union were not allegations from any woman who came out and said, ‘Shawn Morse did this to me.’ In fact, I’m friends with them women. I’ve talked to one of them just three weeks ago who was in my office, while I was helping her do some work. And, I’m just trying to figure out how we can now just say in an article in the Times Union newspaper “he said that she said that he heard that he did” and then prosecute me in the public opinion. And it hurts. It hurts a lot. It hurts my family. People now draw a conclusion that are now quick on the trigger and it’s kind of just a real sad situation for my family.
Assemblyman John McDonald says he saw you grab a woman in Marra’s pharmacy. Did it happen?
Well, let me just ask you the question. Did it happen? Because if I grabbed a woman in Marra’s pharmacy and dragged her out by the hair, where was John McDonald then? Why did John McDonald not call the cops then? Why has it never been brought up in any fashion for the last 34 years of my life? Why is the woman who he says I did that to not coming out and saying I did that? Me and John McDonald are political adversaries. We have been for a long time. But he has also come to my fundraisers and we have done events together, and for him to now say that that happened concerns me.
I got hired as firefighter after that, went through a complete background check, I was in the Navy after that, and went through a major background check, and none of that stuff was ever found in my background, and it never happened. It just never happened. I gotta tell you, I’m disappointed that Mayor McDonald would now try to seize an opportunity where they couldn’t beat me in an election to try to embarrass my family and it’s sad to see this. He did it to my uncle [George Primeau], who was one of his closest friends, and when my uncle was dying of cancer he was out there trying to hurt him. So I don’t know John McDonald’s motives, but John McDonald has his own checkered past, so he should be concerned about how we best run our city, not how he can politically assassinate me so that he could have the seat here at city hall, because that’s what I believe it is.
WAMC’s Brian Shields: Mayor Kathy Sheehan and Assemblywoman [Pat] Fahy also have urged you to resign. What do you think of their calls for you to step down?
I think it’s interesting. I think that Kathy Sheehan who has had several domestic violence issues at her own house would somehow now come out and be the moral compass for something that she has absolutely no information on. Again, she knows nothing about me. But she’s had her own and I think that’s hypocritical for somebody to call me out based on having her own problems at her house.
Shields: What has happened at her house?
Well you’d have to ask her because I’m not Kathy and I’m not people willing to destroy people’s lives based on you know ‘he said, she said’, but you’d have to ask her. But, certainly she had her own 911 calls and the Times Union didn’t report anything on that and nothing ever happened on that. So I would have to say call Mrs. Sheehan. And Pat Fahy, again I don’t even know the woman. I’ve talked to her maybe a handful of times. But, gosh she works in the Assembly where some of the worst sexual harassment and corruption is taking place under her nose. She’s never made one comment about that. And again, it must be easy to pick on the kid from Cohoes because she doesn’t know me. She doesn’t know any of the facts. I really was disappointed because I would think that people in elected positions rather than sitting in their office wanting to call and destroy people’s lives would say ‘you know what, we should preserve the laws of this country to make sure that everybody has due process’ and if this happened, they wouldn’t have to call for my resignation because I would quit.
Shields: Do you plan to stay as mayor?
Absolutely. I am not going to leave as mayor. I represent the city of Cohoes. We have done more in 18 months than we’ve seen in 20 years. I think the people of Cohoes have great faith in me. Most of them have known me since I was a young kid. None of them ever heard any of this incredible, crazy things that are being said. You would think in a small town that this would have been stuff that everybody would have known, because I hear things about everybody every day.
Shields: Would you consider legal action against the Times Union for their reporting?
Morse: I think the Times Union is a paper that most people take as a grain of salt so you know I’ll look at all of my legal actions after I take care of my family which is our number one concern.
Shields: Has this damaged your ability to lead the city, especially after the fire?
Morse: I think it’s only strengthened the people that circle around me now. I’ve had over 3,000 phone calls, emails and messages from every walk of life in our community just telling me how much they support me and how much they’re sad by this and how much they’ve lost faith in the Times Union and how much the world is just now prosecute before you have a chance to defend. I think most people are sick and tired of watching this happen. Especially in a small city where we all know each other and people have known me my whole life. So I think I’m a great leader. I think we’re going to lead this city better than it’s ever led before. I think that’s probably one of the reasons that certain people are against me. Listen, all day long, I’m not focused on the Times Union and I’m not focused on the downside, I’m focused on the $50 million of economic development that we have in the pipeline, I’m focused on the revitalization of the downtown, rebuilding after a major fire, on 787 where I secured the $15 million necessary that turned it into a boulevard, and I’m going to continue to work hard every single day. I had more phone calls today about people who wanted to invest saying ‘you better stay in the city because you’re the reason we’re coming.’
Shields: Have you ever physically harmed a woman in your life?
Morse: I never have in my entire life. I’ve never harmed a woman. And I would imagine that if I did, women would be coming out saying I harmed them. But I was quite the opposite. I spent my whole career as a young man being a bouncer in bar defending more women than you could ever imagine. I had many fights in my life. I came from the projects and unfortunately that’s what happened in my life. I was a bouncer and I had a lot of fights. When I ran for every office, I said to people ‘Cohoes has been my greatest successes and my worst failures.’ I’ve had a lot of fights. I’ve defended a lot of women and I’ve helped a lot of women when they were having problems when I was bouncing at a bar. I never hurt a woman. I am a man of compassion. I have my own two daughters. To think that have two daughters and I would condone people hitting my kids is absolutely crazy. I’m a great father. I’m a good husband and I’m great advocate for this city and I’m going to continue to do those things.
Here are highlights from McDonald’s interview Tuesday afternoon in response to Morse’s comments, including Morse’s rejection of McDonald’s statement that he saw Morse grab a woman in Marra’s Pharmacy, run by McDonald’s family, three decades ago.
McDonald: I was surprised that he never really answered that question. He preceded to go into a different avenue about what I did or did not do on that incident which was over 30 years ago. It was an employee of ours. A person that I made sure was OK. And asked her what she wanted me to do. At that time, I did not realize that was actually Shawn. It was told to me by she and another employee who it was after he had run off down the street. But she begged me not to call the police. And going back 30 years ago, I honored her wishes. But, he never really answered the question. That being said, it’s extremely unfortunate to see what is happening. The mayor is understandably upset. I think we all realize that. A lot of us feel very bad for him, his family and the city of Cohoes. Because this is taking away from all the good work he’s accomplished and many others working together. I am deeply troubled by his claim that I was trying to politically assassinate him. I’ve worked very closer with the mayor. At many neighborhood meetings, I have publicly supported and advocated the great work that he has done. The mayor also knows shortly after he was elected, and I did not support him in that election, but within weeks after that election, he and I both met, buried whatever little hatchet there may have been. The reality is I was at an event this past week. A reporter approached me. Described every single element of the incident that happened 30 years and pointedly asked me ‘Is this true, yes or no?’ People who know me know the one thing I will do is tell the truth. And the truth was yes. When prodded to go further, I refused to get any further into the conversation because I know the history. And quite honestly that was 30 years ago. What we need to do is focus on today. And today, we have a city on its knees because of this tragic fire. We have a mayor who I think has been working very hard for the citizens. No one disputes that. Has really been working on stirring economic development that is obviously being distracted by this incident. And I’ve said now twice and I’ll say for a third time, Mayor Morse needs to sit down with his wife and make the best decision for him, his family and the city of Cohoes. And whatever that decision may be, that will be it.
Do you think Mayor Morse should resign?
As I said, the mayor has to make his own decision. I know Shawn Morse better than almost anybody else in the city of Cohoes. He is a fighter. He admits he’s a fighter. I personally don’t think he’s going to resign, knowing him. I think he’s going to fight this to the bitter end.
Mayor Morse said today that “John McDonald has his own checkered past.” Any response to that?
This is typical of any individual under a lot of pressure. It’s easier to deflect the issue away from the person involved and to basically do character assassination of every individual. And he basically made a totally false claim about Mayor Sheehan, he made a total false claim about my colleague Pat Fahy, and, as everybody will come up and make claims, he will dismiss it. Listen, we get it. He’s under a very difficult situation. I feel very bad about this whole situation, from one end of a lifetime to the other. But to start to do character assassination of other individuals who actually were very truthful and answered the question is not in the best interest of the city of Cohoes.