HOLYOKE — Student leaders with the college Democrats group at the University of Massachusetts Amherst are apologizing to congressional candidate and Mayor Alex Morse — saying a letter they signed onto that levied anonymous allegations of inappropriate behavior against the mayor was never meant to be public, and that its language “played into homophobic stereotypes that have been used to oppress gay men in politics.”
The apology, which was sent to Morse on Friday, is but the latest development after The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, UMass Amherst’s student newspaper, published allegations earlier this month that were contained in a letter signed by three college Democrat groups, including the UMass Amherst Democrats. The letter accused Morse, who is gay, of using his “position of power for romantic or sexual gain, specifically toward young students.”
Morse is challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, in Tuesday's Democratic primary in the 1st Congressional District.
Reporting from The Intercept has called the intent behind the initial letter regarding Morse’s conduct toward students into question, as the outlet later published messages that appeared to show leaders of the UMass Amherst Democrats attempting to use social media conversations with Morse in a ploy to damage his campaign. The president of the UMass Amherst Democrats when the initial letter regarding Morse was signed, Andrew Abramson, was alleged by The Intercept as being involved in the purported smear campaign.
A second story by The Intercept suggested a coordinated effort between state party leaders — as well as an attorney they connected with another group that signed the letter, the College Democrats of Massachusetts — as being behind efforts to make the allegations public.
The apology to Morse included an attachment of a letter that was sent from the UMass Amherst Democrats’ executive board to its membership. In that letter, the group says the letter with anonymous allegations was brought to their attention in July.
The executive board said Abramson had been working on a “private letter” with the president of the College Democrats of Massachusetts to send to Morse to disinvite him to future events, asking the executive board to sign on to the letter “in solidarity.” The executive board claims they were shown the letter briefly and that they weren’t asked to make any edits or additions.
The emailed apology sent to Morse on Friday night, signed by “The UMass Democrats executive board” was given to the Gazette by the Morse campaign. It read in part: “We want to tell you that we are deeply sorry for the distress that the public reaction to the letter must have caused you. As we said in our statement below, we did not intend for the contents of the letter to become public,” continued the email.
“However, we should have realized that the language of the letter was careless and played into homophobic stereotypes that have been used to oppress gay men in politics. We understand that no apology of ours can make up for the homophobic attacks you have suffered as a result of our actions; nonetheless, we wish to apologize. We wish you the best of luck in your campaign.”
Morse told the Gazette at a campaign event in Easthampton on Saturday afternoon that he had indeed been sent the letter of apology. He called the initial letter “an unfortunate situation that happened.”
“Obviously (it was) a coordinated effort that seems to have backfired in a big way,” he said.
The UMass Amherst Democrats did not respond to request for comment for this story.
The letter from the executive board to membership read: “We were told that several people who had been made uncomfortable by Morse and wished to remain anonymous were involved in drafting the letter. 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. We understood the purpose of the letter to be to make College Democrats events safer — not to censure Morse’s sex life or pass judgement on his use of dating apps. A majority of our board members agreed to sign on in good faith, believing it necessary for the well-being of our members based on what we’d been told.”
The letter continues on to say that no one on the current UMass Amherst Democrats executive board leaked the letter to the Daily Collegian, that they were not prepared for it to leak to the public, and that they had no detailed allegations to come forward with because of the students’ desires to stay anonymous.
“When Alex Morse responded, we appreciated his statements promising to do better and to be more conscious of the way he behaved around students. We were all blindsided by the allegations of collusion made in the Intercept article,” it read. “None of us was aware of those conversations prior to their publication. 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.”
The choice to send a letter to Morse “unintentionally caused homophobic conversation that we do not condone,” the executive board acknowledges in the letter to membership. The majority of the executive board are members of the LGBT community and would “never intentionally make homophobic statements or decisions,” it read.
“We wish we had the foresight to realize that the content of the letter could be perceived as homophobic due to the accusations being made against a gay man. 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. We wish Alex Morse the best of luck in his campaign and political career.”
This story includes reporting by Staff Writer Dusty Christensen. Michael Connors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.