Despite an investigation that found that he broke party rules in a September primary, Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman Gus Bickford won reelection Thursday evening.
Of the 365 votes cast by state Democratic committee members, Bickford earned 229. Challengers Bob Massie and Mike Lake, who campaigned on promoting diversity and giving the party new direction, earned 49 and 87 votes, respectively.
Bickford had drawn criticism, as well as a call for his removal, after a party-ordered investigation concluded that he violated a bylaw during Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse’s primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Richard Neal.
Shortly before the Sept. 1 primary, a group of students at the University of Massachusetts College Democrats publicized a letter raising sexual misconduct claims against Morse that since have been shown to be politically motivated.
The group has apologized for sending the letter, saying it “played into homophobic stereotypes.”
Morse, who is openly gay, has said the allegations played a role in his loss to Neal.
Investigator Cheryl Jacques, an attorney and former state senator, decided that Bickford’s advice to students improperly encouraged them to share information with a reporter.
Party staff members cannot “endorse or participate in any contested Democratic Primary campaign,” according to its bylaws.
During his reelection pitch in Thursday’s meeting, Bickford said he was “so sorry for the pain caused to many members of the LGBTQI+ community.”
“In a short period of time, I mishandled the crisis, and I can do better,” he said, also pledging to implement the recommendations of the investigation. “There was no malintent.”
In their speeches, Massie and Lake called for greater diversity and a new path for the party.
“I believe that the future face of our party should not continue to just look like me or our other candidates tonight,” Lake said, adding that he would serve only one term, during which he would seek to build a pipeline for more diverse leadership in the party.
Massie cited decreasing Democratic registration in Massachusetts, noting that the 32 percent of voters registered with the party equals the proportion in Arizona.
“There are so many young people who don’t identify with the Democratic Party at all, partly because they feel we do not take their issues seriously — issues about diversity, issues about the failure of economic opportunity,” he said.
Bickford, who was chosen as chair in 2016, said his experience, fundraising ability and own inclusion efforts made him the right leader.
“I think that taking back the corner office is going to be a significant goal of ours, and I am the best person to help us lead to do that,” he said, referring to the governor’s seat held by a Republican, Charlie Baker.
The more than 400 Democrats on the state committee include some who are elected and others who are appointed.