Congressman Richard Neal On Defensive Over Party Ties To Alex Morse Allegations

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Western Massachusetts Congressional candidate Alex Morse came out swinging against U.S. Representative Richard Neal and the Democratic establishment over allegations that Morse pursued sexual hookups with college students.

During a debate Monday night Morse, who is running to the left of Neal, attempted to turn the scandal away from him and toward his opponent and the entrenched party figures who support him.

News of the scandal broke Friday, August 7, when the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, the student newspaper of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, published a story based on an exchange of email messages between Morse and College Democrats of Massachusetts, which disinvited Morse from campus events over allegations that some students felt uncomfortable about his behavior. The College Democrats sent Morse an email message, Morse responded to it by email, and the exchange became the basis for the news story that followed.

The College Democrats have said that some students have felt uncomfortable at being contacted by Morse through online dating software applications and in person at events.

During the debate Monday, August 17, the moderator, Ray Hershel, of New England Public Media, asked Morse, who is openly homosexual, whether he acted inappropriately with college students and what his evidence is that Neal had something to do with the allegations against him coming to light.

In responding to the initial question Morse said:


I know a couple of Fridays ago when I saw that email alleging that I had made students feel uncomfortable, as a human I would never want to make someone feel uncomfortable. And I need to honor that truth, and honor that expression from those students.

But then I come to find out, over the last week, that this was a backroom coordinated political smear against our campaign, by folks that support this congressman’s campaign. Evidence has now come to light over the last week.

And it’s a culture of folks trying to curry favor with one of the most powerful Democrats in Washington. And I think this is exactly what turns people away from politics. It’s why people don’t participate. It’s why people have given up on the process – that three weeks before a primary election I was put in a position to talk about my personal life, not talk about health care and climate change and our economy and the small businesses shuttering.

I will let the voters of the First district come to their own conclusions. But this is exactly why I ran for mayor nine years ago – to change the political culture of personal destruction. A politics that tears people down, instead of lifts them up.

And I think obviously it’s no coincidence the timing of these allegations and accusations, that go all the way to the height of the Massachusetts Democratic Party. The chair of that party that took me to lunch over a year ago and discouraged me from running against this congressman right here. I know what it’s like to go up against power nine years ago, and I’m doing the same today.


Neal during the debate denied having anything to do with the allegations against Morse, at one point saying:  “I don’t even know the names of the students who have stepped forward.”

Morse, 31, is the mayor of Holyoke, where he was first elected in 2011 at age 22. He has also worked as a part-time lecturer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, starting in 2014 and last teaching there during the fall semester of 2019 — though university officials say they don’t plan to hire him again.

The Intercept, a left-of-center news web site, has reported that a member of the College Democrats who helped bring the allegations to light had previously expressed interest in working for Congressman Neal, and that at least some of those responsible for the initial email message to Morse had sought for some time to make negative allegations about him public.

Joan Vennochi, a columnist for The Boston Globe, reported Monday that a lawyer for the Massachusetts Democratic Party advised the College Democrats on how to issue a letter making the allegations against Morse without exposing the issuers to a legal claim of libel. The lawyer, James Roosevelt III, is the chief counsel of the state Democratic Party, and is also the grandson of President Franklin Roosevelt.

Neal has said he has nothing to do with the allegations against Morse.

Neal’s initial rebuttal to Morse’s initial statement during the debate follows, in full:


Let’s square the facts here. A series of students have stepped forward. They’ve raised these allegations. They’ve also said simultaneously they had no contact with my campaign.

This is inconsistent with my career, and it’s inconsistent with my character, to have raised these sorts of issues. These students have stepped forward. They should be heard. There is a process in place. An investigator has been hired, and a review will shortly be under way. I am more than content to let that review take its course.

But again, I want to reiterate something that’s really important:  There can be no room in America, this campaign, or for anybody else on the basis of homophobia, racism, or misogyny. I’ve made that clear. And again, consistent with my career. That’s how important this is.

These students stepped forward independently of me. That’s the consideration that I want acknowledged.

The mayor and I agree:  The pandemic is important. The recession is important. The social unrest that we’re witnessing across America – these are the issues that we should be addressing.

But clearly, unequivocally:  No room for homophobia, and my campaign was not part of this action, under any circumstances.


Morse ignored a follow-up question from the moderator asking about the power dynamic of his being a mayor and a college lecturer while pursuing college students and whether his behavior was inappropriate. The moderator tried a third time.

Morse responded:  “Listen, I am an adult, and I will not apologize for being a young person, for being gay, and for being single, and having consensual adult relationships with other adults. But I think that voters at home would rather talk about health care and the issues that they’re struggling with right now.”

Gus Bickford, the chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, confirmed to that he had lunch with Morse last year but denied that he discouraged him from running against Neal for Congress. Bickford also told The Boston Globe that the state party does not get involved in the campaigns of candidates in contested primaries.