Holyoke Mayor Alex B. Morse says the report of the University of Massachusetts investigation into allegations of misconduct by him with students is an exoneration.
The report found Morse, as a UMass lecturer, violated no laws in using dating apps as he socialized with members of the student-run UMass Democrats and other College Democrats organizations.
The report found Morse violated no university policy regarding faculty-student relationships or sexual harassment and discrimination.
The report found: “The preponderance of the evidence supports a finding that, as early as 2015, members of UMass Democrats and other University students were contacted by and communicated with Alex Morse on social media and dating apps like Tinder and Instagram. As Morse himself admits, he entered into personal and dating relationships with students he met using these apps.”
The report found: “Alex Morse’s pursuit of dating or sexual relationships with university students made a number of students uncomfortable and led to the UMass Democrats’ decision to disinvite him from future events but did not unreasonably interfere with any student’s academic performance or ability to participate in university programs or activities under the university’s sexual harassment policy.”
The report found: “Having determined that the preponderance of the evidence does not support a finding that Morse’s pursuit of dating or sexual relationships with students he met at student-organized events violated the letter of the aforementioned policies, the Investigators defer to University leadership’s judgment the question of whether the conduct falls short of other more generalized policies governing employee conduct including the University’s Principles of Employee Conduct which details the University’s values, standards, and expectations for its employees.”
The College Democrats’ claims the mayor made some of its members uncomfortable and the organizations’ move to disinvite Morse to campus events first became public as the subject of a story published by The Massachusetts Daily Collegian on Aug. 7. It included a response from the mayor in which he stated:
“I also recognize that I have to be cognizant of my position of power. Navigating life as both a young gay man and an elected official can be difficult, but that doesn’t excuse poor judgment. That’s why I want to sincerely apologize to anyone I have made feel uncomfortable. I am committed to meeting with any person or group, including the College Dems, to answer any questions and address any concerns.”
Forty-eight hours later, shortly before 10 p.m. on a Sunday night, Aug. 9, and apparently after his campaign’s guidance by a high-profile political consulting firm, Northwind Strategies, there emerged an almost defiant Alex Morse.
In that statement, Morse again apologized, saying, “While I am confident that a full investigation into these matters will clear my name completely of any unethical conduct, I also recognize that some students felt uncomfortable with interactions they had with me. I am sorry for that. This is unacceptable behavior for anyone with institutional power.”
Thereafter, the campaign’s narrative twisted away from him taking responsibility for his actions to instead portraying him as the victim of a political dirty tricks campaign rooted in homophobia.
If the mayor believes the report is an exoneration, it demonstrates he is either politically naïve or, worse, so self-centered that he now believes the spin his well-paid handlers concocted for him.
Northwind Strategies received more than $300,000 in payments from the Morse campaign during the month of August to help steer the revised messaging of his advertising. Morse claimed his opponent and “the Springfield political machine” were out to get him and he had fallen victim to homophobia.
Morse’s own words – “unacceptable behavior for anyone with institutional power” – are what we believe matter here. Neither his sexuality nor his dating tactics matter to us.
The public has a right to care about how elected officials conduct themselves and how they wield the power of the office they hold over others for self-gratification and, sometimes, worse. Whether Democrat or Republican, whether left-wing or right-wing, no one should be immune from being held accountable.
Such a claim disrespects the young people who complained and who ultimately are the victims of what evolved into a self-serving political ploy. They were brave enough to share their concerns with investigators, the same investigators with whom the mayor would not meet.
It’s time for Mayor Morse, whom we endorsed four times, to move on. We wish him well in his next chapter.
That will be fortunate for the citizens of Holyoke, as they can look forward to new leadership in the months ahead.