State Democratic Party members irked by choice of investigator 

  • Massachusetts Democratic State Committee Chairman Gus Bickford was suggested as an investigator instead.  GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/10/2020 7:29:14 PM
Modified: 9/10/2020 7:29:02 PM

HOLYOKE — After former state Sen. Cheryl Jacques was tapped by Democratic State Committee leaders to investigate allegations that state Democratic Party higher-ups meddled in the 1st Congressional District primary election, at least 70 committee members are urging officials to reconsider this decision — arguing that Jacques is too entrenched in the party to be truly independent.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Democratic State Committee leaders that had been chosen to initiate the investigation, the DSC members argue that Jacques “can in no way conduct an independent investigation into our Party.”

Jacques, a Democrat who lives in Northampton, served from 1993 to 2004 in the state Senate and was an appointee of former Democratic governor Deval Patrick. The letter states Jacques worked as an adjunct professor in the same “department” at the University of Massachusetts Amherst as both U.S. Rep. Richard Neal and Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, who were the candidates in the Democratic primary election in question. Neal has taught in the Journalism department while Morse and Jacques have taught in the Political Science department at UMass Amherst, according to a university spokesman; both departments are part of the College of Social & Behavioral Sciences at the university. Jacques is currently a lecturer in the management department.

Neal beat Morse in the election.

“This is not intended as a criticism of Senator Jacques or her qualifications, but rather a recognition that someone so deeply connected to Massachusetts Democratic politics and to UMass Amherst cannot conduct an independent investigation,” the letter reads.

Nancy Stenberg, of Easthampton, is one of the Democratic State Committee members living in the 1st Congressional District who signed on to Wednesday’s letter.

“I do not feel that the selection of Cheryl Jacques is an indication of an independent investigation,” Stenberg said. “She’s far too connected with the establishment Democrats.”

Allison Mitchell, the state Democratic Party communications manager, did not respond to a request for comment for this story. Jacques could not be reached by phone or in person Thursday.

In August, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, UMass Amherst’s student newspaper, published anonymous allegations that Morse had used his “position of power for romantic or sexual gain, specifically toward young students.” The allegations came in the form of a letter sent to Morse; the UMass Amherst College Democrats have since apologized to Morse for any homophobic attacks he may have suffered as a result of the letter becoming public, which they say was meant to remain private.

But reporting from the online news outlet The Intercept called these allegations into question after it published messages which appear to show UMass Amherst College Democrats leaders scheming to sink Morse’s campaign. Another story by The Intercept suggested that state party leaders worked behind the scenes with the College Democrats of Massachusetts on the letter with anonymous allegations. A third Intercept story alleged that the state Democratic Party’s executive director, Veronica Martinez, told student leaders to delete records of communications between them and the state party.

Many of the signatories on Wednesday’s letter also signed an August letter calling for an immediate and independent investigation into whether officials with the state Democratic Party had a role in “smearing” Morse.

The letter sent by state committee members on Wednesday argues that a “credible investigation can only be led by somebody with no prior history” with various Democratic players, including Gus Bickford, the chairman of the Democratic State Committee; Martinez; and Jim Roosevelt, a lawyer alleged to have been connected with student Democrats by the party for help with the initial letter.

Wednesday’s letter also calls for the investigator to have the power to use forensic tools that can retrieve call logs and deleted or encrypted messages after reporting described an “alleged attempted cover-up by Party officials.”

“We will struggle to improve public perception of the Party and maintain the trust of our local Democratic committees and grassroots activists,” the letter reads. “For these reasons we urge you to reconsider your selection, and to empower a truly independent investigator to find the truth.”

Stenberg suggested that officials should consider hiring someone that’s “more along the lines” of what UMass Amherst did for their own review into the anonymous Morse allegations; the university has retained Natashia Tidwell, a partner at the Boston law firm Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr.

“We certainly were very clear when we sent out that first letter … that we were looking for an investigator who is independent of the Democratic Party,” Stenberg said. “And Cheryl Jacques is not independent of the Democratic Party.”

Michael Connors can be reached at
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