Guest columnist Rinaldo Del Gallo: Morse allegations a ‘fishy’ story

  • Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse speaks during an inaugural ceremony for City Council and School Committee members in the Holyoke City Hall auditorium on Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. gazette file photo

Published: 8/14/2020 4:54:56 PM
Modified: 8/14/2020 4:54:44 PM

There are vast differences in the way Alex Morse and Richard Neal finance their campaigns in the race for the 1st Congressional District. Morse is a “Justice Democrat” who does not take corporate PAC or lobbyist money. According to Sludge, Neal was the top House recipient of corporate PAC money in 2019. Of the 100 senators, only 10 take in more money from business PACs than Neal, according to Open Secrets.

This is an immensely important issue. Instead, we are dealing with vague allegations of sexual misconduct only three weeks before an election. According to a UMass press release, “The allegations that Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse engaged in inappropriate behavior with UMass Amherst students are serious and deeply concerning.” With such an ominous beginning this might be a point to turn to the “who, what, where, when, why and how’s” we learned in eighth grade. We get none of that.

About the only thing the UMass press release tells you is that “faculty are prohibited from entering into a sexual relationship with any student or post-doc for whom the faculty member has any responsibility for supervision, evaluation, grading, advising, employment, or other instructional or supervisory activity.”

By citing this rule, they strongly suggest Morse broke it, but they don’t come out and say so. UMass spokesperson Ed Blaguszewski did not answer any of my questions this week, despite knowing I was writing a column. While he insisted on sticking to his vague press release, particularly disturbing was the non-response to the question of whether Morse had sex or tried to have sex with somebody he supervised. That was a poor choice and a tremendous disservice to voters.

Morse has defended himself from the allegations this week, saying this week he has never violated UMass policy, nor has he had a nonconsensual sexual encounter with anyone.

Whatever you think of the charges against Joe Biden, you know that Tara Reade alleged that Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993 with great detail. Reade was interviewed multiple times. We can debate the merits of anonymous complaints to school officials. However, these anonymous complaints should not make it into press releases and newspapers.

According to the Society of Professional Journalists, one should verify information before releasing it, using original sources whenever possible. That would mean interviewing the accuser directly. Instead, you have what in law would be regarded as multiple levels of hearsay. Instead of an interview of the putative “victim,” (and they were not victims if they were not under his control or supervision) one newspaper quotes another newspaper (Daily Collegian), which in turn quoted a letter from the College Democrats of Massachusetts, who in turn interviewed anonymous sources. That’s ridiculous.

The College Democrats of Massachusetts are even worse. They are a branch of the Democratic Party, which is prohibited from endorsing candidates within a Democratic primary — I know this because I am an elected member of the Lenox Democrat Town Committee. I have talked to staff at the state headquarters about this.

Instead of endorsing Neal, the College Democrats issued a press release attempting to portray Morse as a gay predator. This is an archaic, benighted stereotype. The national Democrat Party infamously tried to hamper Bernie Sanders instead of being neutral. Countless phone calls to the Mass Democrats have gone unreturned.

The Daily Collegian claims, without interviewing any of the alleged victims, that Morse contacted people on dating apps but did not bother to mention whether or not they were his students. Nor did it matter that they happened to be members of the College Democrats of Massachusetts — that’s not a thing that would cause Morse to have power over them or be unethical.

Nor is contacting fellow Democrats on social media, which is very common. Having “sexual contact” (whatever that means — is it physical contact or just words?) with college students at UMass that were not his students or people he supervised, let alone college students generally, is not wrong behavior.

According to the letter from the College Democrats of Massachusetts, there were “Numerous incidents over the course of several years.” Why then announce this just three weeks before an election?

This is a fishy story, with suspect timing and motives, devoid of much detail. There is no allegation that Morse had sexual relations with his students or people he supervised. Even if he did connect with students that were not under his supervision, this alone would not be unethical.

There is a hard-hitting piece by the Intercept titled, “College Democrat chats reveal year-old plan to engineer and leak Alex Morse accusations.” According to the Intercept exposé, “Timothy Ennis, the chief strategist for the UMass Amherst College Democrats, admitted in the chats that he was a ‘Neal Stan’ and said he felt conflicted about involving the chapter of the College Democrats in a future attack on Morse. ‘But I need a job,’ concluded Ennis. ‘Neal will give me an internship.’”

We should be talking about Neal being on the corporate payroll. Instead, we are talking about Morse’s private dating life.

Rinaldo Del Gallo is an attorney in Pittsfield and a member of the Lenox Democratic Town Committee.


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