Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, who is running to replace U.S. Representative Richard Neal in the First Congressional District of Massachusetts, has responded to allegations of sexual misconduct.
Morse has been accused of using his political status to engage in inappropriate relationships with college students. Additionally, he is accused of making other college students feel uncomfortable by talking to them on social media.
Morse, who has been an adjunct professor at the University of Massachusetts - Amherst, released a lengthy statement on Twitter late Sunday night, denying he has ever had a non-consensual encounter with anyone.
"I want to be very clear about this. I have never, in my entire life, had a non-consensual encounter with anyone. I have never used my position of power as Mayor and UMass lecturer for romantic or sexual gain, or to take advantage of students. I have never violated UMass policy. Any claim to the contrary is false," he said in statement posted to Twitter just after 9:30 p.m. "As I've acknowledged, I have had consensual relationships with other men, including students enrolled at local universities that I've met using dating apps."
While Morse said he is confident that a full investigation into these matters will clear his name of any unethical conduct, he does recognize that some students felt uncomfortable with the interactions they had with him.
"I am sorry for that," he said. "This is unacceptable behavior for anyone with institutional power...my position and the power that comes with it follow me in every area of my life, and I understand now, in a deeper way, the importance of being sensitive to that fact. I am human. I'm imperfect. But I know who I am and what I stand for."
UMass announced Saturday that it is launching an investigation to determine whether Morse violated university policy or federal Title IX law during his time at the university, the Boston Globe reported.
The allegations against Morse surfaced following a report published Friday by the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, where it was revealed that the College Democrats of Massachusetts had sent a letter to Morse on Thursday, disavowing their groups from him.
Morse was reportedly told in the letter he would no longer be welcome at events hosted by the student organization.
In the letter, Morse is said to be accused of having sexual contact with college students, including at UMass Amherst, using dating apps like Tinder and Grindr to match with students, as young as 18 years old, and using events hosted by the College Democrats to add students to his Instagram account and then making them uncomfortable by direct messaging them.
Morse, who referenced the Daily Collegian article in his statement, said it's unfortunate these allegations surfaced three weeks before the primary because there isn't enough time for UMass to conduct an independent review before people vote on Sept. 1.
Regardless, Morse said he fully believes that he will be cleared after the UMass review is complete, whenever that is. He pledged his full support and participation in the process of students being heard and having their concerns addressed.
"I stand ready to meet with the University, the students, or any other people affiliated with the review process," he said.
Now in his fourth term as mayor of Holyoke, Morse said he plans to continue his congressional campaign against Neal and thanked his supporters who have reached out over the past few days.
One of the state’s first openly gay mayors, Morse was first elected mayor of his hometown in 2011 at age 22.
In his statement Sunday night, Morse, now 31, said he was genuinely outraged by the invocation of age-old anti-gay stereotypes.
"I continue this campaign mindful of the fact that my personal life -- and my consensual sexual activity -- will be subject to scrutiny and fixation that are all too familiar to other members of the LGBTQ community," Morse said in his statement. "I am also mindful of the fact that there are people holding onto power today who themselves have acted in dishonorable ways in their personal lives. I say this not to shirk responsibility for having made anyone uncomfortable. I am simply highlighting the fact that I am being held to a different standard, one deeply connected to a history of surveilling the sex lives of people like me."
Morse said although he is staying in the race, he understands some of his supporters and endorsers have legitimate concerns about the allegations against him. He said he also understands if anyone needs to rescind their support at this time.
For his part, Morse says he intends to take his campaign's progressive, inclusive message to the voters of the First District, and he looks forward to seeing Congressman Neal on the debate stage next week.