By Philissa Cramer
(JTA) Alex Morse, the 31-year-old gay, Jewish progressive Democrat running to unseat a longtime congressman in Massachusetts is facing allegations that he had inappropriate relationships with students at local colleges. Morse is the mayor of the town of Holyoke.
The College Democrats of Massachusetts announced that the group would sever ties with Morse in a letter last week that charged that Morse used “his position of power for romantic or sexual gain” in relationships with college students, including at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where he taught a course on urban government.
The university’s student newspaper, the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, first reported about the letter on Friday.
In a statement to the newspaper, Morse said he had exercised “poor judgment” in having relationships with college students. “I want to be clear that every relationship I’ve had has been consensual,” he said. “However, I also recognize that I have to be cognizant of my position of power.”
The allegations come just weeks before Morse goes head to head in the Massachusetts primary with Richard Neal, a Democrat elected to Congress the year Morse was born. Morse told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency last month that he hoped to bring a different perspective to conversations about Israel within the progressive wing of the Democratic party.
“I think one can be critical of Israel and their actions without being anti-Semitic,” said Morse, who has been endorsed by the Justice Democrats political action committee and IfNotNow, a Jewish group opposing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. “And as a young openly gay progressive Jew, I think I have a unique voice to lend in this conversation.”
Political insiders said he faced long odds competing with a longtime incumbent. But other progressive Democrats endorsed by the Justice Democrats political action committee have scored notable upsets in recent primaries, including last week in Missouri where Cori Bush won a primary against William Lacy Clay, a congressman who has been in office for 19 years.
The most recent post on Morse’s Twitter feed is a retweet midday Friday from someone who recapped last week’s primary outcomes and wrote, “@AlexBMorse is next.” Shortly after that, the allegations broke in the student newspaper.
On Saturday, the paper reported that the university is investigating allegations that Morse had relationships with students while he taught at the school, in violation of its code of conduct for faculty. And one member of Holyoke’s City Council has called on him to resign as mayor.