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Denouncing 'Smear Campaign' Against Alex Morse, Former Detractor Calls for Focus on 'Damage Richie Neal Is Doing to Our Democracy'

"What is being done to Morse is a huge travesty—much more sinister than people yet know."

Holyoke, Massachusetts Mayor Alex Morse met with supporters on Tuesday night. Morse is challenging longtime Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) to represent the state's 1st congressional district. (Photo: @AlexBMorse/Twitter)

A Massachusetts law professor on Wednesday retracted an earlier statement about Holyoke mayor and progressive U.S. House candidate Alex Morse, who became the target of a smear campaign and "creepy Victorian moralizing" over consensual sexual relationships he allegedly had with adult college students while he was an adjunct professor at the University of Massachusetts.

"This race will set a precedent for whether vague and anonymous allegations can be easily launched against LGBTQ candidates to destroy their campaigns.
—Mass. State Sen. Julian Cyr

Agreeing with other observers that the vague accusations over Morse's past relationships and behavior amounted to a political "smear campaign," Prof. Jennifer Taub admitted she jumped to conclusions based on the initial reporting of the story and re-affirmed her support for Morse's challenge to longtime Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), whose close ties to the for-profit health insurance industry have been a main focus of the campaign.

"The damage Richie Neal is doing to our democracy, must be our focus," tweeted Taub. "I should have waited before jumping to conclusions." 

Taub was previously quoted in an article at MassLive.com over the weekend saying she was withdrawing her support for Morse after the UMass student newspaper, The Daily Collegian, reported that Morse had romantic and sexual relationships with students while he was teaching at the university. None of the students he reportedly had sexual relations with were under the age of 18. 

Morse, who is openly gay, was not accused of having relationships with students he was currently teaching, which would have been a violation of UMass policy. The school does not prohibit all romantic and sexual relationships between professors and students on campus. 

Journalist Glenn Greenwald, who expressed outrage over the weekend over the use of "old homophobic tropes" casting gay men as sexual predators, commended Taub for reconsidering her support for the smear campaign, and said her retraction of earlier statements "shows how dangerous this mob behavior is, this rush to find [and] destroy people with zero evidence or even concrete allegations."

The source cited by The Daily Collegian was a letter from the UMass College Democrats, which stated Morse met some of the students he dated at the organization's events. The group claimed Morse had "used his platform" and "took advantage of his position of power for romantic or sexual gain"—allegations which drew confusion from journalists who pointed out that the students had not been aware of Morse's status as a mayor or professor when they met him. 

On Tuesday night, The Intercept published an article reporting on Neal's ties to the College Democrats' leadership. Chief strategist Timothy Ennis recently completed a journalism course at UMass taught by the 16-term congressman and told another College Democrats member that "he wanted Neal to be his 'in' to politics and work his way up from there."

The College Democrats denied over the weekend that its decision to publicize Morse's private consensual relationships was designed to harm the progressive mayor's House campaign or to help Neal, but The Intercept reported that a staffer at the UMass school where Neal teaches journalism claimed the attacks, which came three weeks before the Massachusetts primary election on Sept.1, "are politically motivated."

Other local political figures and groups pushed back this week against attempts to portray Morse as exhibiting predatory behavior.

While the Western Massachusetts coalition of the Sunrise Movement revoked its endorsement of Morse after the story broke, the local chapter in the town of South Hadley made clear Tuesday that its members had not been consulted about the decision and still supported Morse, who backs a Green New Deal.

"We are refraining from using the terms survivor, survivor justice, rape culture, and rape about consensual relationships where no one has stated they were hurt," the chapter said in a statement on Facebook. "Words matter and we want 'time to learn more' about the recent revelations." 

On Wednesday, state Sen. Julian Cyr, another openly gay politician in the state, condemned the "vague and anonymous allegations that have been levied against [Morse] without any on-the-record sourcing."

"The timing of this letter seems to be dictated by a political calendar, not out of concern for revealing the truth," Cyr added. "This race will set a precedent for whether vague and anonymous allegations can be easily launched against LGBTQ candidates to destroy their campaigns... We all need to understand that the way these allegations have been brought against Alex Morse have a chilling effect on the willingness of LGBTQ people to run for public office."

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