Anger at Mass Dems as Fallout From Alex Morse Scandal Continues
An attempt by party leaders to quell an intraparty uprising by investigating themselves has only increased the anger.
Democrats in Massachusetts remain angry over an attempt by state party leadership to end Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse’s career—and they’re calling for consequences.
Welcome to The Flashpoint.
I appeared on The Delusionals podcast over the weekend.
If you want to hear more from me on the Morse story, be sure to tune into my Massachusetts Peace Action talk on October 12 from 7pm to 8pm. You can register for the free event here.
It’s been two months since the effort to smear Alex Morse was exposed by Ryan Grim, Daniel Boguslaw, and myself at The Intercept. Morse, who was challenging powerful incumbent Rep. Richard Neal in the primary for the Democratic nomination to represent Massachusetts’ 1st District, was targeted by the state party and college Democrats. The mayor lost to Neal on September 1.
“I’m doing well overall,” Morse told The Flashpoint. “In addition to being mayor, I’m taking some time to rest and recharge, reconnect with friends and family, and I continue to focus on the issues I elevated throughout the campaign. The impact of the manufactured scandal continues, as the UMass investigation has still yet to conclude, and a number of homophobic city councilors continue to want to police and examine my personal and sex life.”
Morse told The Flashpoint that there’s been an “outpouring of support of people encouraging me to run again next time around.”
“I’m going to take some time to recover and get some clarity,” said Morse. “It’s been a long year for me—my brother’s passing, the campaign, etc.”
Demands for action
After The Intercept’s reporting revealed the existence of the scheme on August 11 and 12, the state party declared it would investigate the students involved in the effort. Our reporting on August 14 showed that state party leaders were intimately involved in the plot.
Leadership referred members of the College Democrats of Massachusetts’ leadership to attorney Jim Roosevelt for his help in writing a letter to Morse telling the mayor he was no longer welcome at their events. That letter was subsequently leaked to the UMass Daily Collegian.
The story sparked outrage from party rank and file.
“As Massachusetts Democrats, we must together uphold our by-laws and demand that our leadership do the same. Party leadership may not choose our candidates!” declared a September email urging state party members to sign petitions calling on leadership to step down. “And failure on our part to hold our state leaders accountable could send a green light to those who might consider similar interventions in our elections in the future.”
MassDems chair Gus Bickford, executive director Veronica Martinez, and counsel Jim Roosevelt are now under pressure. And Bickford’s chairmanship, which is up for re-election in November after the general election, is being challenged by progressive Bob Massie.
Doubts about the investigation
Party members demanded an independent investigation into the scandal in August. After some back and forth, party leadership agreed, assigning three DSC ranking members to choose an independent lead for the probe.
The trio—party Vice Chairs Deb Kozikowski and Leon Brathwaite and Personnel Committee Chair Mark DiSalvo—did just that, assigning the job to former State Senator Cheryl Jacques.
But Jacques, though a member of the LGBTQ community—a priority for some members of the DSC The Flashpoint spoke to in August—is seen by members of the rank as the wrong person for the job. A group of MassDems made that point in a letter to Kozikowski, Brathwaite, and DiSalvo on September 10.
“As a six-term state senator, an appointee of Governor Patrick, and an adjunct professor in the same UMass Amherst department as both CD-1 primary candidates and some of the students involved, Senator Jacques can in no way conduct an independent investigation into our Party,” read the letter.
The members added that Jacques’ personal connection to the parties involved were of concern. And, citing a scandal from Jacques’ time in office in November 2010 where the then-senator allegedly pressured a dental office to write off a bill for her brother-in-law, the members noted there were ethical issues at play as well.
“A credible investigation can only be led by someone with no prior history with the Massachusetts Democratic Party, Gus Bickford, Veronica Martinez, Jim Roosevelt, Richard Neal, Alex Morse, the College Democrats of Massachusetts, or the UMass Amherst Democrats,” the members said in the letter. “This investigator must be recognized in their field for unquestionable ethics and a deep commitment to the facts, and cannot have any potential conflicts of interest with any of the above parties. Unfortunately, Senator Jacques does not meet this standard.”
DSC member Nancy Stenberg told The Flashpoint that the timing of the investigation should mean a finding soon.
“We expect a report no later than October 14th given the announcement of the appointment of Jacques as the investigator and the timelines previously outlined,” said Stenberg. “I have heard that Jacques is conducting interviews and appears to be digging deeply into the matter of corruption within the state party.”
A lack of confidence
Morse is skeptical, he told The Flashpoint.
“While I appreciate the party’s investigation, at the end of the day, the party is investigating itself,” said Morse. “I don’t trust Gus Bickford. This is the same chair that took me to lunch and discouraged me from challenging Neal. Essentially the investigation is an attorney talking to various people and taking everyone’s word. People can choose not to talk and she has no access to anything that people don’t willingly provide.”
More party members are taking action against leadership. In a series of letters to party leadership, Lenox, Massachusetts organizer Sonya Bykofsky and other Democrats are calling on Bickford, Martinez, and Roosevelt to resign and for the censure of two UMass Amherst students, Timothy Ennis and Andrew Abramson, who allegedly concocted the scheme.
“Over 100 local MA Democratic Committee members wrote to MassDems leadership asking for a transparent, independent investigation,” Bykofsky told The Flashpoint. “The result? Not only did we receive no reply to that request, we learned the Democratic State Committee members were told an investigator was assigned, one with deep ties not only to the party, but also to UMass Amherst—where this orchestrated smear campaign began.”
Neither Bickford, Martinez, nor Jacques returned request for comment. But activists refuse to let the state party bury the issue.
“I’m no more confident in the party than I was a couple months ago,” said DSC member Zelda MacGregor.