Metro Weekly

Holyoke city councilors want to recall gay Mayor Alex Morse

LGBTQ Victory Fund demands Councilor Mike Sullivan retract comments, saying he's invoking stereotypes of gay men as pedophiles

Holyoke City Council chambers – Photo: Simtropolitan, via Wikimedia.

A group of Holyoke city councilors is trying to recall Mayor Alex Morse following allegations from the College Democrats that the 31-year-old, a progressive Democrat and lecturer at UMass Amherst, sought out sexual relationships with college students and created a “lopsided power dynamic.”

Holyoke City Councilor Michael J. Sullivan said he his filing an order that would change the city charter to allow the citizens of the Western Massachusetts city to launch a recall petition for a ballot question to remove Morse from office. He said the order will be co-sponsored by Councilors Linda Vacon, David Bartley, and Howard Greaney, Jr.

Vacon is a Republican State Committee member who has previously run for office. Bartley is running in a Democratic primary for a Massachusetts State House seat and has endorsed Morse’s primary opponent, House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal. Sullivan has previously compared people who panhandle to “animals.”

In a statement, Sullivan reiterated past calls for Morse to resign for his “abhorrent behavior” and “his acknowledged use of his power and position as mayor and candidate for Congress to engage in sexual activities with teenagers on college campuses,” according to Western Mass News.

None of the allegations against Morse claim he pursued anyone under the age of 18, which is considered a legal adult in the United States.

Sullivan continued in a statement that appeared to vent his own frustrations towards Morse — which ostensibly had existed prior to the College Democrats’ allegations, accusing the mayor of shirking his job in order to pursue a congressional campaign.

“This order will allow the citizens of Holyoke to decide if Alex Morse should be removed as Mayor after embarrassing us across the Commonwealth,” the statement read. “Morse has been absent from City Hall while on the city’s payroll for much of the past 12 months, while taking time to run for Congress.

“Neglecting his job as Mayor of Holyoke while running for Congress has been negligent enough. Now admitting he has been spending his time using his position and power to engage in sexual activities with teenagers at the University of Mass simply disqualifies him to continue as our Mayor, and with his refusal to resign as Mayor, the Council will take up an order to authorize his recall.”

Morse has rebutted the accusations against him as “completely untrue” and challenged the factual basis for some of the College Democrats’ allegations, noting that he has only attended one College Democrats event since announcing his campaign and sent friendly, benign messages to one member of the group via Instagram.

He has also insisted that he has only ever engaged in consensual sexual relationships, never had relations with any students in his classes, and that he never violated the University of Massachusetts’ policy on fraternization with students.

Related: Gay progressive Alex Morse rebuts “completely untrue” allegations of improper conduct

In response to the calls for a recall against him, Morse issued a statement blasting his political opponents.

“This is nothing but a sad, ignorant, and homophobic attack by city councilors who have long fought against efforts to make Holyoke a welcoming community for all,” he said. “Their slanderous language is only outmatched in ignorance by the fact that the city charter does not have provisions for a recall.”

The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which has endorsed Morse’s bid for Congress, blasted Sullivan for his comments, which they demanded he retract.

“Councilmember Sullivan’s statement is a blatant attempt to mislead voters and appeal to homophobic stereotypes about gay men as pedophiles — and it must be retracted and condemned,” Sean Meloy, the senior political director for LGBTQ Victory Fund, said in a statement.

“He repeatedly refers to ‘sexual activities with teenagers,’ knowing full well the word ‘teenagers’ evokes images of middle and high school students — not college students — and that there are no allegations from anyone underage. The architects of these efforts knew this is where the conversation would lead — with no regard for the homophobia it would unleash.

“It is unsurprising that a councilmember who refers to people who are homeless as ‘animals’ would also use homophobia as a political weapon to mislead voters,” Meloy continued. “But we hope Councilmembers Bartley, Greaney and Vacon recognize the homophobic dog whistles for what they are and retract their support for his efforts.

“The tone of Councilmember Sullivan’s statement shows an animosity and viciousness that extends well beyond the recent allegations. The councilmembers supporting Sullivan must ask themselves whether he would treat a straight candidate the same way.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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