Abuse of power


Published: 8/20/2020 4:43:45 PM
Modified: 8/20/2020 4:43:33 PM

I had planned to write this My Turn on the important issues in the First Congressional District  (CD-1) Democratic primary race and would have examined how the candidates, Mayor Alex Morse and the incumbent Richard Neal, offer voters a clear choice on Sept. 1. They still do. However, I have shifted my focus to the issue of abuse of power which has become front and center in this primary race.

Sadly, our democratic electoral process once again has been corrupted by toxic politics. Recall John Kerry’s presidential run and the Republican tactic known as swift boating. The Aug. 7 issue of the Daily Collegian, UMass Amherst’s student paper, published a letter that supposedly was sent by the College Democrats of Massachusetts (CDMA) to Alex Morse. The Collegian published unspecified vaguely salacious allegations, claiming that Morse had inappropriately used his position as an elected official and an adjunct lecturer at UMass by contacting students he met at their events on Tinder, a dating app.

The first question anyone might ask is how the Daily Collegian received a copy of the correspondence between the College Democrats and Mayor Morse, much less the Washington Post, which ran the headline on Aug. 8, ”University of Massachusetts launches investigation into allegations of sexual impropriety against congressional candidate.” Sunday evening, Aug. 9 Morse released a statement in which he was unequivocal that all his relationships were consensual and that he had never had a relationship with a student in his class. Yet on Monday morning (Aug. 10) the Boston Globe’s headline read, “Facing allegations of inappropriate conduct Morse says he is staying in the congressional race;” and the Greenfield Recorder’s headline, “UMass probes allegations against Morse.”

These and other media outlets rushed to publish the story without due diligence, making it seem Morse was guilty of being a predator having unwanted sexual relationships with students. The timing of the allegations assured that any investigation by UMass could not happen before the September 1 primary.

Not only are the allegations against Morse false, but it was a planned smear campaign as can be learned from the investigative journalism of the Intercept which published their findings on Aug. 11 and 12 (theintercept.com). Their published stories reveal that two students, the UMass Chapter President Andrew Abramson, and Chief Strategist Timothy Ennis, had plotted a smear campaign against Morse since October 2019. Why? Ennis believed such a campaign would advance his career in politics, giving him an “in” for an internship in Neal’s office. At the time, Ennis was a student in a journalism class taught by Neal.

Other students in the CMDA UMass chapter were outraged by the letter published in the Daily Collegian and shocked that they had not been consulted even though the authors of the letter say they wrote it on behalf of the members. As to be expected the Neal campaign denied any role in the publication of the allegations against Morse. However, Neal spokesperson’s only comment was that the Neal campaign “commends these courageous students.”

The worst part of this sordid story is the People in CD-1 are hurt by it. The wrongful allegations have distracted attention away from the issues in Alex’s campaign, deflecting attention to Morse’s personal life as a single gay man. It has also hurt people who are truly victims of uninvited sexual relations. It is disheartening that leaders of the official college outreach wing of the Massachusetts Democratic Party think that the way to make a career in politics is to destroy a person’s reputation.

The story as unfolded by the Intercept reveals the real abuse of power belongs to Richard Neal. It isn’t credible that he and his campaign who praised the “courageous men” were not aware of the students’ scheme to create a scandal three weeks before a contested primary. Pointedly, the Intercept has uncovered that leaders of the Massachusetts Democratic Party are involved.

Alex Morse’s campaign for the CD-1 congressional seat has put a spotlight on what should be named corruption, accepting money and in turn making policy to directly benefit donors. Neal’s dubious distinction of taking the most corporate money of anyone in Congress, Republican or Democrat, has become normalized. Moreover, some voters believe having the chair of the influential Ways and Means Committee will benefit the district. True, but only if you are a wealthy corporate donor like Blackstone Equity, which gave Neal this year $48,600, according to the Center for Responsible Politics. Blackstone profited — one of its companies manages hospital emergency rooms — when Neal single-handedly killed a bipartisan bill that would limit surprise billing for out of network medical bills. So too did health insurance companies that are large donors.

Corruption abuses the trust the people place in their elected representatives to represent their interests. It is time for change in this country, time to elect leaders who will pledge not to take money from PACs and corporations as Alex Morse has, and refuse to participate in “pay-to-play politics.” It is time for the media to stop telling stories without due diligence. And it is time for CD-1 voters to be fully informed when they cast their vote Sept. 1.

Dolores Root, a Shelburne Falls resident, lives in CD-1 and is a lecturer, Department of Anthropology, University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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