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Alex Morse’s long-shot congressional campaign to oust Richie Neal is pretty much shot

UMasss Amherst is investigating allegations against Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse.
UMasss Amherst is investigating allegations against Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse.Don Treeger/Associated Press

So it looks like Alex Morse’s long-shot congressional campaign to oust Richie Neal is pretty much shot.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst is investigating allegations that Morse, the mayor of Holyoke, used his position as an adjunct professor to initiate inappropriate relationships with students.

The story, broken by The Collegian, the UMass student newspaper, is a campaign killer.

Morse, 31, predicts he will be vindicated, insisting that all the relationships were consensual — conveniently overlooking that as a mayor, congressional candidate, and darling of the progressive movement, he holds considerably more power than the younger men he sought out for relationships. And if there is a clear red line at all universities, it is that teachers don’t pursue students romantically.

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A chastened Morse said he understood why some of those who previously endorsed him would want to withdraw their endorsements.

But on Sunday, a more combative Morse said he was staying in the race and complained that he is being singled out and held to a different standard for being an openly gay man.

He said the allegations involved “age-old anti-gay stereotypes.”

Hmm. I’d say they involved “age-old power dynamics.”

This is not about sex. It’s about power. And judgment.

Ask yourself: If a straight male professor was using his position to hit on younger female undergrads, would he get a pass?

Judging by reaction on social media, many progressives are standing by Morse, as many stood by Bill Clinton two decades ago, when he was accused of sexual improprieties by multiple women. I’m guessing those who accept Morse’s explanation were not as forgiving of Judge Roy Moore or Brett Kavanaugh.

That’s politics. What’s unacceptable behavior by the other team can always be rationalized when it’s your team.

There’s no videotape — like, say, of the current president of the United States bragging that his status as a celebrity gave him carte blanche to grab women by the genitalia — but with Morse’s own admissions this doesn’t look good for his campaign three weeks before the primary.

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Still, I never thought Morse had a realistic chance to win the seat and could never figure out why the far left, whatever that is, decided Richie Neal isn’t a good congressman for Western Massachusetts.

He’s the chairman of Ways and Means, for cripes sake!

In the North End of Springfield where Richie Neal, the son of a MassMutual custodian, grew up, where the Puerto Ricans replaced the Greeks in Memorial Square who replaced somebody else, the cardinal sin is to forget where you came from. As he rose through the Democratic ranks, Neal never forgot his district.

Progressives may be forgiven for their enthusiasm. When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat a very connected, very Richie Neal-like guy named Joe Crowley for a congressional seat in New York, a phenomenon was born. AOC’s positions didn’t vary much from Crowley’s, but voters decided they wanted her.

It became a phenomena when Ayanna Pressley unseated Mike Capuano, one of the most established members of the House, even though their positions were virtually the same.

Again, that’s politics, democracy in action.

After Black Lives Matter activist Cori Bush won her primary in St. Louis, progressives thought Morse was the next logical one to topple a powerful, mainstream Democrat.

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But there was no polling to back up that wishful thinking. And you would never confuse the First Congressional District of Massachusetts, which is 71 percent white, with the minority-majority districts where other progressive upsets took place. When Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, a Black Muslim lawyer, took on Neal two years ago, some progressives were breathlessly predicting victory. She got 29 percent of the vote.

The progressive rap on Richie Neal is he isn’t woke, is too stale, too male, too pale, and too beholden to big money donors. But that old white guy is one of the most powerful, respected members of Congress who delivers for his district. That still matters in Western Mass.

It may be little solace for Alex Morse, but there was little chance he was going to win, anyway.




Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at kevin.cullen@globe.com.