- Associated Press - Friday, November 13, 2020

BOSTON (AP) - Massachusetts Democratic Party Chair Gus Bickford won a second term as head of the party, overcoming questions about his actions during a recent primary that pitted U.S. Rep. Richard Neal against primary challenger Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse.

Bickford fended off two challengers - party Deputy Treasurer Mike Lake and Robert Massie, a former candidate for governor - to win another four-year term on Thursday.

The primary was marked by allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with students by Morse when he was an adjunct professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The allegations were raised by students.

The 31-year-old Democrat maintained his relationships with college students were consensual and did not violate school policies.

A report ordered by the party criticized top party officials, including Bickford, for their handling of the situation.

The report faulted Bickford for failing to refer the students making the allegations about Morse to their college’s legal counsel or other officials for guidance after the students came to him with their concerns. The report also criticized Bickford for encouraging the students to talk with a reporter from Politico.

Party chairs are expected to remain neutral in party primaries.

Bickford said he never suggested or implied that material be leaked to a reporter and maintained that “at all times I was determined to stay out of this race and I know I did that.”

The party chair is full-time $100,000-a-year position.

Neal, who first won a seat to Congress in 1988 and currently chairs the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, handily defeated Morse and won reelection.

Morse said the party inappropriately interfered in the primary to hurt his campaign.

Morse, who is gay and was seen as a rising star after becoming one of Massachusetts’ youngest mayors upon his election at age 22 in 2011, has said the allegations were based in homophobic tropes.

During Bickford’s first term, the party was able to retain all of the state’s congressional seats and expand its numbers in the Legislature, but failed to recapture the governor’s office.

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