This week the Times Union detailed Cohoes Mayor Shawn Morse’s alleged history of domestic violence dating back decades. A day later, Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy and Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan called on Morse to resign. Morse has been vociferously pushing back against questions about how he and the Cohoes police handled a domestic violence call made by his wife from his home. He responded to calls for his resignation with similar ferocity– unhinged rants, attacks on the press, and in this case personal smears against Sheehan and others.
Morse’s response speaks not only to his inability to rationally lead and his disregard for the institutions that make up a democracy, but his want for conflict and a tendency to disrespect anyone who challenges him–especially women. His reaction only confirms our worst fears about his character and our view that he isn’t fit to serve in public office. This is a man who clearly has enough trouble controlling himself, he cannot possibly lead Cohoes during a time of crisis.
“I’ve talked to her maybe a handful of times,” Morse told WAMC of Fahy after leveling insults at Mayor Sheehan. “But, gosh she works in the Assembly where some of the worst sexual harassment and corruption is taking place under her nose. She’s never made one comment about that. And again, it must be easy to pick on the kid from Cohoes because she doesn’t know me.”
Perhaps Morse has a persecution complex because it seems conflict has long been part of his nature.
During his run for State Senate in 2012 an arrest report from 1989 revealed Morse was involved in a brawl at Bob’s Diner in Watervliet. Morse allegedly called a waitress there a derogatory term and falsely identified himself as a police officer. Morse pleaded guilty to third-degree assault.
“I’ve had a lot of fights. I’ve defended a lot of women and I’ve helped a lot of women when they were having problems when I was bouncing at a bar, I never hurt a woman,” Morse said in his WAMC interview. “I am a man of compassion. I have my own two daughters. To think that have two daughters and I would condone people hitting my kids is absolutely crazy.”
Morse himself acknowledged in an interview with WAMC that he has a violent past. In that interview he refused to heed calls to resign, saying that he is entitled to due process.
One woman told the Times Union Morse held her up by her neck in the the mid 1990s. Other women familiar with the situation said the police were of no help.
“The police did nothing. It was a helpless and hopeless situation,” a woman told the Times Union.
Morse is entitled to due process when it comes to criminal charges, but there are two caveats. First it appears he has already received extra consideration due to his political situation, and second, as a public official Morse must be held to a much higher standard than what the law allows.
Morse finds himself trapped by the zeitgeist, the confluence of multiple political, moral and societal conflicts–the #MeToo moment that has seen women across the country challenging the patriarchy that has left them victimized and powerless; the mounting cry from voters for politicians to behave in a way that shows they understand that they are public servants–not petulant children on a protected career path; and the fight against the “Fake News” hysteria that has allowed President Donald Trump to label accurate reporting as politically motivated attacks. And Morse is flailing desperately.
The Alt spoke to Assemblywoman Fahy about why she decided to call for Morse’s resignation. “I had seen the Times Union article a month ago. I saw that there was an incident with his wife which she then retracted, something changed her mind–something that is textbook with domestic violence. But I let it go. Then when I read on Sunday that there was such a history, such a pattern, I thought the pattern along with the current issue from last month speaks to a clear pattern of classic domestic violence. I thought that it is incumbent on me to speak out given I’m one of the only women in higher office in this area.”
Fahy said that being inundated with reports of sexual misconduct and abuse may have spurred her decision to speak out.
The Alt spoke to Mayor Sheehan the day before Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand had called for President Donald Trump to resign in light of the multiple charges of sexual misconduct he now faces.
“One of the reasons I thought it was important to speak out is because I saw his quotes in the newspaper saying, ‘This is a personal matter, the media has no business discussing it.’ As the mayor of a city with a population that struggles economically, I see the impact domestic violence has on children, on women. Women who are victims of domestic violence can’t keep their jobs. Children don’t go to school. This isn’t a personal matter it impacts everyone. I thought, in light of the tendency to sweep domestic violence under the rug I needed to speak out. It has serious impacts on our entire community,” said Sheehan.
We asked Fahy whether she thinks if the local party apparatus should do more to screen the candidates they support. Fahy says that she requested Morse’s action be considered at a Sunday meeting of the Albany County Democratic Committee.
“There may have been others as well but I asked it be added to the agenda,” said Fahy. “We’re all called honorable and it just demeans the entire title. Now we just saw one of the most conservative states in the nation elect a Democrat to a seat he was supposed to have no hope of winning. So I think we are witnessing a sea change. At some point, we have to have standards.”
Fahy said she is also concerned about what kind of leadership Morse can offer Cohoes after a fire swept through the town destroying three buildings and damaging 18 others. “If he has a personality that leads him to fly off the handle it can’t help Cohoes while they’re dealing with the worst crisis in recent memory. If he has the personality where he just flails at others it raises questions about his temperament and his ability to work with other local elected officials.”
Other elected officials should lend their voices to the calls for Morse’s resignation. If we want our elected officials to serve us, we must hold them accountable.