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Rosenberg gives up leadership post while Senate investigates allegations against his spouse

  • SEN. STANLEY ROSENBERG, D-Amherst SEN. STANLEY ROSENBERG, D-Amherst

  • Massachusetts Senate President Stan Rosenberg speaks from behind a podium outside his office at the Statehouse to a throng of media Friday, Dec. 1, 2017, in Boston. Rosenberg said his husband, Bryon Hefner, will soon be entering treatment for alcoholism, one day after The Boston Globe reported that several men had accused Hefner of sexual assault and harassment. Some of the men had professional dealings with the Legislature. (AP Photo/Bob Salsberg) Bob Salsberg

  • Bryon Hefner is the husband of state Sen. Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst. File Photo



Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Several hours after Senate President Stanley Rosenberg agreed to temporarily step aside from his leadership role to allow for an investigation into alleged sexual misconduct by his husband, Majority Leader Harriette Chandler was selected to fill his position.

The elevation of Chandler to acting Senate president came following Rosenberg’s decision to relinquish the role he has held for nearly three years.

Rosenberg’s office issued a statement Monday morning, shortly after a letter was sent to his colleagues, announcing he would leave the Senate presidency, and asking that an acting president be appointed in his stead.

“I believe taking a leave of absence from the Senate Presidency during the investigation is in the best interest of the Senate,” Rosenberg said. “I want to ensure that the investigation is fully independent and credible, and that anyone who wishes to come forward will feel confident that there will be no retaliation.”

In a statement Monday night, Rosenberg added that he has “every confidence that the Acting President will help the Senate focus on a robust agenda for 2018.”

The Boston Globe reported last week that four men involved in state government have accused Rosenberg’s spouse, Bryon Hefner, of sexually assaulting and harassing them in recent years. These included three men saying he groped their genitals, while another said Hefner forcibly kissed him against his will.

Attorney General Maura Healey and Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley, both Democrats, said Monday they are prepared to launch an investigation and said anyone with information should feel free to contact either of their offices.

The Senate investigation will focus on whether Rosenberg knew about Hefner’s behavior or if Hefner had any clout when it came to matters before the chamber.

Chandler said Monday night in a statement that the Senate Committee on Ethics would conduct an investigation to determine if Rosenberg violated any of the rules of the Senate.

“We expect the Ethics Committee to hire an outside independent investigator for this investigation,” Chandler said.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, through a spokeswoman, called Rosenberg’s decision to step down “the right one.” Baker supports the decision of Healey and Conley to open the possibility of a criminal investigation.

Only one senator, Andover Democrat Barbara L’Italien, publicly called on Rosenberg to step aside “for the sake of the institution” until the investigation is completed. On Friday, Rosenberg had said he would remain in his position while the Senate conducted an independent investigation into the alleged actions of Hefner.

State Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose, an Amherst Democrat who represents the 3rd Hampshire District, which includes Amherst, Pelham and Granby’s Precinct 1, said in a statement that he supports Rosenberg’s decision. Until 1991, Rosenberg served as the state representative for the same district, before running for the Senate seat.

“Stan has done amazing work for our district over the years and I respect his decision to temporarily step aside from his leadership role in order to ensure confidence in a thorough and objective investigation,” Goldstein-Rose said.

Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, said in a statement that the allegations against Hefner were “deeply disturbing.”

“That is why I supported our actions today,” Hinds said. “Our focus was first with the victims. Their courage is admirable. No one who serves, works, or does business in the Legislature should feel unsafe, coerced, or unsupported.”

Hinds said the Senate also would appoint a special committee to review its sexual harassment policy.

Other members of the western Massachusetts delegation, including Reps. Peter Kocot, D-Northampton, John Scibak, D-South Hadley and Stephen Kulik, D-Worthingon, didn’t immediately return phone calls or emails seeking comment about Rosenberg’s decision.

‘Firewall’ pledge

After nearly 25 years as a senator, Rosenberg was elected the Massachusetts Senate’s 93rd president in January 2015, becoming its first openly gay and first Jewish leader. The vote was unanimous, even after earlier inappropriate behavior by Hefner was reported, including social media attacks on previous Senate President Therese Murray and Hefner boasting about his influence on Beacon Hill. That prompted Rosenberg to say he would put a “firewall” between his professional and personal life.

Ryan Migeed, a spokesman for Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, whose district includes Belchertown, said Monday that a statement issued by Lesser on Friday still stands. That statement notes the senator’s support for an impartial investigator and an investigation into the Rosenberg matter done in bipartisan fashion.

“Moving forward, the Statehouse must establish protocols for confidentially reporting suspected abuse to an independent entity empowered to take action, so that victims have a safe place to turn,” Lesser said.

With the leadership position temporarily vacant, senators convened for several hours behind closed doors after Rosenberg issued his statement.

Sen. Jason M. Lewis, D-Winchester, said in a statement issued earlier on Monday that Rosenberg is a “highly respected leader,” and called on him to remain as president.

Lewis echoed what Rosenberg said on Friday, that Hefner has wielded no power in the state Senate.

“In my experience, Bryon Hefner has never had any influence whatsoever over the affairs of the Senate,” Lewis said. “But I will reserve final judgment until we receive the results of the investigation.”

Prior to Rosenberg’s nearly three years in charge of the Senate, the last president of the state Senate who hailed from western Massachusetts was the late Maurice Donahue, a Holyoke Democrat who served in that post from 1964 to 1971.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.