State Sen. Rosenberg, Amherst, poised to be first senate president from western Massachusetts in 100 years

Last modified: Tuesday, September 17, 2013

BOSTON — The last time a senator from western Massachusetts was president of the upper chamber was the late 1960s into 1970, when pols from Holyoke controlled both the House and the Senate.

Now, as has been reported, Senate Majority Leader Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, is poised to break the more than 40-year drought for areas outside of Interstate 495, and the roughly 100-year period that has elapsed in the farmland and college towns along the Connecticut River without a Senate president of their own.

“The seat has probably changed somewhat by the makeup, but it’s Calvin Coolidge’s seat,” said Senate President Pro Tem Richard Moore, referring to the nation’s 30th president, a Northampton resident, who was governor immediately after World War I and helmed the Senate for two years beginning in 1914.

After jockeying with Senate Ways and Means Chairman Stephen Brewer, another western Massachusetts resident who makes his home in Barre, Rosenberg announced in late July he has the votes to become president once Senate President Therese Murray steps down.

The Revere native who was raised in foster care would be the first openly gay Senate president, and, as far as he knows, the first Jewish Senate president. Rosenberg disclosed he had the votes to succeed Murray earlier this summer before discussing “business as usual” and Murray’s agenda. The majority leader did not return calls requesting comment on his ascension.

“Stan is ... a very honorable guy, very much into the issues, digging into the weeds, not just the surface of it,” said Moore, saying Murray has been the same way. Moore noted Rosenberg’s rise “through the ranks” from an aide, to a state representative, to the Senate.

“He’s tackled some pretty complex issues,” said Moore, saying Rosenberg handled the casino legislation and the Senate’s redistricting efforts twice — and he noted the Senate district map was not challenged in court. He said, “If anybody is prepared to be the president of the Senate, Stan’s there. He’s been Ways and Means chair; he’s been in leadership, including being senate president pro tem and majority leader now, so he’s done everything but be in the minority party, and he hopes never to be in that I’m sure.”

Stonehill College political scientist Peter Ubertaccio, a Cape Cod resident, said Murray’s district, comprising part of the South Shore and upper Cape, has benefitted from her position, and said the western part of the state will likely cheer the rise of a senator from its territory.

“At a minimum it’s a huge morale boost for a part of the state that often feels excluded from government leadership,” said Ubertaccio. “When your senator is the Senate president, you know that you’re going to get a hearing ... on your priorities.”

Joe Wagner of Chicoppe, a Democrat who serves as House chairman of the Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Committee, said the western portion of the state has many legislative leaders, and the state has accomplished good things in the region.

“I think that the Massachusetts Senate and western Massachusetts and all areas of the Commonwealth would be well served if it would be Stan Rosenberg or Steve Brewer just as has been the case with Terry Murray,” Wagner said. “The Senate president may be from Plymouth, the speaker may represent Winthrop and Revere, but the leadership roster in both the House and the Senate has folks from across the Commonwealth.”

In the nearly 100 years since Coolidge wielded the gavel, Senate presidents hailed from the Boston pale, or as far afield as Wareham, Haverhill and North Attleborough, but never west of Worcester until Maurice Donohue was elected president in 1964.

In 1969, David Bartley, another Holyoke resident, became House speaker, giving the city a strong, albeit brief, presence in the state Legislature. In 1970, Donohue ran for governor, coming in second in the four-way primary to Boston Mayor Kevin White, who was defeated by Republican Francis Sargent.

Since Donohue left office more than 40 years ago, the upper chamber has been ruled by senators from Salem, South Boston, Chelsea, East Boston and Plymouth. After Bartlett left the speakership in 1975, control of the House was held by representatives from Lynn, Everett, Cambridge, Mattapan, Boston’s North End, and Winthrop, where Speaker Robert DeLeo resides.

Donohue was a supporter of higher education, who steered the Senate during the development of UMass Boston and establishment of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, a time when some argued it should be set in Springfield, said UMass Donohue Institute Executive Director Lynn Griesemer.

She said after Donohue’s 1970 defeat, the Legislature “put a line item in the university’s budget” to create the “Institute for Governmental Services,” where Donohue was given a position and which now bears his name as the Donohue Institute, a school of public policy that publishes MassBenchmarks and does a range of governmental research.

“He was a leader for the state, not just for western Mass.,” said Griesemer. “I also think like Maurice, Stan Rosenberg is a very thoughtful person, extra well versed in all kinds of policy. And I think again, he will function as a leader for the state.” “There’s so many things that I’ve known Stan to have an interest in,” said Griesemer, who said she was “excited” about his rise. “He is very committed to good government. He’s very committed to a collaborative relationship across state agencies that leads to good government.” The longest serving Senate president in the state’s history, William Bulger, lives in South Boston, which was also his political base during his July 1978 to January 1996.

“No doubt the history in this seat is quite strong and evident,” said state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry, who won Bulger’s seat in a special election this year. Forry called Murray “a Dorchester girl.” “So am I. She really has her pulse on the issues.”


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