Rosenberg to lose Senate president’s $80,000 stipend


Staff Writer
Thursday, December 07, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — Sen. Stanley Rosenberg’s decision to step down from leading the Massachusetts Senate will cost him an $80,000 annual stipend.

When Rosenberg announced Monday that he would relinquish his role as Senate president so that an investigation could begin into alleged sexual assaults by his husband, Bryon Hefner, as reported by The Boston Globe, the Amherst Democrat was left as a rank-and-file member of the Senate, and without the bonus that comes from the leadership role.

Rosenberg’s salary of $82,548, with a base wage of $62,548 and an additional $20,000 for office expenses, was confirmed Wednesday by Kevin Connor, spokesman for acting President Harriette Chandler. Chandler was named to the temporary post by a vote of her colleagues on Monday, several hours after Rosenberg stepped aside.

But Connor added that the stipend will not be transferred to Chandler. “My boss will not be taking that stipend,” Connor said.

The increase in both base pay, and the bonus as president from $35,000 to $80,000, was part of a package of legislative pay raises shepherded through the Legislature by Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert De Leo earlier this year, despite a veto by Gov. Charlie Baker.

In addition to the loss of a significant salary that would be used toward the calculation toward his pension, Rosenberg will also not be able to occupy the large office at the Statehouse that is reserved for the Senate president.

“He will no longer be in the Senate president’s suite,” Connor said.

Chandler, though, is not expected to move her office.

“The acting Senate president has publicly said she would like to stay in her office because she sees this as a temporary position, but her staff may assume use of the space,” Connor said.

He explained that the suite has a large conference room and meeting areas that are ideal for caucuses and other legislative gatherings.

What happens to Rosenberg’s staff, which at one time numbered more than a dozen, including five focused on communications, is uncertain, Connor said. An order approved by the Senate as an independent investigation is set to commence mandates that Rosenberg recuse himself. That order also extends to his staff.

Connor said decisions about where Rosenberg’s staff will be assigned during the investigation will be made in the coming days.

Ethics committee probe

Meantime, the Senate Committee on Ethics is beginning the process of looking into the allegations made against Hefner, and whether any Senate rules were broken.

“The immediate task before us is the screening and the selection of the independent investigator, which we expect to complete within the next two weeks,” Kelsey Brennan, spokeswoman for committee Chairman Sen. Michael Rodrigues, said in a statement.

The Globe report says that Hefner groped or kissed four men who had business before the Senate and boasted about his influence with Rosenberg.

The Senate Committee on Ethics met for the first time Tuesday. It pledged to provide confidentiality to anyone who steps forward, as well as providing periodic updates and releasing a report at the conclusion of the investigation.

Connor said it is his understanding that the scope of the investigation was determined Monday, during the daylong caucus that elevated Chandler to her acting role.

“The investigation will look at whether there was any undue influence of the former Senate president,” Connor said. “Did the allegations, these incidents, have any influence on Senate business?”

A parallel investigation launched by Attorney General Maura Healy and Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley could determine if there are potential criminal acts by Hefner.

Rosenberg’s future

Stepping down as president, even on an interim basis, raises questions about whether Rosenberg will be able to return to the role in the future. While there is significant support among his constituents in Hampshire and Franklin counties for his continued leadership, that may not be enough to ensure it happens.

“He’s a goner when it comes to whether he returns to being president of the Massachusetts state Senate,” said Toby Berkowitz, a professor of advertising at Boston University.

A longtime observer of state politics and a media consultant for politicians, Berkowitz said that while Rosenberg is not accused of wrongdoing, the implication from the Globe story is that his spouse used his position in the Rosenberg household to influence decisions on Beacon Hill.

And there is a greater sensitivity to these matters, Berkowitz said, as the allegations made against Minnesota Sen. Al Franken and Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore illustrate.

“Issues of harassment and inappropriate behavior are affecting politicians much higher up on the food chain than him,” Berkowitz said.

But David Paleologos, director of the Political Research Center at Suffolk University, said if the investigation exonerates Rosenberg, then Rosenberg should be able to get back the job he has held since January 2015.

“I don’t see there’s any reason why he wouldn’t able to return, if members agreed, even stronger as president, ” Paleologos said. “It could actually turn into a positive,”

Paleologos said Rosenberg appeared to have acted quickly and in a manner that showed compassion toward his husband, explaining that he would be treated for alcohol addiction.

“He’s done all the right things, from what I can see,” Paleologos said.

The issue raises questions about having an outspoken spouse, something Rosenberg recognized as a concern three years ago when he said he would put a firewall between his personal and professional lives.

Though Hefner’s alleged actions are serious, Paleologos notes that the possible influence of a spouse on political affairs is not dissimilar to concerns about Hillary Clinton as first lady leading health care overhaul, or the questions raised by Kitty Dukakis and her battle with alcoholism during the tenure, and presidential campaign, of former Gov. Michael Dukakis

Berkowitz said he expects that after the investigation, and behind closed doors, Rosenberg could eventually be forgiven by his colleagues, and that he will continue to be elected by his voters in “an Amherst minute.”

“He won’t have nearly the clout as a committee chairperson, but he’ll still be a senior figure on Beacon Hill,” Berkowitz said.

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