Senators support independent investigation of allegations against president’s husband

  • Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, speaks Wednesday to the editorial board at the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, the day before The Boston Globe reported allegations of sexual misconduct against his husband, Bryon Hefner. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Friday, December 01, 2017

NORTHAMPTON – State senators support an independent investigation of the sexual assault allegations made against Senate President Stanley Rosenberg's husband, a process that began Friday with the announcement that a special investigator will be hired.

The Boston Globe on Thursday reported that four unnamed men, all of whom have business dealings with the Senate, were indecently grabbed or kissed by Bryon Hefner, Rosenberg's spouse.

Sen. Donald Humason, R-Westfield, whose district includes Easthampton and Southampton, issued a statement endorsing the independent investigation, noting that the allegations reported in the Globe are “deeply concerning.”

“I share the belief that a thorough, independent investigation into the allegations and their impact is a necessary next step,” Humason said. “Claims of sexual misconduct deserve serious and careful examination, and my hope is that a swift investigation into these reports will bring clarity to the allegations and how the Senate, as a body, should move forward.”

That was echoed by state Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, who described the alleged conduct by Hefner as “outrageous and inexcusable.”

“It's important that we get to the bottom of what happened, which is why a swift, thorough investigation by an impartial investigator is essential,” said Lesser, whose district represents Belchertown and Granby. “I'm encouraged to see that has already been announced and will be led in a bipartisan fashion.”

He added, “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.” 

Efforts to reach state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, were unsuccessful Friday. Hinds, whose district includes nine Hampshire County Hilltowns, did not return calls or emails for comment.

One Democratic senator, Barbara L'Italien, of Andover, called Friday for Rosenberg to relinquish his post as leader of the Senate until the investigation was completed.

L'Italien, who recently announced her candidacy for the state's 3rd Congressional District seat, said in a statement that while she has known and respected Rosenberg for 15 years, she believed he should temporary step aside as Senate president “for the sake of the institution.”

The Amherst Democrat, the first openly gay leader of either legislative chamber, has served in the Senate since 1991 and as its president since 2015.

The decision to pursue an investigation won support from Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, who in March was in Amherst, to support the town becoming a sanctuary community. Eldridge said in a statement that he was “shocked, angered, and saddened” by Hefner’s reported actions.

“I fully support the decision to hire an independent investigator to look into these allegations of sexual assault, and what, if any, knowledge the Senate President and his staff had about these alleged criminal acts,” Eldridge said

Eldridge also advocated for an independent human relations office, created by the Legislature, so victims of sexual assault and harassment have a safe place to report criminal acts, misconduct or mistreatment.

“Victims of sexual abuse and harassment deserve an environment in which they can safely report these incidents without fear of retaliation, and the perpetrators of sexual abuse and harassment need to be held accountable,” Eldridge said. 

Few willing to speak publicly

Few other politicians or political observers were willing to speak on the matter publicly on Friday.

Catherine Rutley, legislative aide to state Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose, D-Amherst, who took office in January, said in an email that he would have no comment until more details emerge. But she said Goldstein-Rose was concerned by what has been reported.

“Representative Goldstein-Rose was sad and disturbed to see the Boston Globe story that was published” Thursday, Rutley wrote. “First and foremost, his heart goes out to the people who were harassed – those people should and must be our first concern.”

Reached by phone at her Amherst home, retired legislator Ellen Story, who held the 3rd Hampshire District seat prior to Goldstein-Rose for nearly 25 years, declined comment. “I have nothing to say,” she said.

Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, through Lyn Simmons, his chief of staff, also declined comment Friday. Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman  said only that the matter would have no impact on the town’s business.

While it appeared that those on Beacon Hill were largely trying to stay clear of turning the controversy into a partisan affair, the state's Republican Party  on Friday began sending news releases to local media outlets around the state, challenging Democratic senators in those districts to answer questions about their support for Rosenberg.

The party termed as “dubious” Rosenberg's claim he had no prior knowledge of his husband's alleged behavior.

This is not the first time that Hefner was at the center of controversy involving Rosenberg. In 2014, prior to Rosenberg being elected Senate president, Hefner used social media to boast about his influence on Senate business.

At the time, Rosenberg said he would create a “firewall” between his personal and professional life.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com. Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.