Rosenberg effective in first year as Senate president

Last modified: 1/4/2016 11:15:08 PM
When local legislator Stanley C. Rosenberg was elected state Senate president in January, the speech he delivered in many ways reflected the reputation he has built as a superb negotiator who builds coalitions to advance his progressive political agenda.

It was no surprise that Rosenberg pledged to lead a Senate “that will seek to set new standards for openness and transparency, for collegiality with each other and for engagement with the people of the commonwealth.”

The Amherst Democrat, who represents Greenfield and much of Franklin County, went on to say that “the best ideas are often found not within these halls but in our neighborhoods, and our coffee shops, in our boardrooms and union halls, in our office break rooms and at our family tables.”

More surprising was that Rosenberg, 66 — who throughout his political career has been guarded about revealing details of his personal life — used the occasion of becoming the Senate’s first openly gay and Jewish president to acknowledge his roots.

Rosenberg drew from the speech delivered by Calvin Coolidge, a conservative Republican, when he was elected state Senate president in 1914: “It is well to remember that the benefit of one is the benefit of all and the neglect of one is the neglect of all.”

Rosenberg went to say of his own life: “I, in fact, am the product of that spirit. I grew up as a foster child on the streets of Malden and Revere. If it were not for the commonwealth, I would have had nothing. Collectively, you put clothes on my back, food in my mouth, and a roof over my head. You provided me with quality schools and helped me to go to the university for which I am forever grateful — the University of Massachusetts. With due modesty, I would say that investment paid off.”

During his first year as Senate president, Rosenberg has demonstrated political lessons learned during his previous 28 years in the Legislature. He understands the necessity of a cooperative rather than contentious relationship with Republican Gov. Charlie Baker — who, in an interview earlier this month with the Boston Globe, Rosenberg said is doing a “terrific job.”

Always a politician who prefers hard work behind the scenes rather than attention-grabbing sound bites, Rosenberg’s effectiveness as a self-described “policy wonk” was on display in his approach to the Northeast Energy Direct project that would send a natural gas pipeline through western Massachusetts. He conducted a hearing in Greenfield on Sept. 10, and 20 days later personally delivered to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission “at least a couple thousand” pages of testimony, much of which called for the need to build an energy future centered on alternatives to fossil fuels.

Rosenberg spent much of his day in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 30 listening to officials talk about federal energy policies and how decisions are made on projects such as the Tennessee Gas Pipeline. Rosenberg returned with the conviction that the proper strategy in opposing the pipeline — developing convincing evidence about “how the state plans to meet energy demands through ‘green’ policies emphasizing conservation and renewable sources” for example — would be given serious consideration by FERC, which has final say on whether the project is approved.

In arguably his highest-profile spat of the year, Rosenberg tangled with new UMass President Martin T. Meehan over the Senate’s failure to include $10.9 million in a supplemental budget which university officials wanted to use for employee pay raises. Rosenberg refused to back that money because he was annoyed that UMass officials did not reduce a 5 percent tuition and academic fee hike approved by the board of trustees in June, despite the state’s increasing the university’s operating budget by 4 percent this year.

A short time later, Rosenberg and Meehan announced an agreement after meeting over dinner — the Senate president would allow the $10.9 million for pay raises to be included in the next supplemental budget, and UMass would establish a $5 million fund to provide scholarships and need-based financial aid to students. True to his roots, Rosenberg understands the value of a UMass education to students of limited financial means.

A year into his job as one of the three most powerful political leaders in Massachusetts, Rosenberg has not deviated from the values, skills and temperament that have made him one of the most effective politicians of his generation in the Valley.

Greenfield Recorder

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