Constituents offer sympathy, encouragement to Rosenberg

  • Mary Collier, of Florence, talks about Massachusetts Senate President Stan Rosenberg, Tuesday, at Northampton Senior Center. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Eugene Barry, of Florence, talks about Massachusetts Senate President Stan Rosenberg, Tuesday, at Northampton Senior Center. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Keegan Pyle, of Northampton, talks about Massachusetts Senate President Stan Rosenberg, Tuesday, at Smith College Campus Center. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ken Jacobson of Hadley talks about Massachusetts Senate President Stan Rosenberg during an interview at the Black Sheep Deli in Amherst on Tuesday, December 5, 2017. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

For The Recorder
Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Even though his constituents are concerned by the allegations of sexual impropriety lodged against the husband of Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, many say he is doing the right thing by stepping away from leading the Senate, and are confident that any investigation into the actions of Bryon Hefner will show that the Amherst Democrat has acted with integrity.

“I think Stan Rosenberg is the most humble person I’ve ever met,” said Ken Jacobson, a Hadley resident. “I think his husband has played a large role in his life, and I don’t think love is illegal.”

Grabbing a loaf of bread at Black Sheep Deli in Amherst Tuesday afternoon, Jacobson said he believes Rosenberg will be exonerated, especially if the accusers who told the Boston Globe they were sexually assaulted by Hefner aren’t identified.

“I am curious how they will verify any allegation if the Globe is unwilling to disclose their sources, and I hope Stan will soon return to his full duties,” Jacobson said. “I think he’s doing an excellent job representing the district. I’m very, very happy with the job he does.”

Others at the downtown cafe, who didn’t want to be identified, expressed sadness for Rosenberg. One called the situation “a shame,” while another said “my heart goes out to him.”

On Monday, Rosenberg announced that he would be relinquishing his leadership role on a temporary basis, with Majority Leader Harriette Chandler assuming the leadership role as the Senate hires an independent investigator to determine if any Senate rules were broken by Hefner’s actions. The state attorney general’s office and the Suffolk County District Attorney also announced they would begin a criminal probe, should any victims come forward.

“I think Stan’s response of stepping down, as long as an investigation is taking place, is typical of him,” said Nancy Eddy of Amherst, a longtime Rosenberg supporter reached at her home. “That shows he’s aboveboard, transparent and allowing the Senate to do its job in the best way possible.”

Eddy said she doesn’t doubt the seriousness of the charges being leveled against Hefner, adding that Rosenberg is likely facing a significant challenge, both personally and professionally.

“I think his constituents will understand it’s a difficult time for him,” Eddy said.

The right thing

Alan Root of Amherst said he supports the actions Rosenberg has taken so far, even though there is no evidence Hefner influenced Rosenberg on any specific bill or issue.

“The Senate president did the right thing politically with an independent investigation,” Root said.

But Root asked whether other legislators’ wives, husbands and partners have communicated their sentiments on upcoming legislative questions, and whether those elected officials have told them that they can’t communicate these opinions or sentiments.

“My recommendation would be to bar Senator Rosenberg’s husband loudly and clearly from the Statehouse,” Root said. “That might set a standard for all other legislators to heed.”

Amherst Selectboard Chairman Douglas Slaughter said in an email that the decision to step aside illustrates how Rosenberg has handled himself since first being elected a state representative in 1986 and then ascending to the Senate in 1991.

“Senator Rosenberg’s personal and professional integrity, demonstrated over many years of service to our community, is one of many reasons he is beloved in Amherst,” Slaughter said.

“His stepping down as Senate president during the investigation allows the Senate to conduct its investigation with full public trust in the process.”

Eddy said Rosenberg has done a lot for the district, noting that he obtained financial support for projects from the Northampton Center for the Arts to the Hitchcock Center for the Environment in Amherst.

More importantly, she said, he has enhanced the Senate’s practice of holding hearings across the state, and having senators visit cities and towns they don’t represent. His model of inclusiveness has gained him admiration not just in Massachusetts, but nationally, Eddy said.

“I think he’s respected across the country as a leader who has made the operation of the Senate more democratic and included minority members in the deliberation of the body,” Eddy said.

This aspect was also praised by Jacobson.

“The way it functions is the way it should function, with an absence of ego and a preponderance of respect for fellow senators,” Jacobson said.

While it’s uncertain what the outcome will be, Rosenberg’s supporters have their fingers crossed.

“I hope this is nothing more than a blip on his career,” Eddy said.

Slaughter said Rosenberg’s actions show his integrity, respect for his constituents and his colleagues.

“(That) will allow him to continue to be an effective senator for Amherst regardless of whether he is in the role of Senate president or not,” Slaughter said.

Community support

Many of Rosenberg’s constituents in Northampton shared similar thoughts, saying his decision to step aside, at least temporarily, is an honorable one.

Attorney Michael Pill has donated to Rosenberg over the years –– sometimes up to $1,000. Speaking from his office at 77 Pleasant St., Pill, 70, explained that he supports Rosenberg for his “integrity, intelligence and hard work.”

“I think that is an indication of Stan’s integrity, to step down, when I, for one, as a lawyer can see no legal obligation for him to do so,” Pill said. “Let’s also look at the human side of this. If in fact Stan’s husband has done something wrong, then I imagine that would be heartbreaking for him.”

Pill said it is time for the community to support Rosenberg during what must be a difficult time for him. Rosenberg, Pill said, deserves sympathy in the same way Hillary Clinton deserved sympathy during the Lewinsky scandal.

“You don’t blame the spouse,” Pill said.

Pill also thinks Rosenberg is perhaps being treated unfairly because of his sexual orientation.

“I can’t imagine that if a heterosexual public official’s wife was accused of doing something wrong — or a female heterosexual public official’s husband — that somebody would start asking, ‘should they resign?’” Pill said.

In Pill’s opinion, implications Rosenberg has done anything wrong are “vestigial prejudice,” and blaming Rosenberg for allegations that exist only against his husband is “outrageous.”

Mary Collier, 46, a greeter at the Northampton Senior Center, said she feels nothing but pity for Rosenberg. Collier suffered a brain injury in 1979 while bicycling in Boston, and said Rosenberg, whom she has met, has been helpful and understanding of her condition.

“As a brain injury survivor, you look to politicians for wisdom and guidance,” Collier said. “I’ve always had great faith in Senator Rosenberg.”

When he met her and heard her story, Collier said, Rosenberg agreed people with brain injuries could use more government help, and was sympathetic and kind.

While Collier believes that Rosenberg vacating his leadership role is a sign of the man’s good character, she wishes he did not have to do so.

“I think he should have a chance to continue serving the people he does,” Collier said. “Let him do his job.”

Eugene Barry, 90, of Florence, considers Rosenberg one of the few politicians who are “for the people.”

At the Northampton Senior Center, Barry explained that he worked for 30 years as a psychologist; the job, he said, gave him insight into good and bad sides of human nature.

According to Barry, situations like that involving Hefner are more common in marriages than some might think, and those oft-hidden spousal issues unfortunately become public knowledge when they involve politicians.

“This happens with lots and lots of people,” Barry said. “I’m with him in this emotionally.

Barry also said he hopes that the investigation concludes and Rosenberg resumes his leadership.

“He steps aside, and he’ll let them come to a decision and he’ll respect it. I know he will. He’s that type of man,” Barry said.

Keegan Pyle, 47, of Northampton, agreed with Barry that the public should separate the senator’s personal and professional lives. However, Pyle, speaking from the campus center at Smith College, disagreed that Rosenberg should leave his position at all.

“I think his job is more important right now than whatever his husband has going on on the side,” Pyle said.

‘Cascade of allegations’

In South Hadley, more constituents were split about Rosenberg’s decision to take a leave of absence as president.

A few Mount Holyoke College students, who did not wish to be quoted, shared their beliefs that the political environment in the U.S. is acrimonious and divisive. To them, progressive politicians like Rosenberg can be unifiers –– but only if they are actively in office.

However, Olivia McCauley, a sophomore at Mount Holyoke, said it’s a positive thing for Rosenberg to step down for the time being, given the U.S. is experiencing a “cascade of allegations.”

“People who have had terrible experiences at the hands of people in power, it’s kind of been a theme this year,” McCauley said.

McCauley said it is important to set a precedent of relinquishing power in the wake of allegations involving sexual impropriety, and that Rosenberg, while not accused of such actions himself, is doing that. McCauley contrasted the way Rosenberg is handling allegations against his husband with the way U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore is handling allegations against himself.

“For example, Roy Moore and the Senate election in Alabama. There’s been a lot of allegations against him and he hasn’t withdrawn from the race,” she said.