Local officials respond to Rosenberg’s resignation

  • Senate President Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Sen. Stanley Rosenberg plans to step down as Senate president during the investigation into allegations against his husband. State House News Service File Photo

Recorder Staff
Published: 5/3/2018 8:01:50 PM

When news of state Sen. Stan Rosenberg’s decision to resign came down at 12:39 p.m. Thursday, it released a wave of emotional responses from elected officials around the Franklin County portion of the Senate district he’s served since 1991.

Rosenberg was the subject of a Senate Ethics Committee investigation released Wednesday afternoon that found him innocent of violating formal rules but guilty of a “significant failure of judgment and leadership” in connection with the alleged behavior of his husband, Bryon Hefner.

The Amherst Democrat said in his resignation statement, “I was unaware of many of the events attributed to Bryon, and took steps to address those incidents that came to my attention. ... I deeply regret the difficulties that this situation has created for the members, the staff and the institution of the Senate.”

His decision to resign, effective today at 5 p.m., came about half an hour into a Senate caucus discussing what action to take on the ethics investigation, which Rosenberg did not attend.

Around the district, which also includes parts of Hampshire and Worcester counties, colleagues, public officials and friends expressed a sense of loss, sorrow and appreciation for Rosenberg’s work. There were mixed feelings about whether the Amherst senator, who was forced to step down earlier this year from his role as Senate president, was right to resign.

“It certainly is a very sad ending to a very strong career in public service,” said Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, who plans to retire from his House seat this year after 25 years. “He’s done so much good for his constituents and the district and so many institutions like Greenfield Community College and the University of Massachusetts, as well as arts and cultural organizations and communities in the district that can’t be denied and shouldn’t be forgotten.”

Kulik added, “I think (to resign) was the right decision after the investigation report, which was pretty damaging and led to a break in relations with other senators, which is really so important to being a member of a legislative body, requiring mutual trust and respect. It’s very hard for me, as a legislator in a different chamber, to see how he could have effectively continued. It was really an unfortunate circumstance where his personal life became entwined with his professional life in a way that just wasn’t sustainable.”

In conversations with Rosenberg’s constituents, Kulik said, “I’ve heard nothing but support for him, along with sympathy and understanding of the situation, and a hopefulness it would be resolved in a positive way. I think Stan stands an excellent chance of being re-elected,” although following the investigative report, “those relations with other senators, who require that sense of trust, confidence, respect and reliability among colleagues was certainly damaged.”

Yet other colleagues, who asked to speak only on background, said politics played a major role, with “the people yelling the loudest” those Senators and other public officials who were “opportunistic” in calling for Rosenberg to resign.

Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, did not respond to calls, but posted a comment on his Facebook page, “Today my colleagues and I accepted Senator Stan Rosenberg’s decision to resign from the Massachusetts Senate, effective tomorrow, and jointly issued the following statement. I strongly appreciate and thank those who were brave enough to share their stories with the investigators, and truly hope the report’s findings — and the resulting decision made today — will allow the victims and impacted parties to begin their healing process.”

The Senate’s statement that followed read, in part, “We accept and endorse the finding of the special investigator. … We accept Senator Rosenberg’s resignation because we agree with the decision that it is no longer appropriate for him to serve in the Senate.”

Former state Sen. Benjamin Downing of Pittsfield tweeted on Wednesday night, “Just finished reading the Senate Ethics Committee report. Public servants, especially those in leadership, must always be held to a higher standard. Senator Rosenberg should resign immediately.”

Among those who called for Rosenberg’s resignation were Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey.

Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, called Rosenberg “a great colleague and good friend who’s done a lot of really good things for this region, It’s going to be a big loss for this area. He’s had a distinguished career, and it’s sad to see it end this way.”

Seats unfilled

Mark said with Rosenberg’s seat remaining unfilled until January, “My biggest concern right now, professionally, is to make sure the six towns I share with Stan are covered adequately. His staff will remain in place, and we’ll be doing everything we can to serve those towns effectively and make sure they’re not missing a beat, because they won’t have the same voice in the Senate. I believe the whole delegation will be pitching in.”

The situation will be especially dire for Northampton and other communities in the 1st Hampshire District of Peter Kocut, who died Feb. 22 and will not be replaced until January. Mark, together with Kulik and Rep. John Scibak, D-South Hadley, will have to work extra hard, especially as the senate begins taking up the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

“For towns like Greenfield, which I share with Stan, they’ll still have me, and I have good relationships with people in the Senate,” said Mark, who added that Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, along with Sens. Hinds and Ann Gobi, D-Spencer, will also need “to work that much harder to make sure everything in the budget sticks.”

But with Kulik’s and Scibak’s impending retirement this year, Kocot’s death and now Rosenberg’s resignation, “That’s going to leave large gaps going into the next legislative session, so it will be important for voters to pay attention to which candidates are going to be ready to step into a vacuum in experience. And we should be prepared for the area not to have as much clout for a while. But it’s a resilient and strong area and I’m sure it will bounce back terms of its presence in the Legislature.”

As the House Ways and Means chairman, Kulik said he will be on the conference committee that works on a budget resolution with the Senate and will “make sure Stan’s district’s priorities are covered.”

Franklin County Register of Probate John Merrigan, who served in the House when Rosenberg was chairman of Senate Ways and Means, said, “He’s helped thousands of people in this district, and he led the Senate with strength, vision and intelligence. We’re going to be hurting for losing him. He was grounded and he was a leader.”

Merrigan said he believes the Senate’s treatment of Rosenberg, who worked as a reformer in a Legislature with a record of corrupt leadership, “shows there’s a double standard in terms of how we judge people. If this involved a woman Senate president and there was this kind of behavior by her husband, would we be at this kind of ramped up level with the investigation, having an elected Senate pres take the fall for it?”

Rosenberg, like Hefner, had been a foster child. They became partners in 2008 and were married eight years later. Rosenberg has credited Hefner with helping him to come out as gay and fight a battle with cancer, and now, Merrigan pointed out, Rosenberg was being punished for standing up for his spouse.

“We’ve seen our share of leaders, governors, presidents, with spouses who’ve struggled. Who’s going to walk away from someone who’s struggling? He didn’t, and it did cost him, because (as heterosexuals) we’re judged differently,” added Merrigan, who says Beacon Hill politics played a big role.

“There was blood in the water, and people move in on it,” he said. “It escalates because of that, and this escalated to the point where it will be looked back on in history that this wasn’t right. He wasn’t accused of embezzling or swindling money. He was trying to stick compassionately with his partner.”

Al Norman of Greenfield, the former executive director of Mass Home Care who said he was the subject of emails sent by Hefner, wrote in a statement Thursday, “As one of the victims of Stan Rosenberg’s nonexistent ‘firewall,’ I agree with the law firm’s report that Rosenberg did not keep his promise to keep his spouse out of Senate business. Bryon Hefner tried to undermine my relationship with a key lawmaker by texting that lawmaker with a warning to ‘divorce yourself’ from Al Norman. The law firm told me they would not share the content of the text, but fortunately, the lawmaker in question shared the basics.

“Hefner had no business with me at any time, and could only have learned of my disagreement with Rosenberg from the President himself,” Norman added. “Rosenberg burned down his own firewall, and left me open to the inappropriate meddling of his vindictive and meddling spouse.”

A longtime political ally of Rosenberg, M.A. Swedlund of Deerfield, said, “Nobody can replace him, if for nothing else than because of his seniority. It’s a huge loss for us. I feel really bad for Stan.”

Another longtime friend, Deerfield Administrative Assistant Wendy Foxmyn, said, “It’s heartbreaking. He’s been effective, and he’s been made ineffective as he’s continued to decline in stature in terms of his role in Statehouse. Everyone has so much for fondness for him, myself included. But I think when you’re a public person, you share your life with the public.”

“What an extraordinary legacy he’s left,” she said. “In the midst of all of this, hope it gives him some consolation that he still has tremendous support among his many constituents.”

In the context of the death of Kocot and impending retirement of Kulik and Scibak, Foxmyn said, “It’s a loss upon loss upon loss.”


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