Rosenberg gives up leadership post while Senate investigates allegations against his spouse

  • Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, speaks Nov. 29 in Northampton. Gazette photo

  • Massachusetts Senate President Stanley Rosenberg speaks from behind a podium outside his office at the Statehouse to a throng of media Friday in Boston. Rosenberg said his husband, Bryon Hefner, will soon be entering treatment for alcoholism, one day after The Boston Globe reported that several men had accused Hefner of sexual assault and harassment. Some of the men had professional dealings with the Legislature. AP Photo

  • Bryon Hefner is the husband of state Sen. Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst. File Photo

Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Several hours after Senate President Stanley Rosenberg agreed to temporarily step aside from his leadership role to allow for an investigation into alleged sexual misconduct by his husband, Majority Leader Harriette Chandler was selected to fill his position.

The elevation of Chandler to acting Senate president came following Rosenberg’s decision to relinquish the role he has held for nearly three years.

Rosenberg’s office issued a statement Monday morning, shortly after a letter was sent to his colleagues, announcing he would leave the Senate presidency, and asking that an acting president be appointed in his stead.

“I believe taking a leave of absence from the Senate Presidency during the investigation is in the best interest of the Senate,” Rosenberg said. “I want to ensure that the investigation is fully independent and credible, and that anyone who wishes to come forward will feel confident that there will be no retaliation.”

Later Monday evening, Rosenberg added, “I wish to reemphasize that the most important thing is to make sure that anyone who may have been hurt has every assurance that they can turn to whatever authority they feel comfortable with, with absolutely no fear of retribution, and to restore confidence in the Senate. During my leave of absence from being Senate President, I look forward to a thorough, fair, and independent investigation. I thank my colleagues for providing this opportunity and have every confidence that the Acting President will help the Senate focus on a robust agenda for 2018.”

The Boston Globe reported last week that four men involved in state government have accused Rosenberg’s spouse, Bryon Hefner, of sexually assaulting and harassing them in recent years. These included three men saying he groped their genitals, while another said Hefner forcibly kissed him against his will.

Attorney General Maura Healey and Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley, both Democrats, said Monday they are prepared to launch an investigation and said anyone with information should feel free to contact either of their offices.

Lawmakers were expected to vote later Monday on a plan to appoint an independent investigator whose focus likely would be on whether Rosenberg knew about Hefner’s alleged behavior, or if Hefner had any clout when it came to matters before the chamber.

Only one senator, Andover Democrat Barbara L’Italien, publicly called on Rosenberg to step aside “for the sake of the institution” until the investigation is completed. On Friday, Rosenberg had said he would remain in his position while the Senate conducted an independent investigation into the alleged actions of Hefner.

State Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose, an Amherst Democrat who represents the 3rd Hampshire District, which includes Amherst, Pelham and Granby’s Precinct 1, said in a statement that he supports Rosenberg’s decision. Until 1991, Rosenberg served as the state representative for the same district, before running for the Senate seat.

“Stan has done amazing work for our district over the years and I respect his decision to temporarily step aside from his leadership role in order to ensure confidence in a thorough and objective investigation,” Goldstein-Rose said.

Other members of the western Massachusetts delegation, including Reps. Peter Kocot, D-Northampton, John Scibak, D-South Hadley and Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, didn’t immediately return phone calls or emails seeking comment about Rosenberg’s decision.

After nearly 25 years as a senator, Rosenberg was elected the Massachusetts Senate’s 93rd president in January 2015, becoming its first openly gay and first Jewish leader. The vote was unanimous, even after earlier inappropriate behavior by Hefner was reported, including social media attacks on previous Senate President Therese Murray and Hefner boasting about his influence on Beacon Hill. That prompted Rosenberg to say he would put a “firewall” between his professional and personal life.

Ryan Migeed, a spokesman for Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, whose district includes Belchertown, said Monday that a statement issued by Lesser on Friday still stands. That statement notes the senator’s support for an impartial investigator and an investigation into the Rosenberg matter done in bipartisan fashion.

“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,” Lesser said. “I hope these recent events, both in Massachusetts and nationally, lead to lasting and long-needed changes in how all organizations prevent abuse from happening in the first place, and swiftly respond when inappropriate conduct takes place.”

Chandler and Minority Leader Bruce Tarr were scheduled to have a press briefing at 12:30 p.m., but that was postponed indefinitely.

With the leadership position temporarily vacant, senators convened behind closed doors after Rosenberg issued his statement. Sen. Jason M. Lewis, D-Winchester, said in a statement issued earlier on Monday that Rosenberg is a “highly respected leader,” and called on him to remain as president.

“He has my full support and I am confident in his ability to continue leading the Senate and moving forward our ambitious agenda to strengthen the commonwealth and improve the lives of the people of Massachusetts,” Lewis said.

Like others who have addressed the matter, Lewis said he has zero tolerance for sexual harassment or misconduct of any kind on Beacon Hill or anywhere, that Hefner’s alleged actions are deeply disturbing, and that anyone possibly victimized by Hefner must feel safe in coming forward.

But Lewis echoed what Rosenberg said on Friday, that Hefner has wielded no power in the state Senate.

“In my experience, Bryon Hefner has never had any influence whatsoever over the affairs of the Senate,” Lewis said. “But I will reserve final judgment until we receive the results of the investigation.”

Prior to Rosenberg’s nearly three years in charge of the Senate, the last president of the state Senate who hailed from western Massachusetts was the late Maurice Donahue, a Holyoke Democrat who served in that post from 1964 to 1971.

Material from The Associated Press was used in writing this story.