My Turn: Rosenberg’s impressive run should, and probably will, come to an end

Friday, February 09, 2018

What a difference a week makes. New England football fans learned that lesson the hard way this past Sunday, and supporters of Franklin-Hampshire State Senator Stan Rosenberg are learning it today with a revelation that has pretty much obliterated any chance of the Amherst Democrat returning as Massachusetts Senate president.

Just last week, I wrote about how it looked like Rosenberg was getting up off the mat and getting back to the business of legislating, even as investigators looked into whether Rosenberg’s now-estranged husband, Bryon Hefner, had used his connection to Rosenberg as a cudgel to intimidate and sexually harass a number of men who had business before the Senate.

The allegations flew in the face of Rosenberg’s pledge to create a political “firewall” between his professional and personal lives, a promise which was very much called into question in a column in this past Sunday’s Boston Globe.

In that piece, several sources claimed that Hefner had access to Rosenberg’s Senate email account, which he allegedly used to try to lobby on behalf of a funding earmark for an organization for which he worked, and to try to force the removal of a member of the Senate leadership with whom Hefner disagreed with politically.

Though largely uncorroborated and from mostly unidentified sources, the allegations were damning enough to force Rosenberg to issue a statement in time for the Monday news cycle, taking issue with the factual veracity of some of the comments in the Globe column.

Gov. Charlie Baker threw another log on the fire the next day, telling reporters at a press gaggle that, if the allegations detailed in the Globe article were true, there is no way Rosenberg could return as Senate president. Baker stopped short of calling for Rosenberg’s resignation, but his comments made it clear that he would have a tough time doing business with a Senate leadership that had Rosenberg at the helm.

The Senate Democrats apparently took Baker’s statement pretty seriously, voting Wednesday after a closed-door session to appoint 80-year-old acting Senate President Harriette Chandler to the position until the end of the calendar year, effectively ending any slim hope Rosenberg may have had of returning to that post.

The decision also negates the likelihood of a divisive mid-year race for the Senate presidency, and should make it easier for the Rosenberg investigation to commence.

One of the apparent stumbling blocks in that probe has been compelling witnesses to participate out of fear that they would face retaliation if Rosenberg were to return to the presidency. Rosenberg never seemed to me to be the type to use such intimidation tactics, but then again, he’s the last person I ever expected to get derailed by a sex-related scandal. Having him out of the leadership picture should put any of those fears to bed for good.

The only question which remains is whether Rosenberg can remain the Senate now, and in the future. There have already been a couple of calls for him to resign, most notably from Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Gonzalez, who may very well wind up on the ballot across from Baker this November.

Gonzalez and Rosenberg are not exactly strangers. Gonzalez most recently served as former Gov. Deval Patrick’s budget chief, and worked pretty closely with Stan in the past few budget cycles. And while it’s possible he made the statement to generate some publicity for his campaign, Gonzalez’s call for resignation is not good news for Rosenberg, especially if it encourages other Democrats to follow suit.

Ultimately, this is a decision I believe should be best made by the voters. Rosenberg has pulled papers to run for another term and, at least right now, has no opposition. Perhaps that needs to change, for the sake of the district he represents.

I’m quite sure there are more than a few people reading this who question how effective Rosenberg will be advocating on this area’s behalf given all that has happened. And I’m also sure some of those who feel that way are in a position to do something about it, either as candidates themselves or supporters of a different potential challenger.

If so, this is the time to act, because this may be the best chance anyone will ever have to knock off a former political untouchable whose great run may finally be at an end, and probably should be.

Chris Collins is a former staff reporter for the Recorder, and is a Greenfield native. Over the years he has continued to keep his eye on local politics from a variety of perches for different news outlets.