In the Arena: Hoping history will be kind to Rosenberg


Published: 5/10/2018 4:29:14 PM

Until this past week, any comparison between Richard Nixon and Stan Rosenberg might have been considered laughable.

Before then, about the only thing those two guys had in common was that they were both politicians who wielded quite a bit of power in their day. But things changed at 5 p.m. last Friday, when Rosenberg joined Tricky Dick in the legion of public officials forced to resign from office for failures that were more personal than political.

Naturally, there are differences. Nixon was undone by criminal attempts to cover up a third-rate burglary, which historians have long argued grew out of his paranoid fear of losing the 1972 election. Rosenberg, the Democratic state Senator who represented much of Franklin County for the past quarter century, didn’t break any laws, but did make the human mistake of allowing a toxic relationship with a now-formally charged alleged abuser to infiltrate his professional life, costing him the Senate presidency and eventually his career.

Both also chose to make bold public pronouncements that came back to bite them later. For Nixon, it was “I’m not a crook” and “there can be no whitewash at the White House,” while Rosenberg’s verbal albatross was an obviously unkept promise to build a “firewall” between his private and personal lives.

Nixon and Rosenberg were also largely undone by modes of communication previously thought to be innocuous. I’m not sure Nixon expected anyone, least of all investigators, to ever hear the recordings made by his secret White House taping system, any more than Rosenberg expected his texts with his young spouse, Bryon Hefner, discussing male body parts and Hefner’s desire to drug, or “roofie,” a senator and have his way with him would eventually become public fodder.

Both also seemed to believe they would be able to weather the storm right up until the very end. For Nixon, it came down to simple math, when he realized he had only minimal support in the Senate, which was his only chance of surviving an impeachment trial and removal from office.

In Rosenberg’s case, he was preparing for a re-election battle he was likely to win, until the release of an ethics report eroded any support he had among even his closest Senate colleagues. His resignation is likely being viewed by many as a final act of honor — except maybe to those communities that now have no representation going into a pretty important state budget process.

At least the country got a new president when Nixon hit the bricks. Rosenberg’s resignation, coupled with the recent death of First Hampshire state Rep. Peter Kocot, leaves Northampton and Hatfield with no one to advocate for them between now and January.

I know the region’s senators have agreed to try to fill in the gaps left by Rosenberg’s departure, but it’s simply not the same as having a voting member on the floor, especially one with the legislative chops Rosenberg possessed.

Some could argue he should have stayed, if only to be able to vote, but that’s easier said than done when your closest friends, like former senator and Rosenberg understudy Ben Downing, are taking to Twitter calling for your head.

Had he stayed, I suppose there is a chance Rosenberg could have been expelled from the Senate, which would have cost him his pension. That seems unlikely, though, as he was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing, unlike Nixon, who was kept out of the can only by successor Gerald Ford’s pardon pen.

Being clear of further legal entanglements does not to remove the stain of the scandal, which, for Rosenberg, may not last as long as one might think.

History has often been kinder to disgraced politicians than their contemporaries. Nowhere is this more evident than with Nixon, whose post-resignation years were spent writing some pretty good books and traveling the world as an elder statesman. Watergate and resignation will always be his primary identifier, but it is no longer the only thing people talk about when discussing Nixon’s record, particularly when it comes to foreign policy.

I suspect the same thing will happen with Rosenberg. There are those who will try to use the resignation to dismiss him as just another disgraced liberal politician who never met a tax hike he didn’t like, but any objective examination of the record will see much more than that.

Without Rosenberg, Massachusetts likely wouldn’t have universal health care, casinos, or equal marriage protection, not to mention the millions in state aid he brought back to an area of the state that is largely an afterthought in Boston. There are also thousands of favors he and his staff have done for constituents over the years, which no doubt changed many lives for the better.

Those are the things for which Rosenberg should be remembered and I hope will, once the stink of how it all ended finally begins to dissipate.

Chris Collins is the Franklin County News Bureau Chief for WHAI, WPVQ and WHMP Radio. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder, and is a Greenfield native.


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