Under increasing pressure from his Senate colleagues, Massachusetts Senate President Stan Rosenberg says he is stepping aside.
Rosenberg made the announcement Monday after accusations from five men with ties to state government that his spouse, Bryon Hefner, sexually assaulted or harassed them. Senators on Monday were scheduled to meet Monday to begin an unprecedented investigation, to be led by an independent investigator.
“I would like to take a leave of absence as your President, effective immediately, for the duration of the investigation that I expect you will authorize today,” Rosenberg wrote in a letter to his colleagues. “I believe this is in the best interests of the Senate. 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.”
— Sharman Sacchetti (@SharmanTV) December 4, 2017
An acting president will now be appointed to take his place.
The accusations first came to light in a bombshell story from the Boston Globe‘s Yvonne Abraham, who reported that four men accused Hefner of groping or forcibly kissing them. A fifth man later came forward to accuse Hefner of sending him an unsolicited picture of male genitalia, according to MassLive reporter Gintautas Dumcius.
Over the past several days, prominent state Senators had declared publicly Rosenberg should leave his powerful position while the probe moves forward.
“I fully agree that an independent investigation is warranted,” Sen. Barbara L’Italien said in a statement. “However, I believe that for the sake of the institution, the Senate President should also step aside from the duties of the Senate Presidency for the duration of any investigation.
“Any person with information needs to feel safe coming forward. I intend to bring this up in caucus because we can’t be afraid to address this issue as a body. The business of the people of Massachusetts is more important than any one senator.”
Nobody should be afraid to speak his or her truth. The business of the people of Massachusetts is bigger than any one Senator. My full statement regarding recent sexual misconduct allegations in the State Senate: #mapoli pic.twitter.com/MxeTgrjVs7
— Barbara L’Italien (@teambarbara) December 1, 2017
She later said on WCVB’s On the Record that news of the allegations went off like “a neutron bomb” in the Senate and expressed a desire to see the investigation wrap up as quickly as possible.
It has put many, especially those who respect Rosenberg and agree with his brand of progressive politics, in a difficult situation.
“I have found Stan Rosenberg to be a principled and deeply compassionate human being, who defends the interests of victims across the board,” Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz said in a statement. “And as an institutional leader, I have seen him put enormous initiative into building a culture of transparency, professionalism, and respect in the Senate. I know these things to be true and that, perhaps, also makes me partial.”
The editorial board of the Boston Globe had also weighed in, saying in no uncertain terms that Rosenberg should take a “temporary” leave until an investigation can be completed:
Ensuring a safe workplace is more important than any one politician — even one as powerful and well-liked as Rosenberg. Senators should insist on an investigation that’s beyond reproach, and that won’t be possible unless Rosenberg takes a leave from the presidency.
Same goes for the Daily Hampshire Gazette, his hometown paper:
In his three decades of service in the Massachusetts Legislature, Amherst Democrat Stanley Rosenberg has earned a reputation as a lawmaker who uses his power to serve the people rather than the privileged few.
Now, in the most painful chapter of his public life, Rosenberg should uphold that reputation by stepping aside as Senate president while allegations of sexual assault and undue influence by his husband are investigated.
Among those who came to his defense was Sen. Michael Barrett, who said in a Monday statement that there aren’t enough facts to pin the blame on Rosenberg.
“As terrible as all this is, both for the apparent targets of inappropriate behavior and for the Senate itself, none of us is legally or morally responsible for the actions of our spouse unless we’re aware of it and don’t try to stop it,” Barrett said in a statement Monday morning. “An independent investigator must inquire into these very questions. Until then, the presumably wronged spouse is innocent until proven otherwise and should be able to continue in his job, one the current president happens to do quite well.”
Senators were scheduled to hold an informal hearing on Monday, then convene again on Monday afternoon to select an independent investigator. Rosenberg recused himself from the investigation, but had said before Monday that he would continue to serve in his role leading the Senate.
On Friday, Rosenberg said he was “devastated” by the allegations, insisted that he did not know about the alleged behavior, and announced that Hefner would soon enter an inpatient treatment program for alcohol dependence.
The allegations go further than sexual harassment and assault, and include accusations that Hefner exploited his husband’s powerful role in state government and wielded the influence of the Senate President’s office. Sometimes that meant making calls on behalf of Rosenberg, the Globe has reported, and sometimes that meant plying his alleged victims by offering political favors in exchange for sexual ones, those men said. This comes after Rosenberg promised before his election to the position to build a “firewall” between his personal life and political career, after accusations first emerged about Hefner improperly wielding the power of his husband’s office. Rosenberg has said that if Hefner suggested he had influence over the Senate, that was “simply not true”.
But it had become clear to many observers that, for the good of the office, Rosenberg had no choice but to step down.
“The problem for Stan Rosenberg is his ability to do his job as Senate president,” Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh told WCVB’s On the Record on Sunday, according to the State House News Service. “He promised two things — that there would be a zero-tolerance policy and a firewall between him and his husband, previously. Neither one of those things has happened. So if you are either unwilling or unable keep your promises in your job as Senate president it is hard to see how you can continue in that job.”
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