Amid Hefner-gate, Senate Report Leaves Bloom off the Rosenberg…
Further UPDATED 12:42PM: The Globe reports Rosenberg will resign. His last day is tomorrow. Our story has been changed to reflect this.
UPDATED 12:22PM: To include new and additional media reports describing local & senators’ comments on Rosenberg.
In a report issued Wednesday, the Massachusetts Senate Ethics Committee delivered a stinging rebuke to Amherst Senator Stanley Rosenberg for his failure to reign in his husband Bryon Hefner. Allegations Hefner assaulted staffers, lobbyist and other Beacon Hill denizens surfaced prompted a cascade of events including this investigation and Rosenberg stepping down as Senate president.
The report paints a damning portrait of a hapless, but willfully helpless Rosenberg, who could not control Hefner’s erratic, intrusive, and ultimately destructive behavior. Though investigators determined Rosenberg broke no laws or Senate rules, they all but found he had violated the trust and integrity of the Senate.
Though the report acknowledges he is not responsible for his husband’s misdeeds, “Senator Rosenberg—as Senate President—had an obligation to act in the best interests of the institution he led. He failed to do that.”
No fewer than three government agencies began criminal investigations of Hefner. He was indicted in March. The couple separate shortly after the story broke last fall.
Both the Ethics Committee recommendation and law firm Hogan Lovell’s investigatory report, make specific mention of Rosenberg’s failure to build a firewall between Hefner and the Senate.
That promise came following a 2014 Boston Globe story about his then-fiancée running his mouth about his power and posting unflattering comments about Rosenberg’s presidential predecessor Therese Murray.
News that Hefner had access to Rosenberg’s email—which the Ethics report confirmed—all but foreclosed any path back to the presidency.
Rosenberg had argued that the firewall meant Hefner would not influence Rosenberg’s official actions. But that flew in the face of what many understood the phrase to mean.
“Many people reasonably understood the firewall to represent a barrier to Hefner’s access to information concerning Senate business,” the investigator report reads. Instead, “Hefner had continuous access to information concerning Senate business and that he repeatedly abused that access.”
While the report states there is no evidence Rosenberg knew about Hefner’s alleged assaults, it said the senator failed stop sexually harassing behavior his spouse engaged in.
The investigators recognized that Rosenberg and others believed Hefner had an undiagnosed mental illness and/or suffered from alcoholism. Yet that did not excuse him from his failure to promote a workplace free of sexual harassment.
The Ethics Committte recommended that Rosenberg serve in no leadership position and chair no committees for the rest of this session. That bar would continue for the entire 2019-2020 term. However, as he broke no laws or rules, expulsion was never under consideration.
But expulsion is quite different from a growing chorus of calls for resignation.
“It’s clear to me that Stan Rosenberg cannot continue to serve in the Senate,” Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement.
In his statement, Baker said the Ethics report “reveals a deeply disturbing pattern of behavior, making it clear that Senator Rosenberg has compromised the business of the Chamber and trust of his constituents.”
Both Baker and Healey, a Republican and a Democrat, called for Rosenberg to immediately resign.
Despite air cover from the commonwealth’s two top executive officials, senators far moved slowly. Both Senate President Harriet Chandler and President-in-waiting Karen Spilka said they were reviewing the report. Spilka did call for Rosenberg’s resignation later on Thursday, however.
Other senate offices contacted had no comment or did not reply as of posting.
Incoming-Senate President Karen Spilka also calls for Rosenberg to resign: He "allowed a destructive pattern of behavior to continue over the course of many years, violating the trust that my colleagues and I invested in him, it is my firm belief that he should resign" #MApoli
— Mike Deehan (@deehan) May 3, 2018
An early round of outreach to officeholders in Hampshire County yielded similar results.
Amherst Rep Solomon Goldstein-Rose likewise declined to comment. “I haven’t even read the report,” he emailed.
Yet, cracks are forming. Democratic Senator Barbara L’Italien called for Rosenberg’s resignation, shortly after the report came out. L’Italien, currently a candidate for Congress, had been out front on Rosenberg’s departure from the presidency, too. Wednesday night Paul Feeney and Jamie Eldridge became among the first senators seeking reelection to demand Rosenberg’s immediate resignation.
My statement on the Senate Ethics Report made public today. #mapoli pic.twitter.com/hq6bjxPI02
— Barbara L'Italien (@teambarbara) May 2, 2018
Statement on the Rosenberg report released this afternoon. pic.twitter.com/HG6vKL61vh
— Senator Paul Feeney (@PaulFeeneyMA) May 3, 2018
Some senators may have hoped to coax Rosenberg into resigning behind the scenes. If dragged out, the public pressure to resign would have gotten worse.
Another complication is electoral. The window to return signatures to run for office in 2018 closed Tuesday. Rosenberg has a primary opponent, activist and higher education leader Chelsea Kline. But senators may be iffy on publicly pressing Rosenberg to, in effect, hand the seat to her without a contest, absent a write-in challenge. Indeed, the Ethics Committee said Rosenberg’s fate was in constituents’ hands.
But now that Rosenberg intends to resign, all of that is academic.
Rosenberg’s sprawling Hampshire, Franklin, and Worcester district covering Amherst, Greenfield and Northampton is overwhelmingly Democratic. It has also not been open since Rosenberg won a special election to succeed his old boss John Olver.
If the crowded primaries for House seats in the upper Valley are any indication, interest in Rosenberg’s seat would have been high had it opened before the deadline.
Surfing sympathy about his husband’s manipulations and the sheer force of incumbency, Rosenberg could have limped to reelection in the September 4 primary. As The Daily Hampshire Gazette reported, he still had support in the district.
But he would have no committee chairmanships and, at best, fractured trust among his colleagues. Moreover, a Kline win, unlikely but not unthinkable before, became more possible than ever with this report.
Yvonne Abraham’s November 30 story in The Globe mirrors the sexual harassment stories of that past year. Many felled famous men and a few women, but unlike most others, Rosenberg was not the person harassing people.
Some of Hefner’s behavior was just verbally abusive. The report makes note of an incident where a staffer was driving Rosenberg and Hefner. The latter began to demean and scream at the driver. Eventually, the driver pulled over and exited the vehicle.
Other senate staffers reported receiving unwanted sexual advances and/or sexually explicit message via text message. Elsewhere the report says Hefner made racially insensitive remarks.
But the assaults stand out as particularly shocking. Several staffers and lobbyists claimed Hefner tried to forcibly kiss them and/or grabbed their junk. On one occasion, the report says, “Hefner propositioned the policy advocate [lobbyist] to have sex with him in a bathroom.”
In another circumstance an aide whom Hefner had assaulted was shown “nude photos of an individual that appeared to have been taken and transmitted without the person’s consent.”
Many of the Ethics report’s allegations appear to match the criminal charges filed against Hefner.
The 87-page investigator’s summary within the Senate Ethics report includes Rosenberg’s side, as well. It described Rosenberg as aware of the problems Hefner brought, but unable or unwilling to forcefully to address them.
“[I]t is all about the outcome, what actually happened, did a decision get affected,” Rosenberg said to investigators. None were, he claimed.
As for the allegations against Hefner, Rosenberg said he knew nothing about assaults, which investigators appeared to believe. As for the texts and communications of a sexual nature, Rosenberg would admonish Hefner, but the behavior would inevitably repeat.
The report notes that Rosenberg and Hefner, who are 68 and 30 respectively, bonded over their experiences in the foster care system. They met when Hefner worked in Rosenberg’s office before ultimately becoming engaged and marrying. Their relationship led to Hefner’s continued access to Rosenberg’s staff and calendar. But Hefner’s erratic behavior meant it did not end there.
“Senator Rosenberg stated that, if he could not share Senate information with Hefner, he was left with two untenable choices – to divorce Hefner or quit his job,” the report says.
“It is not for us to suggest what Senator Rosenberg should have done, but we can say definitively that, in light of the facts known to him about Hefner’s behavior at the time, what he did was not sufficient.”