Massachusetts Senate President Stan Rosenberg announced today that he will step down as leader of the chamber while an investigation is being conducted into sexual misconduct allegations involving his husband.
Amid growing pressure inside and outside of the State House for Rosenberg to relinquish the Senate Presidency at least temporarily, the Amherst Democrat said in a statement Monday that taking a leave of absence will help ensure an investigation that is “fully independent and credible” where people can come forward without fear of retaliation.
In a letter to Senators, Rosenberg said the leave is effective immediately and will be for as long as the investigation lasts.
Senators were to meet in a rare December formal session Monday to begin the process to hire an independent investigator to look into the allegations that Rosenberg’s husband Bryon Hefner used his spouse’s position of power to prey sexually on men who had business before the legislature.
The Boston Globe, last Thursday, reported the detailed allegations by four anonymous men that Hefner had sexually assaulted them or made unwanted advances.
The next day, Rosenberg read a statement saying he was “shocked and devastated” by the allegations. He insisted that Hefner held no sway when it came to policy-making.
" If Bryon claimed to have influence over my decisions or over the Senate, he should not have said that. It is simply not true," Rosenberg stated.
Three of the men who made the allegations against Hefner told the Globe they were “infuriated” when Rosenberg said Friday his spouse would be treated for alcohol dependence because they said it was an attempt to excuse the behavior.
Democratic State Senator Barbara L’Italien of Andover, appearing on a Sunday morning talk show on WCVB-TV, called on Rosenberg to step down during the investigation.
"For the sake of the institution, we need to think about no one person. We need to think about the institution and we need to think about the victims," said L'Italien.
Editorials in the Globe and in Rosenberg’s hometown newspaper the Daily Hampshire Gazette also called on him to relinquish his leadership post while the investigation plays out.
Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, said Rosenberg did the right thing.
" This is going to be a very difficult time for the Senate and his stepping aside makes it a little bit easier," said Wilmot. " I think it will be difficult, but not impossible for them to do an independent investigation."
Because Hefner is not a state employee, the scope of the Senate’s investigation is likely to be limited to whether his alleged actions affected the workings of the Senate.
" I think there needs to be a concurrent investigation by law enforcement because the allegations are very serious. We are talking about sexual assault, a repeated sexual assault," said Wilmot.
In a joint statement Monday, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley urged anyone with information about Hefner to contact either of their offices.
Rosenberg, 68, has represented Amherst in the legislature since 1987. He was elected Senate President in 2015 – the first western Massachusetts politician to ascend to one of the two top leadership posts in the legislature in 40 years.
Now, he is in a very precarious political position, said Springfield-based political consultant Tony Cignoli.
" He's bought himself some time, but there are so many mitigating factors here," said Cignoli. "There are the machinations of several other Senators who would like to replace ( Rosenberg) that are going on right now. Those political ambitions are running wild on Beacon Hill."
Rosenberg said earlier this year he planned on seeking a third term as Senate President.