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Rosenberg resigns from Senate in wake of ethics investigation

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Staff Writers
Thursday, May 10, 2018

AMHERST — Stanley C. Rosenberg, the Amherst Democrat who has represented the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester Senate District since 1991, resigned from his position as state senator at 5 p.m. May 4 in the wake of an ethics report released May 2.

Rosenberg issued a statement announcing his resignation a day after a Senate ethics investigation determined that he should have known about his now-estranged husband Bryon Hefner’s pattern of “disruptive, volatile and abusive” behavior and that he failed to protect the Senate from Hefner.

Hefner’s alleged actions include felony sexual assault and related charges, to which he has pleaded not guilty.

“I had hoped that, with the conclusion of the investigation, I would be able to focus, once again, on representing my constituents and contributing meaningfully to the work of the Senate,” Rosenberg wrote. “In light, however, of the disciplinary measures recommended by the Ethics Committee, it would not be fair to my constituents to have a representative in the Senate who lacked the authority to represent their interests fully.”

Ethics report

For over five hours on May 2, the entire Senate gathered in a closed-door caucus as independent investigators from Hogan Lovells law firm presented their 80-page report on whether Rosenberg broke any Senate rules in relation to sexual misconduct charges brought against Hefner.

Hefner pleaded not guilty to 10 charges in Suffolk Superior Court last week.

Senate Ethics Committee Chairman Michael J. Rodrigues, D-Westport, said the committee unanimously accepted the results of the investigation and agrees that Rosenberg’s firewall was inefficient, that he violated Senate internet technology policy by giving his email password to Hefner, and that he undermined the Senate’s anti-harassment policy.

The report states that, “Senator Rosenberg’s conduct did not violate any specific Senate Rules, including Senate Rule 10, which prohibits Senators from using their positions for personal gain.”

Rosenberg, 68, said the report showed that he was largely vindicated of any wrongdoing.

“In its report, Hogan Lovells found no conduct by me that violated Senate rules or state ethics law, no evidence that Bryon influenced my actions as Senate President, and no knowledge on my part of any alleged sexual advances, assaults or attempts by Bryon to influence other senators or staff,” Rosenberg wrote. “The report does, however, summarize statements from witnesses alleging that Bryon engaged in actions that harmed them and others, and it finds fault with my not having done more to control Bryon’s access to information and to the people who worked in and around the Senate.”

The ethics committee, after reviewing the report, recommended that Rosenberg not serve in any leadership capacity for the remainder of the current legislative session and for the entire 2019-20 legislative session. After the entire Senate met for a caucus on Thursday morning to discuss that recommendation, Rosenberg announced he would resign.

In his resignation statement, Rosenberg also apologized to his colleagues and to others for his efforts falling short.

“As I have stated repeatedly over the last five months, I deeply regret the difficulties that this situation has created for the members, the staff and the institution of the Senate,” he wrote.

‘Right decision’

Chelsea Kline of Northampton, who was set to challenge Rosenberg in the Democratic primary in September, released a statement shortly after Rosenberg announced his resignation.

“I want to thank Senator Rosenberg for making the right decision for survivors, for the Senate, and for the district in stepping down today,” Kline’s statement read. “Senator Rosenberg leaves an impressive progressive legacy that has improved lives throughout Massachusetts. In stepping down, Senator Rosenberg makes room for survivors, for the district, and for the progressive movement to move forward and to move on.”

Following the presentation of the ethics investigation report after a five-hour joint caucus of the Senate behind closed doors Wednesday, Attorney General Maura Healey, Gov. Charlie Baker and five Democratic senators called for Rosenberg to resign. On Thursday, the Senate met again behind closed doors, and released a statement Thursday evening saying the Senate accepts Rosenberg’s resignation and pledges to prevent harassment going forward.

“We accept Senator Rosenberg’s resignation because we agree with the decision that it is no longer appropriate for him to serve in the Senate. As members of this body, we want to say to victims, staff, and all whose lives were affected: We are sorry for what you have been through. You deserved better. We must do better.”

Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, whose district encompasses nine Hampshire County hilltowns, issued a statement Thursday afternoon after the Senate accepted Rosenberg’s resignation.

“I strongly appreciate and thank those who were brave enough to share their stories with the investigators, and truly hope the Report’s findings — and the resulting decision made today — will allow the victims and impacted parties to begin their healing process,” the statement read.

Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz also said in a statement that he respects Rosenberg’s decision to resign in the best interests of his constituents, colleagues and staff and the Senate.

“I also commend him for accepting responsibility for the serious lapses in judgment outlined by the Ethics Committee report and apologizing to those whose lives have been deeply affected by them,” Narkewicz said.

“Stan Rosenberg has served the people of western Massachusetts ably and diligently for over thirty years as both a State Representative and State Senator. He has been a tireless advocate for his constituents on so many important issues and all of our communities are better for his service.”

Constituents react

Among his constituents, sadness was the overwhelming reaction to the resignation.

“Kind of heartbroken,” said Joanie Daniels, of Northampton, when she learned of the news while volunteering at the Northampton Senior Center.

“I think it’s sad,” said W. Tim Nelson, Amherst’s fire chief.

“It really is a tragic story,” said Lee Edwards, of Amherst.

Daniels said Rosenberg’s fate should have been left in the voters’ hands, and she said she would have voted for him again. Both sentiments were also expressed by her fellow volunteer, Andi O’Brien, also of Northampton.

“I think the voters should have a say,” O’Brien said.

Nelson said Rosenberg had “screwed up,” but that he is a good man who has done a lot of good and shouldn’t have resigned.

“He made a mistake,” Nelson said. “Damn it, we all do.”

Nelson also said he would have voted for Rosenberg again if given the chance, as did Edwards.

“My heart is broken,” said Edwards, outside Jones Library in Amherst.

Lawrence Siddall, of Amherst, also expressed sadness at Rosenberg’s resignation.

“It’s a personal and professional tragedy,” Siddall said. “I think he has a lot of sympathy and sympathetic supporters still.”

Robert Pam, chairman of the Amherst Democratic Town Committee, said Rosenberg’s resignation is a sad day for those who know him.

“Stan Rosenberg has been an outstanding senator for the Pioneer Valley, western Massachusetts and the whole commonwealth, and a fine human being,” Pam said. “As he rose in the leadership he exemplified what acting from values and conscience meant, government of, by and for the people, all of the people.”

Dorothy Fradera of Hadley wrote a brief note to Rosenberg after learning of his decision.

“I am very sorry, not only for you, but also for your constituents who know how hard you have worked for us. I wish you nothing but the best Stan.”

David Rutherford, of Amherst, who works as a drug and alcohol counselor, said he believed that Rosenberg had been pressured to leave.

“It’s a political move,” he said. “I’m very mad.”

Rutherford said he thinks Rosenberg should have stayed in, saying he had done good work for Amherst.

He also said he would have voted for Rosenberg again, and he was sure that everyone in Amherst would.

However, not everyone was supportive of the departing senator, including Jennifer Fronc, of Northampton.

“I think it’s good he resigned,” said Fronc, a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts.

Fronc said she had wanted Rosenberg to resign before the scandal.

“I think he’d been in office for too long,” Fronc said, expressing a desire for new blood in the seat.

Richard Bass, of Lawrence, the owner of Cardinal Shoe Corp., has been a supporter of and donor to Rosenberg. He said Rosenberg has been nothing but constructive and beneficial for the commonwealth and said he was sorry to see him resigning.

“It was very unfortunate to lose such a dedicated politician to the commonwealth, but unfortunately personal situations overcame him and it was probably best for him to step aside,” Bass said. “I think he will be sorely missed by the commonwealth for the work that he’s done.”

Todd Felton, of Amherst, said he has deep respect for Rosenberg and that his leaving office was a great loss to the state of Massachusetts. Nevertheless, he said he understood why Rosenberg had resigned.

“His role had been compromised,” said Felton, saying he didn’t see how Rosenberg could have stayed and been effective.

Still, he said he probably would have voted for him if he’d run again, although he could see why others would not.

Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose, I-Amherst, issued a statement about his fellow Amherst legislator.

“Stan has been amazing and while he made mistakes, I’m sorry for our community which is losing an effective and beloved servant.”

Lawmakers’ support

Four western Massachusetts senators have banded together, announcing May 4 that they will collectively advocate for the regional needs and policy priorities of the communities within the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District for the rest of the formal legislative session which ends on July 31.

Senators Adam Hinds, D- Pittsfield, Eric Lesser, D- Longmeadow, Anne Gobi, D- Spencer, and Donald Humason Jr., R-Westfield, issued a joint statement saying they want to assure residents of the district that they will work together to represent their needs and priorities on Beacon Hill.

“We will work collectively to advance your agenda and protect your interests for the remainder of this legislative session,” the statement read. “It is the right thing to do for western Massachusetts and to keep our region strong.”

Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, said that as House Ways and Means vice chairman, he will be on the conference committee that works on a budget resolution with the Senate and will “make sure Stan’s district’s priorities are covered.”

Senate President Harriette Chandler, D-Worcester, also pledged to help the senators protect the interests of the district so that Rosenberg’s former constituents continue to have a voice on Beacon Hill.

“Under the leadership of Senators Hinds, Lesser, Gobi and Humason, this body will continue to stand for the legislation important to residents,” Chandler’s statement read. “As Senate President, I add my voice to theirs, and pledge to work with my colleagues in local, state and federal government to advocate for the issues vital to this Western Massachusetts District.”

Rosenberg’s staff will continue to be available to handle constituent inquiries and provide guidance to the Senate on policy matters until January 2019 when the new legislative session begins, according to the press release.

However, any policy work such as sponsoring and filing bills, home rule petitions, amendments and participating in Senate debate and roll call votes cannot be done by staff.

Senate rules

Rosenberg’s resignation follows a monthslong investigation into whether he broke any Senate rules in relation to charges of sexual assault brought against Hefner. In November 2017, after Rosenberg and Hefner had been married for a little over a year, the Boston Globe printed allegations from four unnamed men who accused Hefner of sexual assault and bragging about holding sway over the Senate affairs of his husband.

In December, Rosenberg stepped down from the Senate presidency and said Hefner would be seeking treatment for alcohol dependency.

“Any time there are allegations of harassment or assault, we should all be shocked and devastated,” Rosenberg said at a press conference in December. “Our hearts must go out to anyone who has been hurt and I encourage anyone, anywhere, anytime to come forward.”

In January, Rosenberg announced that he and Hefner had separated. The Senate Ethics Committee hired an outside law firm to conduct an investigation into whether Rosenberg had broken any Senate rules in relation to sexual assault and criminal lewdness charges brought against Hefner.

Hefner had previously stirred controversy in 2014, when the Globe reported accusations that he had posted mocking tweets about outgoing Senate President Therese Murray of Plymouth and boasted about the power he would soon yield over Senate affairs when his then-fiancé Rosenberg took her place.

Rosenberg responded by sending a letter to his colleagues in which he said he would enforce a “firewall” between his private life and the business of the Senate.

The Senate ethics investigation found that the firewall between Rosenberg’s business and personal life was “non-existent” and that Hefner had “unfettered access” to Rosenberg’s emails for almost nine years.

The Senate Ethics Committee paid $229,511 to law firm Hogan Lovells of Boston last month for the investigation and 80-page report, which was made available in its entirety Wednesday afternoon. The Senate thanked the investigators in the statement on Rosenberg’s resignation for making the entire report available to the public and for protecting the witnesses’ identities.

Natasha Perez, Rosenberg’s chief of staff, said that Rosenberg was unavailable for further comment on Thursday.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com. M.J. Tidwell can be reached at mjtidwell@gazettenet.com.