Editorial: Sen. Stanley Rosenberg makes right decision by resigning

  • Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, meets last year with the editorial board at the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton. Rosenberg resigned May 4 after a report by the Senate Ethics Commission concluded that he demonstrated a “significant failure of judgment and leadership … that undermined the integrity of the Senate.” BULLETIN FILE PHOTO

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Stanley Rosenberg made the right decision last week in resigning from the Senate after a damning report by the Ethics Committee concluded that he demonstrated a “significant failure of judgment and leadership that … undermined the integrity of the Senate and had destructive consequences for the Senate and the people with business before it.”

While the Ethics Committee found that Rosenberg’s conduct did not violate any Senate rules, its 77-page report details a series of serious lapses in judgment by Rosenberg that clearly breached the trust he had with his Senate colleagues, as well as with his constituents who routinely had elected him from the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester Senate District since 1991. As a result, Rosenberg lacked the credibility to remain as an effective legislator.

The report released May 2 concluded that Rosenberg, 68, of Amherst, during his three years as Senate president did not enforce the promised “firewall” between his personal and professional lives, allowed his now-estranged husband, Bryon Hefner, “largely unfettered access to Senate information and to the people who worked in, or had business before the Senate,” and repeatedly failed to take appropriate action “to protect the Senate from his husband, whom he knew was disruptive, volatile and abusive.”

Investigators from the Boston law firm Hogan Lovells interviewed 45 witnesses and reviewed tens of thousands of pages of emails, texts and other documents in preparing its report for the Ethics Commission.

In the statement announcing his resignation, Rosenberg noted that “Hogan Lovells found no conduct by me that violated Senate rules or state ethics laws, 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.

“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.”

Rosenberg said, “I deeply regret the difficulties that this situation has created for the members, the staff and the institution of the Senate.”

We commend Rosenberg for acknowledging that his failure to take proper action harmed not only his colleagues and co-workers but also the reputation of the Senate.

We also appreciate the four senators — Adam Hinds, of Pittsfield, Eric Lesser, of Longmeadow, Anne Gobi, of Spencer, all Democrats, and Republican Donald Humason Jr., of Westfield — who issued a statement promising to advocate for the priorities of Rosenberg’s former constituents.

Investigators found that Rosenberg “blatantly violated the Senate IT Policy” by sharing his office password with Hefner, which gave him access to the president’s schedule and email, including confidential information.

The Ethics Committee also concluded that Rosenberg did not enforce the Senate Anti-Harassment Policy because he failed “to adequately address what he knew of Hefner’s behavior.” According to the investigators, “Hefner brazenly engaged in both sexual and racial harassment of Senate employees.”

There is no evidence in the report that Rosenberg knew of the alleged sexual misconduct resulting in the criminal charges against Hefner. However, investigators stated that “Rosenberg told us he was well aware of Hefner’s inappropriate and unprofessional behavior toward members of his staff because he witnessed some of it.”

Hefner, 30, pleaded not guilty April 24 in Suffolk Superior Court to 10 sexual misconduct charges, including sexual assault, criminal lewdness and distributing nude photos without consent.

This is an unfortunate ending to a distinguished career in public service by Rosenberg, who had served since 1987 in the Legislature. There he gained a reputation for thoughtful, progressive governance, advocating for more spending on education and expanding programs that support the less fortunate people in the state. Rosenberg was the first openly gay legislator to lead the House or Senate in Massachusetts, and his approach to sharing leadership responsibilities as president was praised by his colleagues.

Rosenberg expressed contrition in his resignation announcement. “I have devoted nearly 40 years of my life to public service with over 25 years in the Senate, motivated always by the best interests of that body and my constituents. To the extent my efforts fell short, and most especially to all who have been affected by the events described in the Hogan Lovells report, I convey my sincere apology.”

We hope that apology is accepted by Rosenberg’s former colleagues and constituents, and that they also recognize the many contributions he made in representing the people of Massachusetts.