By Bob Katzen
“I believe taking a leave of absence from the Senate Presidency during the investigation is in the best interest of the Senate,” said Sen. Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst). “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.”
Last week saw Rosenberg’s resignation, the election of Worcester’s Sen. Harriette Chandler, the majority leader and second-in-command in the Senate, to replace him for now and the beginning of an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee into allegations in the Boston Globe that Rosenberg’s husband, Bryon Hefner, groped three men and kissed another one against his will. The Globe story also included claims that Hefner has said he speaks for Rosenberg and talks about Senate business with legislators and their staffs.
“Choices had to be made and today we’ve chosen to move on and to move forward,” Chandler said. “What’s most important right now is that we work towards a swift and resolute conclusion to this whole sad event.” Chandler has stated that she plans only to serve as interim president and to step down when Rosenberg returns, or a new Senate president is elected.”
“I have repeatedly made clear that Bryon was to have no influence on what happens in the Senate,” said Rosenberg. “He has no influence over policy, the internal operations of the Senate, or any Senate-related business. If Bryon claimed to have influence over my decisions or over the Senate, he should not have said that. It is simply not true.”
The Senate empowered the Ethics Committee to begin the investigation of the sexual assault charges against Hefner, whether Rosenberg violated any rules of the Senate and if Hefner did have any influence over what happens in the Senate.
“I think it’s really important that this gets started,” said Gov. Charlie Baker. “It’s going to be really important for Chandler and for all of the members of the Ethics Committee to demonstrate by both who they choose and what the rules are that whoever it is that’s conducting this investigation has the latitude and the independence to provide comfort to those people who are going to come forward who were victimized — that they won’t suffer repercussions for doing so.”
“I wish to reemphasize that the most important thing is to make sure that anyone who may have been hurt has every assurance that they can turn to whatever authority they feel comfortable with, with absolutely no fear of retribution, and to restore confidence in the Senate,” said Rosenberg in a written statement. “During my leave of absence from being Senate president, I look forward to a thorough, fair, and independent investigation. I thank my colleagues for providing this opportunity and have every confidence that the Acting President will help the Senate focus on a robust agenda for 2018.”
“I am deeply disturbed by these allegations which jeopardize the integrity of the Senate,” said Sen. Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport), chairman of the Ethics Committee. “Sexual harassment and assault have no place in the Massachusetts state Senate or any workplace. I am committed to a fair and thorough review of the facts as well as a process that ensures confidentiality for any person who has any information to report on sexual harassment or sexual assaults.”
The Senate cannot bring criminal charges against anyone. However, Attorney General Maura Healey and Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley issued a joint statement that encourages victims to come forward.
“We ask anyone with this information to contact either office, and we remind every survivor of sexual assault that they can count on us to provide a safe, respectful, victim-centered environment, no matter what the circumstances might be.” said the two prosecutors. “Sexual assault is a crime and we want to send a clear message that harassment and assault of any kind will not be tolerated.”
No one knows if Rosenberg’s will return as Senate president or whether the Senate will elect a new permanent one. Everything hinges on the outcome of the probe. However, “just in case,” four senators are said to be already jockeying for votes for Senate President: Sens. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett), Linda Dorcena Forry (D-Boston), Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) and Eileen Donoghue. (D-Lowell).
Here are the votes of local senators on Chandler’s election, opening the investigation and recusing Rosenberg and his staff from all decisions relating to the investigation.
CHANDLER ELECTED SENATE PRESIDENT
Senate 31-6, elected Sen. Harriette Chandler as president. The vote, as expected, was straight along party lines with all the Democrats voting for Chandler and all Republicans casting their vote for Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester).
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Voted for Chandler
AUTHORIZE INVESTIGATION (S 2228)
Senate 37-0, authorized the Senate Ethics Committee to retain a special investigator to investigate the question of whether Rosenberg violated the rules of the Senate. The investigation is in response to claims that Hefner bragged that he has influence over Rosenberg, speaks for him and talks about Senate business with legislators and their staffs.
(A “Yes” vote is for the investigation and appointment of a special investigator.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
RECUSE ROSENBERG AND HIS STAFF (S 2227)
Senate 37-0, approved an order that Rosenberg and his entire Senate staff be recused from all decisions relating to investigations of the conduct of Rosenberg or Hefner.
(A “Yes” vote is for recusal.)
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes