Senate President Rosenberg should step down by Marjorie Arons-Barron

Massachusetts’ Senate President is in trouble. The Boston Globe reports on four unnamed men subjected to sexual harassment by Bryon Hefner, the husband of Senate President Stan Rosenberg. MassLive reports this morning on a possible fifth case.  Three of the alleged victims said Hefner grabbed their genitals while making clear that he could influence the outcome of their business before the Massachusetts Senate because he is married to Rosenberg.

Some of these assaults reportedly happened while Rosenberg was close by. Consider one profoundly disturbing image of Hefner groping an advocate in the back seat of a Prius in which Rosenberg was riding in the passenger seat.  Another incident apparently occurred in the apartment Hefner shared with the Senate President, who was out of town at the time. In the wake of the recent Globe story, Rosenberg, 68, obviously stricken, said he was unaware of these behaviors by Hefner, 30.  It does  strain credulity.

But, Mr. Rosenberg, let’s say we give you the benefit of the doubt.  It is still the old story of “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”  Your relationship with Hefner, 30, has been an issue since 2014, when you were about to assume the presidency of the state senate. To counter Hefner’s claims of influence on the flow of Senate work and on the outcome of important legislative matters, you promised a firewall between your professional and personal lives. (The Globe reports having seen email messages documenting that Hefner has asserted involvement in legislative issues.) You failed to keep that promise.

In the current political environment, you also promised a zero tolerance policy toward abuse of power through sexual harassment in the Senate.  You have failed on that promise as well. Which is why you should relinquish your presidency.

Whether Rosenberg, an accomplished legislator and leader,  knew about Hefner’s behavior and stayed mum or didn’t know but  should have is largely irrelevant.  Both alternatives are pathetic. Today, the Democratic caucus is expected to call for an investigation of the allegations. That investigation can’t possibly have credibility if Rosenberg is in charge, especially because none of the victims is apparently willing to go public because of fear of retaliation as long as he wields the gavel.

Important policy matters are also before the Senate, from health care to criminal justice reform and more. The mere appearance that the promised firewall has been breached undermines crucial public confidence in an important government institution with significant influence on our lives.

As a general rule, we shouldn’t hold individuals responsible for their spouses’ transgressions, and it doesn’t seem  that Rosenberg should required to leave the Senate. But Hefner’s behavior goes to the heart of Stan Rosenberg’s leadership role. This is clearly a personal tragedy for Rosenberg, and our hearts go out to him in this moment of loss and humiliation. But something larger is at stake, and the integrity of the Massachusetts Senate demands that Rosenberg relinquish his presidency immediately.