Editorial: Rosenberg resignation the right move to regain trust

We had been waiting a long time for it, but the speed of the events it set in motion once it finally arrived was breathtaking.

The state Senate announced an independent ethics investigation of former Senate President Stan Rosenberg of Amherst in December. It took five months for a report to be delivered to the public, along with a rebuke for Rosenberg. And one day after that, Rosenberg resigned.

Rosenberg ascended to the Senate presidency after decades of diligent constituent service and legislative work. Before he was elected as a state Senator in 1991, he served as Amherst’s state Rep. for five years, and had more behind-the-scenes political roles before that in the early ’80s.

By nearly every account, Rosenberg has been a faithful public servant, described by one political consultant I spoke with as the gold standard of good government.

And yet, the negligence revealed in the ethics report related to Rosenberg’s now estranged husband, Bryon Hefner, was sickening to read about.

The 77-page report, prepared by independent investigators Hogan Lovells US LLP, detailed Hefner’s abusive behavior to Rosenberg’s staff, his repeated invasion into Senate business, and some instances of sexual assault.

It also showed that Rosenberg had been made aware multiple times of the danger of what Hefner was capable of, though there was ultimately no evidence that he knew about specific instances of sexual abuse by Hefner.

The events unfolded over a period of years, even after Rosenberg told his colleagues and constituents that there would be a “firewall” between his personal and professional lives. Far from upholding this promise, Rosenberg shared his private Senate password with Hefner over the objections of his staff and contrary to the Senate’s own IT policy.

The details in the report clearly indicate that Rosenberg exhibited poor judgment and, as noted by the Senate’s Committee on Ethics, undermined the goal of the Senate’s anti-harassment policy.
Rosenberg, who had worked so long to gain the trust of colleagues and constituents alike, betrayed that trust through these actions.

And while I agree wholeheartedly with his decision to resign  Rosenberg could not have been effective in the Senate after damaging so many relationships and, even if somewhat unwittingly, enabling sexual assault  it is also a sad end to a very noble career in Massachusetts state politics.

It is telling that even after the damning ethics report came out, many of Rosenberg’s constituents stuck by him. One political consultant, speaking before Rosenberg resigned, said that he would have the edge in a re-election campaign, citing Rosenberg’s tireless efforts on helping his constituents over the years.

A longtime political ally of Rosenberg’s described the former Senate President’s relationship with Hefner as a mistake, an error of judgment, but a mistake that could be forgiven.

In a strange way, Rosenberg’s decision to step down shows that he does indeed have the ability to make the correct decision. But the Catch-22 is that in order to regain our trust, he must step away from state politics.

Now, the Franklin, Hampshire and Worcester Senate District Rosenberg has served in must move on, and the difficulty is that the deadline for candidates to submit signatures has already passed. Only one candidate, Chelsea Kline, is now on the ballot along with Rosenberg, who will not run.

I join Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz in calling on state lawmakers to work to extend the filing deadline for the district so that more candidates can have time to throw their hats in the ring.

The voters choosing the successor of Stan Rosenberg deserve a healthy debate.

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at deisen@valleyadvocate.com.

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