Metro
    Next Score View the next score

    After scandal, Rosenberg allies lay out path for potential return to power

    Mass. Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg.
    Jonathan Wiggs\Globe Staff
    Mass. Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg.

    Close allies of Stan Rosenberg see a path for him to potentially return to the presidency in the state Senate, where a coalition of some of his colleagues is ready to support his reinstatement to the post he lost amid a scandal created by his husband’s alleged sexual misbehavior.

    However, their support — gauged through interviews with senators and senior staff — is contingent at least on Rosenberg being cleared by the internal Senate investigation into allegations raised in a Globe story that his husband, Bryon Hefner, sexually harassed four men. Some colleagues also insist Rosenberg must create significant distance with Hefner, from whom he confirmed his separation on Thursday.

    His return to power would mark an extraordinary political turnaround for Rosenberg, whose long legislative and political career appeared dead after he stepped aside in November, pending a Senate ethics committee probe of Hefner’s behavior.

    Advertisement

    “I think there is a silent majority who hopes Stan is exonerated and can return,’’ said Senator Michael J. Barrett, a Lexington Democrat. He said that sentiment stems from an appreciation of Rosenberg’s inclusive leadership style. “We really like the change he has brought to the Senate.”

    Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
    Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
    Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

    Jason Lewis, a Winchester Democrat, said he is also convinced after talking to many of his colleagues that if the ethics committee concludes that Rosenberg did nothing wrong, the 33-member Democratic caucus will vote him back as Senate president.

    “I am confident that the Senate ethics committee’s investigation now underway will be thorough and impartial,” said Lewis. “It is critical that anyone with relevant information feels safe coming forward, knowing that their confidentiality is protected.

    “If the investigation ultimately concludes there was no misconduct on the part of Senator Rosenberg, then I believe there is strong support in the Democratic caucus to reelect him as Senate president.”

    Other Senate Democrats, who did not want to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, generally confirm Lewis’s assessment of the mood among their colleagues. One said the members are generally “very empathetic toward Stan” and there is “a strong feeling among some, not everybody, for him to come back.”

    Advertisement

    But there is also skepticism. Senator Barbara L’Italien, an Andover Democrat, expressed concern about a Rosenberg comeback. She noted the scandal around his husband coupled with the recent federal corruption indictment of former senator Brian A. Joyce makes his return untenable in the near future.

    “The Senate as an institution is in a very precarious place,’’ said L’Italien, who is leaving her seat to run for Congress. “Politically, it needs to come back after that one-two punch of Bryon Hefner and Brian Joyce, before there is a path for Stan to come back.”

    She also said the prospect of Rosenberg’s return could prevent victims from cooperating with the Senate inquiry because they might be worried they could face retribution when doing business on Beacon Hill.

    Even Rosenberg’s most ardent Senate allies agree there would be two major conditions to his resuming his role as Senate president.

    One is that the ongoing investigation must conclude he knew nothing of his husband’s alleged sexual assaults on the handful of men who also had business in the Senate. (The men allege Hefner boasted of his sway with Rosenberg over Senate issues, which the lawmaker denies.) The second hurdle is that Rosenberg must convince his colleagues that he has sufficiently separated himself from Hefner — enough so that his husband cannot embarrass the Senate again.

    Advertisement

    One serious snag that could derail a Rosenberg return is the timing.

    While the Senate review is expected to conclude in several months, Hefner’s behavior has caught the attention of the FBI and Attorney General Maura Healey’s office. These potential investigations could go unresolved for longer, possibly deep into this election year, when senators will be campaigning and sensitive to any potential uproar over a move to reinstate Rosenberg.

    Meanwhile, Rosenberg has put distance between himself and Hefner, but it’s unclear if it is sufficient to satisfy some of his colleagues. In his first appearance at the State House since last month, Rosenberg confirmed they had separated.

    “I have,” he told reporters, when asked if had separated from his husband of one year. Asked what went into that decision, Rosenberg said, “That’s personal and he is getting the treatment for alcohol that he needs and that’s about all that can be said about that.”

    Those familiar with his arrangement say the senator is not ready to consider a legal divorce while Hefner is in what they describe as a fragile condition.

    Rosenberg’s allies say he feels committed to helping Hefner, whom he married in 2016. They both share the experience of being raised in troubled foster homes. Hefner also helped Rosenberg, 68, publicly declare his sexual orientation, and Hefner cared for Rosenberg during a bout with cancer.

    As much as Hefner’s behavior has created turmoil for the Senate, Rosenberg remains popular among most rank-and-file members. Unlike his recent predecessors, Rosenberg has created what he calls a “shared leadership” style of governing — a process that gives senators significant roles in developing policies and the Senate’s agenda. It’s a stark contrast to the usual top-down legislative leadership style practiced on Beacon Hill.

    One sign that Rosenberg could return: Several members who, immediately after he stepped aside began to lobby their colleagues for votes to fill the position of Senate president, have cooled their campaigns. Most of their colleagues were not ready to jump into a leadership struggle, an outcome which can have serious political consequences for senators.

    Another unknown is the potential public backlash that could erupt.

    Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic analyst, said it is hard to calculate public reaction if, following an investigation, the Senate puts Rosenberg back in power.

    “Unless you know what was examined, what did they find, and what the outcome is, only then could you measure the political support and the fallout,” said Marsh. “It’s hard to speculate what the political reaction would be unless we knew all that.”

    Rosenberg’s decision to step down came amid one of the most unusual scandals in recent Beacon Hill history.

    He resigned his leadership post, prompting the Senate to meet behind closed doors for a full day trying to figure out how to handle the sudden vacancy. A Globe story several days earlier had quoted four men who said they had been groped and assaulted by Hefner. None would be named.

    One of the victims who spoke to the Globe noted that Hefner participates in official functions and “uses his influence with the Senate president as a part of his tool-belt of harassment techniques.”

    Three of the alleged incidents occurred just a few feet from Rosenberg. The Amherst Democrat strongly insists that he was never aware of the incidents, and no evidence has emerged to contradict him.

    “To the best of my recollection I was not approached by anyone with complaints during or after the alleged incidents made in this article or I would have tried to intervene,” he said in a statement released Nov. 30.

    “I have repeatedly made clear that Bryon was to have no influence on what happens in the Senate,” Rosenberg said during a press conference the day after the news broke. “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.”

    The State House News Service contributed to this report. Frank Phillips can be reached at frank.phillips@globe.com.