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Adrian Walker

Stanley Rosenberg’s tenure off to a messy start

Stan Rosenberg’s time as state Senate president is off to the rockiest of starts, which is surprising given that he isn’t even president yet.

Rosenberg has long been considered a shoo-in for the seat he has coveted for two decades, and he probably still is. But that doesn’t mean we can’t wonder what on earth is going on with him.

Until this week, the Amherst Democrat was probably best known as a diligent policy wonk. But that all changed after reports that his significant other, 27-year-old Bryon Hefner, had taken to social media to demean other senators and to announce to the world just how important he is. People familiar with his comments saw him as overstating his influence — practically suggesting that he would be picking the committee chairs.

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Hefner is also believed to be the person behind tweets disparaging outgoing Senate President Therese Murray and bad-mouthing other state political figures. He has declined to comment.

For a person who makes his living in public relations, Hefner seems awfully bad at it.

Hefner works for PR magnate George Regan, who has long claimed Murray as a great friend and client. Regan didn’t hesitate to pick sides when the story erupted, calling Murray to distance himself from the disparaging comments and declaring the whole incident a “horrible lesson” for Hefner. When Regan, the ultimate PR man, won’t attempt to defend you, you have truly messed up.

Initially, Rosenberg reacted to all this by speaking of the great influence Hefner has been on him — helping him to come out of the closet in middle age and nursing him through a bout with cancer. But by Wednesday, Rosenberg had announced to his colleagues that he had constructed a ”firewall” between his professional and personal lives and that Hefner would not be taking part in Senate business. Which is nice, considering that no one has ever cast a vote for him.

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All of this is a surprising turn of events for Rosenberg, a man for whom the term “low-key” could have been coined. To the small extent that he possesses a public image, it is as a collegial and unusually thoughtful senator. His ascent to the presidency caught many people by surprise, frankly, because he is not a natural politician in the vein of most of his recent predecessors. I will stop short of calling this very decent man boring, but he’ll never be mistaken for Bill Bulger.

But Hefner seems colorful enough for both of them. I certainly don’t care about Stan Rosenberg’s personal life, but what exactly is he doing with some power-crazed kid 38 years his junior in the first place? Rosenberg has spoken poignantly of the many years it took to come to terms with his sexual identity, and I respect that. But couldn’t he chose as his partner someone who conducts himself like an adult?

Rosenberg is set to become Senate president at a pivotal time. A new governor, from the other party, is coming in. The Senate has drifted a bit to the left — a move that helped fuel his ascendancy — while the House has arguably become a bit more conservative, particularly on taxes. The always contentious relationship between the two chambers figures to be even more fraught.

And, frankly, the House has controlled the State House for the past few years. Rosenberg will need the good will and support of his colleagues to have any hope of true effectiveness. This is certainly not the way to gain it. We’ll see if a letter to his colleagues is enough to quell their discomfort.

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Barring more ugly disclosures, Rosenberg should survive this week’s misadventures. But when he was confronted by reporters about his partner’s online antics, Rosenberg said he became aware of them weeks after they were posted — leaving his supporters and colleagues to ponder, what else doesn’t he know?


Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.