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Rosenberg and his Senate can’t decide what’s right and wrong

Senate leaders say they will hire an independent special investigator to look into allegations of sexual misconduct by Bryon Hefner, the husband of Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg, calling the claims “very serious and very disturbing.”
Senate leaders say they will hire an independent special investigator to look into allegations of sexual misconduct by Bryon Hefner, the husband of Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg, calling the claims “very serious and very disturbing.”

It took Stan Rosenberg five days to reach a conclusion that was blindingly obvious to most anyone who isn’t a politician or a partisan.

But, give him credit: On Monday, he did the right thing and temporarily stepped down as Senate president while there is an investigation into claims his husband groped and assaulted men who do business before the Senate.

During those five days, other senators, with the exception of one who is running for Congress, were not exactly profiles in courage, keeping their powder dry, lest they offend the Senate president, their colleagues, or Senate protocol. Which in itself demonstrates the inherent conflict of interest in the Senate having anything to do with investigating the actions of the spouse of the Senate leader.


Over the weekend, I got some pushback from people who thought I was out of bounds on Friday when I wrote that Rosenberg couldn’t do his job as Senate president while the allegations against his husband, Bryon Hefner, were being sorted out.

Even though I stressed that my position was based on transparency and the idea that the alleged victims could not be expected to have faith in an investigation while Rosenberg was still in power, some suggested it was unfair to hold Rosenberg responsible for the actions of his spouse.

I did a lot of soul-searching and changed my opinion. Rosenberg should step down as leader, not just temporarily but for good, and the Senate should have absolutely nothing to do with the investigation.


The Senate is a powerful institution, and institutions instinctively protect their power, not individuals harmed or maligned by the misuse of that power.

Does anyone think it would have been a good idea for the Archdiocese of Boston to decide who got to investigate claims that its priests raped and molested children?


Does anyone think it would have been appropriate for the FBI to decide the terms of reference for the investigation into its enabling of the South Boston gangster Whitey Bulger?

What makes the Massachusetts Senate any different?

In his statement announcing his temporary relinquishing of power, Rosenberg acknowledged he was doing so because it is reasonable to assume some might fear political retaliation if they cooperate with the investigation. But if they had that fear before, it won’t go away if they know that Rosenberg is going to eventually return to power.

By his own reasoning, Rosenberg should resign his leadership position permanently or there is a chance that those with incriminating information against Hefner won’t come forward.

Listening to some members of the Senate talk privately about how unfair all this is to poor Stan Rosenberg, and waiting in vain to hear from those who publicly said nothing at all, showed how tone deaf they are on this.

I share their fondness for Stan Rosenberg. His political career has been marked by advocating for powerless people. Aside from giving himself an obscene pay raise, he usually votes the way I would want my senator to. He’s also been a good leader, a policy wonk who has nonetheless helped the Senate to become less insular and more responsive to constituents. But, in this case, that’s irrelevant.

Stan Rosenberg’s husband allegedly exploited his spouse’s position, believing he could get away with groping and forcing himself on men who needed Rosenberg’s support for issues they care about. Beyond being wrong, it put the alleged victims in the position of not wanting to report Hefner’s behavior lest it hurt Rosenberg, their careers, or the issues they care about. And it raises serious questions about the way the Senate conducts its business.


Some of those victims are reluctant to cooperate with any investigation that has anything at all to do with the Senate, and I don’t blame them.

All this well-intentioned concern for Rosenberg’s feelings is missing the hierarchy of victims at play here. Our first, overriding concern should be with the alleged victims. The integrity of our political system finishes a strong second.

The bottom line is that any investigation in which the Senate chooses the investigator, or has any say in what constitutes wrongful behavior or practices, what gets made public, and what doesn’t, will have zero credibility with the vast majority of the public. Instead of restoring public confidence, it will increase public cynicism.

The decision by Attorney General Maura Healey and Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley to open investigations into the alleged assaults by Hefner is welcome. But the scope and extent of any additional investigation of the Senate and its practices shouldn’t be decided by the Senate.

Presumably, many of the senators who refused to say Rosenberg should step down did so not just because they like him as a person and a leader, but because they wouldn’t want to have their own political careers diminished or even ruined because of inappropriate behavior by a spouse or partner.


Fair enough.

But guess what: This isn’t about them. It’s about the people who were victimized.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com