AMHERST — As Stanley C. Rosenberg announced he would temporarily step down as president of the state Senate amid allegations that his husband had sexually assaulted four men, voters in his hometown here came to his defense, saying he should not be punished for his spouse’s misconduct.
“If it were him being accused, it would be different, but it’s against his husband,” said Steve Chojnacki, 61, who works at a liquor store. “Should he really step down if he hasn’t committed a crime?”
Rosenberg, who two years ago became the first openly gay legislator to serve as president of the state Senate, said Monday he would temporarily step aside to ensure that a Senate investigation into the allegations “is fully independent and credible, and that anyone who wishes to come forward will feel confident that there will be no retaliation.”
The Globe reported the allegations against Rosenberg’s husband, Bryon Hefner, last week. On Monday, authorities announced plans to launch a criminal investigation.
“As is typical in any potential sexual assault investigation, our first necessary step is to speak with survivors and others with direct knowledge of the allegations,” Attorney General Maura T. Healey and Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said in a joint statement. “This is important not only to gather information but to understand the nature of their experience and to provide access to the supports and services we offer every survivor through our offices.”
Three of the alleged incidents happened when Rosenberg, a Democrat, was just feet away, but the Globe found no evidence that he knew about the assaults.
“If it comes out that he was aware of the situation, that’s a different story,” Chojnacki said.
In the center of this college town, most people said they were sympathetic toward Rosenberg, saying he had represented the district well on Beacon Hill. Paul Klemer, 58, said he did not believe that Rosenberg should step down, and questioned whether the allegations will ruin his political career.
“It’s not really his fault,” said Klemer, who said that Rosenberg had been an advocate for gay and lesbian rights and should be allowed to continue his work.
But Douglas Slaughter, chairman of the Amherst Board of Selectmen, praised Rosenberg’s decision to step aside during the Senate investigation, saying it was in keeping with Rosenberg’s record as a “tremendous public servant.”
“We don’t know the facts, so we can’t comment on the particulars, but nonetheless, his stepping aside is a clear indication of his commitment to the people of Amherst, and the Senate as a whole,” he said.
The Senate investigation will seek to determine whether Hefner’s actions interfered with the Senate’s internal workings.
Jordan Hall, who lives in Hadley, said the recent spate of sexual assault allegations was helping weed out offenders. But pressuring Rosenberg to step down seemed a step too far, he said.
“As far as the government, I would like to see it working,” Hall said.
Of a dozen people interviewed, only one demanded that Rosenberg resign from elected office, no matter what the investigation uncovers.
“I think he should divest himself from the whole thing,” said Jim Reed, who runs a barbershop just off the town square.
No matter how the investigation affects Rosenberg’s career, Amherst residents said the allegations against Hefner are the latest example of a cultural reckoning on sexual assault.
“It’s all been building up behind a dam for decades,” Klemer said.