Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Where there’s power and a chance to access it, there’s local public-relations guru George Regan.
Regan’s right in the middle of that eternal quest, this time as the employer of Bryon Hefner, the 27-year-old domestic partner of state Senator Stanley Rosenberg, the 65-year-old lawmaker who is expected to become the next Senate president.
Hefner’s association with Regan Communications came to light after the Globe’s Frank Phillips and Jim O’Sullivan reported that Hefner used social media to put out some sophomoric nastiness about current Senate President Therese Murray.
One tweet displayed a photo of Murray wearing a witch’s hat and holding a broom, with a caption underneath reading, “Wicked: The Untold Story of the Bitch of Beacon Hill.” Another tweet is a photo of a drunk-looking woman (not Murray), entitled, “We Love You, Madame President.”
But unlike others who misuse social media, Hefner is getting a second chance. “He and I had a frank discussion. If it happens again, he’s in the rear view mirror,” said Regan of Hefner, whom he hired last May. “I’m giving him one more shot.”
Why so much sympathy? “He’s an emotional, high-strung kid,” explained Regan, adding, “It’s not like he’s a high-level PR executive. He’s on the last rung of the totem pole.”
But George, I asked, don’t you also represent Murray? Isn’t this awkward?
“I do work for Terry,” said Regan. “I called her and apologized.”
Here’s the thing: Murray is the outgoing Senate president. Rosenberg is expected to be the incoming one. As long as Rosenberg holds onto the votes he needs to assume that leadership position, Hefner is too valuable to fire.
He represents an entre to power — something Regan has famously cultivated since he began his PR career decades ago working for the late Mayor Kevin H. White.
Of course, he is not alone in that cultivation effort. This is just another chapter in the very common intersection of business and politics that exists from Boston to Washington and beyond. In this case, sex is also part of the equation.
Rosenberg told the Globe that his relationship with Hefner is very important. Indeed, it led him to publicly disclose his sexual identity after years of hiding it. Hefner helped him battle cancer, he said, and the two are in a committed relationship.
Surely, Rosenberg is entitled to that. But judgment is also important, and Hefner’s lack of it reflects on Rosenberg. The inappropriate tweets are just part of it. According to the Globe, Hefner has been talking to other senators about committee assignments and leadership positions and speaks openly about the influence he expects to wield once Rosenberg wins the presidency in January.
Rosenberg put together enough votes in the summer of 2013 to become the next president of the 40-member Senate. A policy wonk who is also considered one of the most liberal lawmakers on Beacon Hill, he has 28 years of legislative experience. But he’s an insider who would also make history on Beacon Hill. As Commonwealth Magazine noted in a recent profile entitled “President-in-waiting,” Rosenberg would be the first Jewish legislator and the first openly gay member to lead the Senate or House. His Amherst base would also make him the first leader from western Massachusetts in several decades.
That same profile reported that Rosenberg and Hefner met in May 2008, a year after Rosenberg led the battle to block efforts to overturn same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. According to Commonwealth, Hefner, who had been working as a State House intern, was hired by Rosenberg’s chief of staff for a temporary job. Their relationship was strictly employee-employer, according to Rosenberg, and did not cross into the personal until Hefner turned 21. Both grew up in foster care, which created a bond between them.
Now, no one is questioning the appropriateness of that bond, but Hefner’s behavior is inappropriate. And the relationship raises questions about Rosenberg’s leadership. In response to recent headlines, Rosenberg sent a letter to his Democratic colleagues, telling them he has “enforced a firewall between my private life and the business of the Senate.”
If true, that’s good news for the Senate and bad news for Regan Communications.