THE SERIOUS sexual assault accusations against Bryon Hefner deserve a thorough and credible investigation. For that to happen, Hefner’s husband — Senate President Stan Rosenberg — should temporarily step aside from the leadership. Rosenberg himself has not been accused of knowing about his husband’s alleged actions, but as long as he remains the Senate president, it will be hard for anyone brave enough to come forward to have full confidence in the body’s inquiry.
It is equally important that a law enforcement authority like Attorney General Maura Healey move forward with an independent investigation, because of the seriousness of the allegations against Hefner and because of real concerns about the Senate’s ability to investigate its leader.
“I am afraid to cooperate with the [Senate] investigation,” bluntly stated one of the four men who told Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham about his encounters with Hefner. The man, who works on Beacon Hill, alleges that Hefner groped him at a fund-raiser in 2015, one of a string of similar allegations that Abraham recounted.
The men allege that Hefner led them to believe that he had key influence over his husband, and that surrendering to his advances would help them politically. They also told Abraham they feared that reporting him could sour their relationship with the Senate president. “There was no way of acting upon this that wouldn’t do harm to the interests of my clients,” said one of the alleged victims, a policy advocate who said that Hefner grabbed his genitals.
Rosenberg recused himself from participating in the inquiry, and senators said they would hire an independent investigator. But those are inadequate safeguards: Rosenberg still ultimately runs the Senate. And because the inquiry must also delve into potentially delicate political matters, it’s doubly important that senators distance Rosenberg from the investigation.
Abraham reported that Hefner was involved with Rosenberg’s political operation, despite Rosenberg’s promise to put up a “firewall” between his personal and political lives. It raises uncomfortable questions about whether the kind of threats that the alleged victims reported ever came true, and whether refusing (or accepting) Hefner’s alleged advances has ever influenced government decisions. Those are questions investigators must be able to answer, and that possible witnesses must be able to discuss without fear of repercussions.
During a brief appearance at the State House on Friday afternoon, at which he declined to respond to questions, Rosenberg said he was confident the investigation would show Hefner had had “no influence” on policy, and expressed his sympathy for the alleged victims. He urged anyone alleging harassment by his husband to come forward “without fear of retaliation” and reiterated that the Senate had a “zero tolerance policy” on sexual harassment. He also said that Hefner would be seeking treatment for alcohol dependency.
The allegations involve the toxic combination of sexual abuse and political power, and raise serious concerns about the climate on Beacon Hill, where Abraham has documented other accounts of sexual harassment. Ensuring a safe workplace is more important than any one politician — even one as powerful and well-liked as Rosenberg. Senators should insist on an investigation that’s beyond reproach, and that won’t be possible unless Rosenberg takes a leave from the presidency.