Rosenberg resigns from Senate

Amid mounting pressure he submits one sentence note to clerk's office


FORMER SENATE PRESIDENT STANLEY ROSENBERG, who spent more than 27 years in the state Senate and became the first openly gay president of the body, bowed to pressure from his colleagues to resign on Thursday and will leave the Legislature at the end of the week.

Rosenberg’s one-sentence resignation letter came on the heels of the release of a damaging report from the Senate Ethics Committee on Wednesday that found Rosenberg failed in his responsibility to protect the Senate from his husband, Bryon Hefner, who he knew to be “volatile” and abusive to staff and others. The Ethics Committee did not call for Rosenberg’s resignation but instead recommended that he be banned from any leadership position in the Senate.

Rosenberg’s staff delivered a letter (PDF) to the clerk Thursday afternoon indicating that the senator, who has remained on as a rank-and-file member since relinquishing the presidency in December, planned to resign his seat effective 5 p.m. on Friday.

Shortly afterward, the Senate as a whole issued a statement saying “we accept Sen. Rosenberg’s resignation because we agree with the decision that it is no longer appropriate for him to serve in the Senate. As members of this body, we want to say to victims, staff, and all whose lives were affected: We are sorry for what you have been through. You deserved better. We must do better. We pledge to you to work diligently and swiftly to fortify the Senate’s systems for preventing and intervening in harassment in all its forms. Staff and all those who walk through the State House doors must be able to work in confidence that these policies are lived values, and not mere pieces of paper.” 

While investigators found that Rosenberg did not violate any Senate rules, members of the Ethics Committee decided that he has demonstrated a “significant failure of judgment and leadership” by not intervening despite his knowledge of Hefner racially and sexually harassing people that work in and around the Senate.

Investigators also faulted Rosenberg for violating Senate policy by insisting that Hefner have access to his computer so that his husband could review his schedule. The access to Rosenberg’s accounts gave Hefner “unfettered” access to the Senate president’s email and confidential information, and the report found that Hefner had abused that access and sent messages under Rosenberg’s name.

Hefner also potentially cost Rosenberg hundreds of thousands of dollars in his pension. When the Legislature boosted lawmakers salaries last year, the bump gave Rosenberg an $80,000 stipend as Senate president on top of his $62,547 base salary, an increase of $55,000, not including the $20,000 expense allowance. State pensions are based on the highest consecutive 36 months of wages but Rosenberg got less than a year at the bigger salary.

Had Rosenberg remained president and served through the next term, long enough to qualify with the higher salary, his pension would have been roughly $114,000 a year, or about $9,500 a month based on his time in the Legislature and his early career as an aide to then-Sen. John Olver from 1983 to 1986.

But by resigning tomorrow, and assuming he will no longer be a state employee, Rosenberg’s monthly pension will be significantly reduced. Rosenberg will collect about $6,800 a month, or about $81,800 a year, a difference of about $33,000 a year.

The pension could also be further reduced if he selected an option for a smaller salary with part of it going to Hefner as his spouse.

Rosenberg’s decision to resign came as an increasing number of Democratic senators began calling for his resignation. Seven Democrats were on the record publicly calling for Rosenberg to resign when his staff confirmed his intentions.

One of the final senators in that group was incoming Senate President Karen Spilka.

After saying Wednesday that she was committed to the “healing process” and restoring integrity to the Senate, Spilka on Thursday took it a step further and called for Rosenberg’s resignation.

Spilka, who has claimed the support of her colleagues to succeed Senate President Harriette Chandler in July as the next Democratic leader of the Senate, said it is her obligation to protect the Senate, staff, public, and the institution itself.

She was the highest ranking member of the Senate to call for Rosenberg to step down among a group that included Sens. Jamie Eldridge, James Welch, John Keenan, Paul Feeney and Barbara L’Italien. Gov. Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey, along with a number of House Republicans and statewide GOP candidates, had also said Rosenberg should step down. Senate Republicans did not call for his resignation before Rosenberg submitted his letter.

“Because Senator Rosenberg allowed a destructive pattern of behavior to continue over the course of many years, violating the trust that my colleagues and I invested in him, it is my firm belief that he should resign. Doing so will move us towards our goal of healing the Senate and making it a safe, welcoming and productive place for everyone,” Spilka said.

Spilka’s statement was released about an hour after Senate Democrats resumed their private deliberations over how to respond to the Senate Ethics Committee report, prepared by independent investigators with the law firm Hogan Lovells.

Meet the Author

Matt Murphy

State House News Service
The six-member committee, which includes four Democrats and two Republicans, unanimously adopted the report and a recommendation that Rosenberg be barred from serving as Senate president, a member of leadership or as a committee chair through the 2019-2020 session, should he be re-elected in November.

CommonWealth’s Jack Sullivan contributed to this report.