Future Of Mass. Senate Leadership May Be Decided At Caucus

Feb 7, 2018

Senate Democrats are expected to discuss the chamber's leadership crisis when they meet behind closed doors at the State House Wednesday.

It will be the first time the 31 members will have had an opportunity to discuss as a group the latest allegations involving deposed President Stan Rosenberg, of Amherst. The Boston Globe reported over the weekend that Rosenberg’s husband, Bryon Hefner, had access to Rosenberg’s email, contacts and calendar. (Rosenberg has said he and Hefner are now separated.)

More senators are now questioning if Rosenberg can return to the presidency. Rosenberg temporarily stepped down from the post in early December, following another Globe report quoting four anonymous men who claimed that Hefner sexually harassed or assaulted them, and that Hefner indicated giving into his advances would put the men, who reportedly had business at the State House, in Rosenberg’s good graces.

Rosenberg said in December that if Hefner claimed to have influence over his decisions or over the Senate, “he should not have said that. It is simply not true.”

Sen. Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester) has taken on the role of acting president, pending a resolution of the allegations. Rosenberg still serves as a member of the Senate, representing the Hampden, Franklin and Worcester district.

Wednesday’s caucus comes as the Senate once again finds itself at a crossroads, as they determine whether to wait out a final report on Rosenberg from the Senate Ethics Committee, or decide if it is time to choose new, permanent leadership.

Senators are indicating the drawn-out drama over who will ultimately lead the chamber has become a distraction.

“I hope that we resolve this matter sooner rather than later,” said Sen. John Keenan (D-Quincy).

Keenan says the allegations involving Hefner’s alleged access to Rosenberg’s emails would preclude him from returning as Senate president.

“I believe that the wall that was said to be in place wasn't in place and I think having that wall in this situation was critical to the workings of the Senate," Keenan said. "The fact that it wasn't in place, or has at least been breached, has led to the situation now where we're talking about this rather than the opioid epidemic, transportation, education, mental health." He added: "It’s time to move.”

Keenan supports keeping Chandler as acting president, possibly for the remainder of this session. That is one option the senators can choose in the caucus.

Three senators -- Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett), Eileen Donoghue (D-Lowell) and Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) — are said to be lining up support to become the permanent president, should the position become vacant. It’s not known if any potential candidate has the needed votes to become president at this time.

While the leadership dilemma may not be resolved at the caucus, it is possible the members may send a clear message to Rosenberg that he will not be reinstated to his former position. Rosenberg has taken out nomination papers to run for re-election to his seat, and has a formidable campaign war chest of $452,000.

When the next legislative session begins Jan. 3, 2019, there is technically no Senate president. The first order of business is to elect a president for the new session. The senators may have, by that time, decided who will lead the chamber, and elect that individual to become the new, permanent Senate president.

This report was originally published by WBUR.