BOSTON – A powerful Massachusetts public official Monday stepped down as president of the State Senate amid accusations his husband sexually assaulted and harassed four men and bragged about his political influence.
Democrat State Sen. Stanley Rosenberg requested “a leave of absence” until an independent investigation is completed into the allegations of sexual misconduct and boasts of power made by the men against Byron Hefner.
Rosenberg, 68, and Hefner, 30, were married in September of 2016. They had been a couple since 2008. Rosenberg is the first openly gay
president of the Massachusetts Senate.
The Senate president is considered the second most influential office in Massachusetts, behind only the governor. The president has broad authority to advance or bury legislative bills and take other significant actions.
"I want to ensure that the investigation is fully independent and credible, and that anyone who wishes to come forward will feel confident that there will be no retaliation," said Rosenberg in a statement to state senators. “I ask that you elect an acting president for my period of absence as president."
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said he found the allegations "appalling" and urged an investigation shortly after the Boston Globe published a story five days ago detailing the accusations against Hefner.
State Sen. Barbarra L’Italien, a Democrat colleague of Rosenberg’s, had called on him to step down.
"It pains me to say this," she told reporters before Rosenberg's announcement. "But for the sake of the institution - with a very ambitious agenda for next January - I just don't see how we can accomplish any of this while this cloud is hanging over his head."
Rosenberg, a state senator since 1991, has denied any inference his husband influenced his policy decisions and said he expects to be cleared of any wrongdoing.
"I have repeatedly made clear that Bryon was to have no influence on what happens in the Senate," Rosenberg said at a press conference Friday. "He has no influence over policy, the internal operations of the Senate, or any Senate related business."
Hefner is being treated for alcohol dependency, Rosenberg said, which will include admittance to a treatment facility.
The Boston Globe reported Hefner’s four accusers were policy advocates or former members of Rosenberg’s staff. They said Hefner sexually assaulted and harassed them over the past few years. Three told the Globe Hefner grabbed their genitals, and one said Hefner kissed him against his will.
The newspaper did not identify the men, granting them anonymity because they work with Rosenberg and interact with Hefner. But the paper said their accusations were confirmed by people who witnessed or talked to the victims shortly after the incidents.
The Globe said it found no evidence that Rosenberg knew about the alleged sexual misconduct by Hefner, including an incident in which one accuser said he was groped by Hefner in the back seat of a car while Rosenberg sat in the front passenger’s seat enroute to a political event.
This isn't the first time Rosenberg has faced questions about Hefner’s actions. Hefner had boasted on social media in 2015 of his influence in Senate affairs. Rosenberg pledged at the time to put a "firewall" between his legislative leadership duties and his relationship with Hefner.
Christian Wade, CNHI’s state reporter in Massachusetts, contributed details to this story.