As leadership of the Senate slipped out of Sen. Stanley Rosenberg's hands Monday, officials nearly 100 miles away in the former Senate president's hometown applauded his decision to step aside and said there is a "deep well of support" for him in the western part of the state.
Amherst Select Board Chair Douglas Slaughter told the News Service: "This is a situation that is unfortunate, and particularly personally unfortunate for him I'm sure, but also his actions to step aside to make sure the process of the investigation going on is happening without his bias or interference, shades of gray as it were, that might influence people or might make people think it has not been done forthright way, I applaud him for that."
"I certainly appreciate him stepping aside . . . to clear the way so the Senate can continue its work and he can serve us the best he can at the moment and the Senate can keep functioning," Slaughter added.
Rosenberg took a "leave of absence" from his leadership post - his likelihood of returning to it currently unknown - amid sexual misconduct allegations against his husband Bryon Hefner and a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into whether Rosenberg may have violated rules or acted improperly.
The Senate appointed Worcester Sen. Hariette Chandler as its acting president on Monday night, but Chandler does not intend to stay in the post long-term.
Rosenberg is a fixture in Amherst - he has represented the Pioneer Valley college town in the Legislature for three decades. The Democrat was elected to the House in 1987 and then to the Senate in 1991. He rose to the Senate presidency in 2015.
Slaughter said he's not sure Amherst losing its representation in Senate leadership will make a "tremendous amount of difference in the short term," though Rosenberg's presidency has been a benefit to the town. He believes there is public support for Rosenberg because he is not implicated in the allegations.
"To date, nothing I've heard implicates him in any way shape or form, but no one knows that many details at this point," Slaughter said. "As of what we know right now he's not implicated in any way so I think there's public support for him."
Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman said his "first thoughts" are with the victims, and agreed there is support for Rosenberg in Amherst.
"He has a history of having a lot of integrity in his conduct and I think that built a deep well of support for him," Bockelman said.
In December 2014, about a month before his election as Senate president, Rosenberg sought to quiet questions about his then domestic partner's role in business on Beacon Hill. He wrote a letter to Democratic senators assuring them of a "firewall" between his work and his personal life with Hefner.
Rosenberg wrote the letter after a Boston Globe report about Hefner allegedly using Twitter to anonymously mock outgoing Senate President Therese Murray and meddling in deliberations over leadership posts and committee positions.
The assault and harassment incidents, based on anonymous reports to the Globe and including claims by three men with State House ties that Hefner grabbed their genitals, occurred after Rosenberg's firewall declaration. Senators are urging victims to come forward confidentially, without fear of retaliation, and Attorney General Maura Healey and Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley announced Monday they are prepared to open a joint investigation into the allegations against Hefner and would like to speak with any survivor or witness. Sources in the Globe piece also alleged that Hefner continued meddling in Senate matters.
Sen. Michael Barrett, D-Lexington, issued a statement on Monday expressing his support of Rosenberg and the the investigation.
"We’ve heard deeply upsetting allegations over the past five days about the spouse of the president of the Massachusetts State Senate, the body in which I serve. As terrible as all this is, both for the apparent targets of inappropriate behavior and for the Senate itself, none of us is legally or morally responsible for the actions of our spouse unless we're aware of it and don't try to stop it," Barrett said. "An independent investigator must inquire into these very questions. Until then, the presumably wronged spouse is innocent until proven otherwise and should be able to continue in his job, one the current president happens to do quite well."
While noting there were no allegations against Rosenberg in the Globe report, Sen. Eileen Donoghue of Lowell said Tuesday that senators were obligated to "make certain that he had no wrongdoing" and that he did not partake in any misconduct or "fostering misconduct."
"The mere fact that his husband had access to these victims because of Senate connection or business was a major major issue and one that sent shockwaves, quite honestly, through the Senate. It's unpreceented. To my knowledge nothing like this has happened before," Donoghue told WCAP-AM.