Succession Speculation Swirls as Senators Return to Beacon Hill

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By Michael P. Norton

BOSTON — As lawmakers prepare to huddle Monday and discuss the impact of sexual assault and harassment allegations on the Senate, several senators appear in the mix for a promotion to Senate president in the event that Sen. Stanley Rosenberg steps down from that post, according to a strategist.

Bryon Hefner

Since Thursday afternoon, when the Boston Globe reported that Rosenberg’s husband, Bryon Hefner, had allegedly assaulted or harassed four men whose jobs are linked to influencing Beacon Hill policy, many senators have been circumspect when asked about the situation, Rosenberg’s options, or about potential successors.

“There are three women who are already trying to become the next Senate president as we speak making phone calls. Linda Dorcena Forry is one of them and considered the frontrunner,” Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh told WCVB’s “On the Record” in a program that aired Sunday morning. “Eileen Donoghue is another. Karen Spilka is the third. Sal DiDomenico is the fourth. You have to say that Linda Dorcena Forry right now is the frontrunner but she would have to sew up those votes and convince everyone that she could start that job tomorrow.”

If Rosenberg moves on, either from the presidency or the Senate, Republican Ginny Buckingham said senators should elect “someone different” as president.

“Harriette Chandler depending on how she conducts herself in this investigation. Linda Dorcena Forry would be fascinating. Just something to shake up the culture,” Buckingham said on the same program Sunday morning.

Chandler, the current majority leader, and Minority Leader Bruce Tarr are working on an order laying out plans for an independent investigation. The order could emerge for Senate consideration on Monday afternoon, and even its introduction on the Senate floor would bring the Senate into uncharted territory.

Chandler, a Worcester Democrat, announced last Thursday night that Rosenberg would remain Senate president during the investigation — it’s unclear how many senators agree with that ruling. Rosenberg has not addressed his capacity to lead the Senate under the current circumstances, ignoring that question Friday afternoon after he read a statement to a pack of media set up outside the president’s office.

While Rosenberg has said Hefner has had “no influence” on Senate business and should not have suggested otherwise, Marsh made note of Rosenberg’s zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy in the Senate and his three-year-old assertion that he’d put a “firewall” between Hefner and Senate operations.

“The problem for Stan Rosenberg is his ability to do his job as Senate president,” Marsh said. “He promised two things — that there would be a zero-tolerance policy and a firewall between him and his husband, previously. Neither one of those things has happened. So if you are either unwilling or unable keep your promises in your job as Senate president it is hard to see how you can continue in that job.”

On Dec. 3, 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 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 that Hefner grabbed their genitals, occurred after Rosenberg’s firewall declaration. The Globe’s Yvonne Abraham reported Friday that the men would prefer the investigation occur outside the confines of the Senate, are “still afraid to be named publicly,” and “not yet sure whether they’ll cooperate with an investigation into their allegations.”

“I think we have to keep in mind Senator Rosenberg shouldn’t have to pay the price for Matt Lauer and Harvey Weinstein and Ray Moore. This should stand on its own merits and on the evidence that is found,” said Buckingham, who served as chief of staff under Gov. William Weld. “Having said that, the fact that the four victims will not come forward because they are worried about retaliation, I think says a lot.”

Added Marsh, “Many people blame Hillary Clinton for Bill Clinton’s behavior, which I don’t believe. But in this case it goes to the heart of his job. And if there is a pattern of behavior here which he has been unable to stop professionally, that’s a different matter.”

Sen. Barbara L’Italien on Friday said Rosenberg should give up the presidency for the duration of the investigation.

“When this came down on Thursday, it felt like a neutron bomb went off in the Senate,” L’Italien told “On the Record” Sunday. “Stan’s been highly regarded. He’s done a lot of wonderful things. He’s opened up the leadership. But this is a very serious matter. And this is something that for the sake of the institution we need to think about no one person. We need to think about the institution and we need to be focused on the victims.”

Asked about the credibility, among senators, of Rosenberg’s claim that he was unaware of any of the allegations against Hefner until they were reported in the Globe, L’Italien said, “My sense is that most people feel that he had no idea, that he was really the last to know. And my heart aches for him. But nonetheless we need to focus on the victims at this point and I truly believe that victims are not going to step forward to an evaluation that’s being done, a report that will be handed back to the [Senate] leadership team. I just don’t think they’ll come forward. My understanding is that they were very well vetted by the Globe, by Yvonne Abraham. Very well vetted. They were corroborated by other people as well. But they were able to maintain anonymity.”

A source familiar with the thinking of some senators told the News Service some senators agree with L’Italien’s call for Rosenberg to give up the presidency during the investigation, while others think Rosenberg should give up the presidency for good and still others believe he should resign from the Senate.

At a closed caucus on Monday, L’Italien said she expects an investigation order to be discussed as well as Rosenberg’s role in the Senate.

“I’ve spoken with some folks who are very, very concerned about the institution, again sad for the Senate president but very concerned about the institution and concerned that the victims will not feel comfortable stepping forward,” she said. She added, “I trust that he will do the right thing.”

The Senate needs to “solve this and solve this quickly,” said L’Italien, stressing the importance of focusing in January on major health care and criminal justice bills that gained momentum in the first year of the two-year session, but which are unfinished products.

Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz said Sunday she supports an investigation, but “it should not be the entirety of the government’s response to these allegations.”

“Sexual assault and sexual harassment must not be tolerated under any circumstances,” Chang-Diaz said in a statement. “I am distressed and deeply saddened by these allegations, and my heart breaks for the people who have faced these violations. And to feel, when contemplating whether to report an assault, trapped between protecting yourself and protecting the community for whom you’re advocating or the political change you’re seeking, is another violation. I fully support an independent investigation. A Senate investigation of its own members and systems is an important component of an appropriate and rigorous response. The Senate should ask itself some hard questions.”

Chang-Diaz continued, “However, I believe it’s important to recognize the limits of any Senate investigation. The Senate has no actual jurisdiction over Mr. Hefner. We also need to be humble and cautious in our assumptions about how impartial we can be, even when informed by an independent investigator. In my experience, I have found Stan Rosenberg to be a principled and deeply compassionate human being, who defends the interests of victims across the board. And as an institutional leader, I have seen him put enormous initiative into building a culture of transparency, professionalism, and respect in the Senate. I know these things to be true and that, perhaps, also makes me partial.”

Through a spokesman, Rosenberg declined to comment Sunday night about succession speculation or L’Italien’s call for him to cede the presidency.

When the Senate adjourned Thursday, before the Globe story was published, senators agreed to meet again on Monday at 11 a.m. for another informal session, usually a quiet affair this time of year. Monday is shaping up to be anything but that, with senators getting ready to head back into formal session less than two weeks after completing what was billed as their last formal session of 2017.

Late Friday afternoon, Chandler and Tarr sketched out their plans for Monday in a statement.

They said the procedure for appointing an independent investigator will begin, with Chandler taking on the roles and responsibilities as Senate president on “all matters pertaining to the Senate investigation regarding Bryon Hefner.” Chandler and Tarr said they expect the Senate to adopt an order and they said they “will not be coordinating or discussing anything pertaining to this matter with the Senate President and his staff.”

A closed Republican caucus is planned for 10:30 a.m., with a closed Democratic caucus at 11 a.m. in Room 428, and then yet another closed caucus, this one of all senators, at noon in Room 428. Chandler and Tarr plan a 12:30 p.m. press availability in Room 222. Senators are tentatively planning a formal session Monday afternoon in Gardner Auditorium. That’s where the order, and public comments on it, are likely to finally emerge.