The report from the Massachusetts State Senate Ethics Committee released yesterday may have tarred former Senate President Stan Rosenberg, but it didn’t feather him.
Rosenberg stepped down from the chamber’s presidency last December in a self-sacrificing cloud of reluctance after The Boston Globe published allegations that his husband Bryon Hefner sought to trade sex for Senate influence.
Publication of the ethics report, which was full of raunchy details, had an explosive effect. Some Rosenberg admirers had hoped for a vindication — even if partial.
That was not to be: Rosenberg was found guilty of a “significant failure of judgement and leadership.” This is not an indictable crime, but in a business where trust is prized currency, it’s a spiritual stain.
- Governor Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey turned up the heat on Rosenberg when they called for him to resign shortly after the ethics report was released. Other senators have joined in, notably Jamie Eldridge, a leading progressive. Heartfelt? No doubt. At the moment, however, it’s political theater.
- Whether by accident or design, the Ethics Committee did Rosenberg a favor by releasing its report a day after the deadline had passed for candidates to register to run against Rosenberg.
- The ethics report recommends that the senate bar Rosenberg from holding any leadership position, including committee chairmanships, until 2021. The senate will consider this recommendation, perhaps as early as today. It could require a change in senate rules to make the sanctions harsher, one senator told me.
- Members of the Ethics Committee told reporters that it was up to Rosenberg’s constituents to decide whether he returns to office.
- Rosenberg, who is 68, hasn’t faced a primary opponent since he was elected to the senate in 1991. Democrat Chelsea Sunday Kline of Northampton has pulled papers to oppose him. She needs to collect 300 signatures to get a slot of September’s primary ballot.
- Rosenberg went into this scandal with deep reservoirs of affection and respect. What remains is an open question. Rosenberg evinced an air of confident innocence that belied his deep belief in himself. Was it an act of defiance, or delusion? How his colleagues answer that question could matter. But at the moment, as the senate decides to accept the ethics sanctions — or extend them — the initiative sits with Rosenberg. Can he "Bill Clinton" it out? Can he make a post-Chappaquiddick-like mea culpa, in the spirit of Ted Kennedy? Does he have a Trumpian stomach for existential combat?