Massachusetts Senate President Stan Rosenberg changed course Monday and agreed to relinquish his responsibilities as Senate leader during an investigation into sexual misconduct allegations involving his husband.
Rosenberg had originally said he would recuse himself only from any matters related to the investigation or the allegations against Bryon Hefner.
On Monday, Rosenberg informed senators just prior to a closed-door Democratic caucus that he would step aside temporarily, though he would remain in the Senate.
"I believe taking a leave of absence from the Senate Presidency during the investigation is in the best interest of the Senate," Rosenberg said in a statement. "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."
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Rosenberg, who has not been accused of wrongdoing, expressed shock over the allegations reported last week by The Boston Globe. The Democrat maintained that his husband had no influence over his policy decisions or actions by the Senate.
Most Democratic senators were grim-faced and refused comment as they entered the caucus, which ran well beyond the scheduled start of a Senate session. Lawmakers were expected to vote later Monday on a plan to appoint an independent investigator whose focus likely would be on whether Rosenberg knew about Hefner's alleged behavior, or if Hefner had any clout when it came to matters before the chamber.
Only one senator, Andover Democrat Barbara L'Italien, had publicly called on Rosenberg to step aside "for the sake of the institution" as president until the investigation is completed.
L'Italien told reporters she did not see how alleged victims could come forward during the investigation if Rosenberg was still presiding over the Senate. She also said it would be difficult for the Senate to conduct normal business under the circumstances.
"With a very ambitious agenda for January, I don't see how we can accomplish any of this with this cloud hanging over his head," said L'Italien, who recently announced her candidacy for the 3rd congressional district seat.
Another Democrat, Sen. Michael Barrett of Concord, said it was unfair to ask Rosenberg to step aside over allegations against his spouse.
Sen. Bruce Tarr, the Republican leader in the Senate, backed Rosenberg's decision, saying it could make it easier for victims to come forward to investigators.
The scenario unfolding on Monday was without modern precedent in the Senate, leaving many questions as to who would preside over the Senate and how business would operate during Rosenberg's leave from the presidency.
Several men told the Globe that Hefner sexually assaulted or harassed them, including three men who said Hefner grabbed their genitals.
The men, who were not named by the Globe, said they did not report the alleged incidents partly because they did not want to alienate the powerful Senate leader.
Rosenberg said Friday that Hefner would soon enter treatment for alcohol dependency.