March 10, 2015

Our Man at the State House

Senate President Stan Rosenberg ’77

When Stan Rosenberg ’77 was elected president of the Massachusetts State Senate January 7, he became one of the three most powerful elected officials in the commonwealth. He took command of a $10 million budget and a staff of 70 and began work on crafting a $36 billion state budget. The 65-year-old Amherst Democrat, who won his first election in 1986, is the first openly gay Jewish man as well as the first western Massachusetts senator in 40 years to control the gavel in the senate chambers.

Rosenberg’s path to the Senate presidency was neither swift nor conventional. He became a foster child as a preschooler. After graduating from high school, he went off on his own to Amherst. A self-supporting college student, he drove a hot dog cart at one point to earn money. He earned a bachelor’s degree in arts administration and community development. “The guy is really a testament to the public sector and its support systems,” says Jerome Mileur, emeritus professor of political science at UMass Amherst and an early advisor to Rosenberg.

Unlike the many well-heeled attorneys who become lawmakers, Rosenberg entered politics after working in the Division of Continuing Education at UMass Amherst as a community organizer for the arts. Rosenberg says his experiences at UMass Amherst—from playing tuba in the marching band, to academics, to being befriended by faculty and staff—were essential to his professional and personal development. As a faithful alumnus, Rosenberg wants to keep UMass affordable and accessible. “Public higher education is still a great bargain. We have to move back toward the direction of higher state appropriations and lower student debt,” he says.

A legislator for nearly three decades, Rosenberg has solid credentials as a progressive devoted to social and economic justice. “I try to ensure that everybody has an opportunity to share in the American dream, share in the prosperity, and that everyone has an equal place in society,” he says. As a freshman state representative, he immediately went to work to create a better life for children in foster care. He joined three other legislators—all former foster children—to establish the Foster Kid Caucus, which advocated for the passage of 28 laws designed to improve the experiences of children in the foster care system. One of the laws provides for tuition payment for foster children to attend a public college or university.  An early environmentalist, one of Rosenberg’s first “big issues” was passing a law that banned tires from landfills. His legislative strategies have been credited with preserving the rights of same-sex couples to marry: in 2003, he led an effort to prevent opponents of gay marriage from taking action that would have overturned a court decision that made Massachusetts the first state in the country to permit same-sex marriages.

Rosenberg has many political supporters as well as close Amherst friends. Frieda Howards ’76G, ’84G is one of his friends who sees a private side to the politician. She says, “I don’t think of him as one of the most powerful politicians in the state but as the guy who cares about people.”