Congressional redistricting is a perilous political process even in the best of times, when no seats are going to be eliminated. There is so much at stake for different groups and the fortunes of the politicians themselves that it can easily turn into a lightning rod for controversy– so the process needs to be cleaner than clean. State Senator Stanly Rosenberg is the co-chair of the committee the will be redrawing the districts and has to determine which of the 10 congressmen will be the odd man out when the number drops to 9 next election. It’s well known that Rosenberg used to work for Congressman John Olver, is his close friend and hopes to inherit his seat. He was asked about a possible conflict of interest in this channel 5 interview and responded (about 6 min mark) that that is a “When did you stop beating your wife type question,” that all legislators would like to move up if they got the chance, and that he is close friends with all the congressional members. While it’s seems unlikely that he is equally close to Olver as he is with, say, Steve Lynch, there is a sliver of truth to this point. As long as legislators are doing the redistricting, it probably is almost inevitable that the pols involved know each other. In current day MA politics, this is standard operating procedure and pretty much accepted.
As we know from recent casino debate, Rosenberg believes it is a threat to democracy to even talk about the perception that legislators might be operating with a conflict of interest. Those comments have been made to look even more ridiculously disingenuous than they already did, as it turns out that Senator Roseberg has been working with a very real conflict of interest on the powdereg issue of redistricting . Today the Globe reported that Rosenberg not only has long-time personal ties to Congressman Olver, he also has long-time financial ones. It turns out Rosenberg co-owns a Beacon Hill condo with Olver, and has for 25 years:
The two also co-own a $396,300 Beacon Hill condominium at 33 Myrtle Street. They have owned the condo since 1987, when Olver was in the state Senate and Rosenberg was elected to the House. Rosenberg currently uses the flat, and Olver sublets his portion of it.
Rosenberg heatedly rejects that his close ties to the Amherst Democrat pose a conflict of interest as he heads up the redistricting task. Nor, he says, does it offer any reason to recuse himself.
“It’s absurd,’’ said Rosenberg. “How does co-owning a flat become a conflict of interest?’’
The answer, of course, is that it becomes a conflict of interest when you become chair of the committee deciding what congressional seat to eliminate, and the person with whom you co-own a “flat” also holds one of the 10 seats you have to pick from. And what is “absurd” is the contention that this is not a blatant and obvious conflict of interest. Seriously, if having a shared $400,000 asset does not constitute a conflict of interest, what does? It seems that to Senator Rosenberg a conflict of interest is something like the tooth fairy, a (spoiler alert) mythical creature that doesn’t really exist, but occasionally leaves something of value under your pillow. In Stan’s case here, roughly 400,000 silver dollars plus the potential to protect his co-owner.
It’ll be interesting to see if Rosenberg can stay on as co-chair of the redistricting committee with this out there. Did leadership know about the depths of Rosenberg’s financial ties with Olver? With so many powerful interests at stake, a blatant conflict of interest like this could very well be too much to carry forward. If Senator Rosenberg does get replaced it will be also interesting to see if Senate leadership lets current vice-chair Sonia Chang-Diaz become chair, or if they insert someone else above her.