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Spilka, Chair Of Ways And Means Committee, Gains Enough Support To Become Next Senate President

Then-Senate Ways and Means Chair Karen Spilka, center, speaks before reporters as Mass. Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, left, Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker, second from left, Mass. Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders, second from right, and Mass. Attorney General Maura Healey, right, look on on Jan. 25, 2016. (Steven Senne/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
Then-Senate Ways and Means Chair Karen Spilka, center, speaks before reporters as Mass. Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, left, Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker, second from left, Mass. Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders, second from right, and Mass. Attorney General Maura Healey, right, look on on Jan. 25, 2016. (Steven Senne/AP)

Ashland Democrat Sen. Karen Spilka, the lead budget writer for the Massachusetts Senate, has emerged from a crowded, but fluid field of Democrats interested in becoming the next Senate president to seize the mantle a full nine months before senators were expected to choose their next leader.

Spilka, the chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, has the support of more than 25 of her current colleagues, according to a source close to the senator.

One of those Democrats is Sen. Sal DiDomenico, an assistant majority leader from Everett who was one of Spilka's main rivals for the president. The two senators met on Wednesday, and DiDomenico agreed to support Spilka and ask his own supporters to back her candidacy as well.

"I’m deeply honored by the support I’ve received from my fellow Senators. I look forward to working collaboratively with Senate President Chandler and my Democratic and Republican colleagues to ensure a smooth transition," Spilka said in a statement to the News Service.

"Senators have made clear that they want certainty in leadership to allow us to focus solely on the vitally important work to be done on behalf of the people at this time. It’s time to turn the page and usher in a new era of collaborative leadership in the Senate.  We will work with our colleagues in the House and with Governor Baker to ensure the faith of the public is upheld, and our work on behalf of the people of our Commonwealth always work comes first," she said.

Spilka also spoke with Chandler on Wednesday, who agreed to support her for president. Senate Democrats have a caucus planned for Thursday, but it's unclear how quickly the transition to Spilka could happen, though it is expected to occur before January, according to a source.

"I spoke with Senator Spilka this afternoon to congratulate her on winning the support of her fellow members. I look forward to serving as President for the remainder of this session, working through our legislative priorities, and ensuring a smooth transition to Senator Spilka for the 2019 session," Chandler said in a statement.

The race for Senate president has been percolating for months. Sen. Stanley Rosenberg relinquished the top leadership post after the Senate opened an Ethics Committee investigation into whether the Amherst violated any Senate rules in connection with the activities of his husband, Bryon Hefner.

Hefner has been accused of sexually harassing men with business before the Legislature and meddling in Senate affairs.

Senate President Harriette Chandler was initially named interim Senate president with the possibility left open that Rosenberg would be able to return if he was cleared by the investigation, but as new allegations surfaced and his revival became less politically viable, Chandler was named the permanent president through the end of the year.

Because Chandler has said she has no interest in running for president in January after the elections when the next Senate takes office, a number of Democrats have been lining up to jockey for votes among their colleages.

Spilka had been joined by DiDomenico, Sen. John Keenan of Quincy and Sen. Eric Lesser of Longmeadow. Lowell Sen. Eileen Donoghue was one of the earliest to express her interest in the post, but she is widely expected to resign to take the city manager job in Lowell, which will be decided later this month.

Linda Dorcena Forry was also in the mix before the Dorchester Democrat resigned from the Senate to take a job with Suffolk Construction.

Sen. Jamie Eldridge, who had originally supported Forry for president when she was still in the Senate, said he was one of those senators committed to Spilka.

"I really admire Karen's depth in a wide variety of policy areas. I think she's been a successful and tough negotiator on various budgets and conference committees and she's a progressive and is committed to the Senate's commitment to progressive policy," Eldridge said.

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