State Sen. Jack Hart, a South Boston Democrat who had been widely viewed as a possible successor to Senate President Therese Murray, announced Tuesday that he was leaving the Legislature to join a private law firm.
Hart, 51, has accepted a post in government relations for the Boston office of Nelson Mullins Reilly and will help the firm expand its lobbying business in Massachusetts, according to a release from the firm. Hart said the move was in the best interests of his family.
His unanticipated departure from the Senate could set off a scramble to succeed Murray, who is barred by term limits from serving in the top leadership job beyond March 2015. Hart, who served as an assistant majority leader in the last session, had been considered a likely candidate to replace her.
Hart was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 1996 and elected to the Senate in 2002, succeeding Stephen Lynch, who was elected to the U.S. House that year.
He worked closely with Boston officials during his tenure to revitalize the city's seaport district and also co-authored legislation that helped lead to construction of the sprawling Boston Convention & Exhibition Center in South Boston.
He called his years in public service "the thrill of a lifetime."
Tuesday's announcement also will trigger the need for a special election to fill Hart's Senate seat.
Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, a Democrat from Boston's Dorchester neighborhood, said on her Facebook page that she would seriously consider becoming a candidate for Hart's seat and would decide within the next few days.
Former Boston City Councilor Michael Flaherty, who unsuccessfully challenged Boston Mayor Thomas Menino in 2009, said on his Facebook page that he had received calls encouraging him to run for Hart's seat but would leave that decision for another day.
Another vacancy created by Hart's departure is that of host of the annual South Boston St. Patrick's Day breakfast, famous for its well-timed political barbs and one-liners.
In a statement Tuesday, Murray called Hart a "trusted friend," a "great public servant" and a "go-to guy" whose presence will be missed at the Statehouse.
"For the last 16 years, he has been a steady force in the legislature and a rock in his community," Murray said. "He has taken on many challengers and worn many hats, including that of local celebrity as he gamely and ably carried on the storied tradition of South Boston's annual St. Patrick's Day Breakfast."
Hart planned to deliver a farewell speech to the Senate on Thursday and his final day in the Legislature will be Friday, according to his office.
Jennifer Jackson, Hart's Senate chief-of-staff, was also hired to join Nelson Mullins, according to the firm.
This article was originally published on January 29, 2013.
This program aired on January 29, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.