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Ronald Mariano appears to have votes to succeed DeLeo as speaker of House, supporters say

Mariano has served for years as DeLeo’s top deputy

House Speaker Robert DeLeo (left) and majority leader Ronald Mariano.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo (left) and majority leader Ronald Mariano.Globe Staff file

Ronald Mariano, a Quincy Democrat who has served for years as House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo’s top deputy, appears to have consolidated enough support to succeed DeLeo, should he end his record 12-year reign over the House in the coming weeks, according to legislative leaders and Mariano supporters.

Mariano, the House majority leader, had quietly been gathering votes well before speculation about DeLeo’s potential departure for a job at Northeastern University overtook Beacon Hill on Wednesday.

Mariano, 74, is hoping to be elected speaker before the end of the year with support from the existing group of Democrats in the House — before a new batch of state representatives is sworn in next month, according to several State House sources.

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DeLeo issued a carefully worded denial Wednesday night that he was in discussions with Northeastern about a job there, and school officials said it was “premature to comment.” DeLeo and his aides also did not address whether his lawyer or other representatives had held talks with Northeastern or address speculation that the Winthrop Democrat was on the verge of stepping down as speaker.

But by Thursday, three people briefed on the matter said the speaker could file a disclosure indicating that he is in negotiations for the Northeastern job as early as Friday.

Mariano’s supporters are moving quickly to provide a show of force for the House majority leader, framing it as just a matter of time until a new speaker is elected. They believe he has more than enough votes among the current House to become speaker, sources with knowledge of discussions said, with some saying it could be more than 100 — roughly 20 more votes than he needs.

There are currently 158 members in the House, 126 of whom are Democrats. Mariano would need a simple majority to be elected. And no significant opponent appears to have emerged so far.

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“I would say there is no speaker’s race,” said Representative Claire D. Cronin, an Easton Democrat and the House chairwoman of the judiciary committee.I think when Speaker DeLeo decides to leave or whenever he does leave, Leader Mariano will be the next speaker of the House.”

Mariano, who was first elected to the House in 1991, has served as one of the chief negotiators on a variety of high-profile legislation, including a 2018 criminal justice reform package, the legislative overhaul of the voter-approved marijuana legalization law, and a 2014 measure tightening the state’s gun control law.

DeLeo has also often leaned on him to shepherd complicated health care bills through talks with the Senate, including a 2012 cost containment law. And he’s operated within House leadership since 2009, the same year DeLeo rose to power, first as assistant majority leader and later, as the number two Democrat in the House.

More than a dozen new Democrats will be sworn in on Jan. 6. But it’s not clear how many would back Mariano, who is more conservative than many of the new lawmakers. Several newly elected representatives contacted Thursday declined comment, saying they were unaware of what has been going on behind the scenes.

Although Mariano is said to have more than enough votes from existing representatives to be elected speaker — even after some departures in January — he’s also reluctant to wait for the new members to take part in the voting and debate over the future leadership, someone close to Mariano said.

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“It’s the politics of inertia,” said the Mariano associate. “The more time goes by, the more opportunities for something to go awry. "

The only other known potential candidate for speaker, Representative Patricia Haddad, has told her supporters they should support Mariano, according to the person close to Mariano. Haddad — the House speaker pro tempore, the body’s third-highest ranking Democrat — declined to comment.

Representative Thomas A. Golden Jr., a Lowell Democrat, said he thought selecting Mariano as speaker could help ensure “continuity” when DeLeo retires.

“Do I think there could be change coming? Yeah, I do. And when that change happens, it will be an orderly transition,” Golden said.

There could be a backlash, however, among more progressive House members, who may rebel against what could appear as a middle-of-the-night plot to quickly install a new speaker without an open process.

Representative Russell E. Holmes, a Mattapan Democrat, chafed at the apparent selection of Mariano, who is white, given there is already a lack of people of color within positions of power in the House. DeLeo’s immediate leadership team is entirely white and just one of the 13 House members on the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative caucus holds a chairmanship — Frank A. Moran, who heads the House Committee on Personnel and Administration.

“White men should not be making this decision,” said Holmes, adding that conversations about a possible succession have been quietly happening for weeks among members. “You walk into the speaker’s office and all you see is nothing but pictures of white men, as if they were the only folks in the 300 some-odd years to run this Legislature. The time has come for change.”

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Senator Diana DiZoglio, a former representative who clashed with DeLeo over the House’s use of nondisclosure agreements in settlements, said she hopes that whatever process is used to pick the next speaker “is fair and transparent and respectful of all of the members of the Legislature.”

“But it’s not just the speaker that needs to change,” the Methuen Democrat said. “It’s the toxic culture that has been cultivated under [DeLeo’s] autocratic leadership that needs to change also.”

Deirdre Fernandes of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout. Andrea Estes can be reached at andrea.estes@globe.com.