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Harriette Chandler to remain Senate president this year

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Acting Senate President Harriette Chandler addressed reporters at the State House on Wednesday.

By and Globe Staff 

Senate Democrats decided Wednesday to keep Senator Harriette L. Chandler as their leader for the rest of the year, closing off the possibility that former Senate president Stanley C. Rosenberg could return to power in 2018 after reports that his husband tried to meddle in Senate business.

The move is an attempt to end weeks of intense political jockeying that had disrupted policy making on Beacon Hill. It also punts the high-stakes election for a permanent president until a newly elected Senate convenes in 2019.

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“I am confident that Senate President Chandler will serve the Senate and the Commonwealth with distinction,” said Rosenberg, who has been laid low by allegations of sexual assault against his husband, Bryon Hefner.

After meeting with her colleagues behind closed doors for several hours, Chandler, an 80-year-old Democrat from Worcester, announced that the Senate would remove the word “acting” from her title at a formal session Thursday — a change that strengthens her hand as she negotiates legislation with the more conservative House of Representatives and governor.

“We have work to do for the people who have elected us,” Chandler, standing with Democratic colleagues, told reporters at the State House. “And ‘acting’ doesn’t quite do it any more. We are now at the point where we need a president who has the full responsibilities and the full authority of a presidency.”

Chandler said she would relinquish the presidency on Jan. 2, 2019, when the newly elected Senate will vote for a new Senate president. She also confirmed that Rosenberg would not return to the presidency this year.

Chandler, formerly Rosenberg’s top deputy, was chosen as acting president by her colleagues in December to fill in for Rosenberg, who stepped aside after the Globe detailed accusations from four men who alleged that Rosenberg’s husband had sexually assaulted or harassed them and who said Hefner bragged he could influence Senate business.

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Over the weekend, the Globe reported that Hefner had access to Rosenberg’s e-mails, tried to affect the state budget, and involved himself in the workings of Rosenberg’s office, as well as in Senate affairs — all after Rosenberg had promised a “firewall” between his personal life and Senate business. The story cited interviews with unnamed people who dealt with Hefner, as well as communications reviewed by the newspaper.

Rosenberg, who remains a senator, took issue with that report Sunday, saying it included “a number of significant factual inaccuracies.” He has declined to specify what they were.

The Senate Committee on Ethics is investigating whether Rosenberg broke chamber rules. That probe is ongoing.

“I support what’s best for the Senate and the Commonwealth, and I deeply regret the disruption that has been caused by the necessity of the investigation,” said Rosenberg, who was not at the meeting of his colleagues. “I reiterate that Bryon had no influence over my actions or decisions as Senate president, and I look forward to the completion of the investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee.”

The decision to retain Chandler as president sets the stage for what could be an 11-month struggle to fill a power vacuum that emerged after Rosenberg’s abrupt fall from power.

At the same time, senators of both parties said it would give the membership some breathing room after weeks during which the internal horse race for the presidency has overshadowed more substantive concerns. Senate leaders are putting together their state budget proposal for the new fiscal year, are expected to release a wide-ranging energy bill on Monday, and are in the midst of negotiations with the House over differing criminal justice legislation passed by each chamber.

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“What it does do is allow us to focus not on a race for Senate president but on the matters that are before us as a Legislature, and there are many,” said Senator Bruce E. Tarr, the Republican leader. He added that the Chandler decision “removes the sense of urgency” about picking a new leader and “creates a much more stable process.”

At least two Democratic senators, Sal N. DiDomenico of Everett and Karen E. Spilka of Ashland, have been vying for the post. Another senator, Eileen M. Donoghue of Lowell, had also said she would seek the chamber’s presidency, should it open. Eric P. Lesser of Longmeadow is weighing a bid for the top legislative post, as well.

But Lesser said Wednesday that, like his colleagues, he supports Chandler as leader until 2019 because it will give the Senate a break from the public maneuvering for the top job.

“Everyone is ready to take a pause,” Lesser said. “We’re all united behind Harriette Chandler, and we’ll have a discussion about the future in the new session.”

Spilka, DiDomenico, and Donoghue all released statements backing Chandler. And they all emphasized the work ahead for the Senate in the months before the formal legislative session ends in July.


Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com
Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com.