Massachusetts Senate President Harriette Chandler announced Wednesday that she would remain in the post through the remainder of the legislative session, with a new leader to be chosen next January. The move would appear to make it increasingly unlikely that former president Stan Rosenberg, the subject of an ongoing ethics investigation, ever returns as the Senate leader.
Chandler, a Worcester Democrat, said the decision was made with the full support of Senate Democrats during a closed-door caucus held amid a growing leadership crisis that had engulfed the chamber during the more than two months since Rosenberg stepped aside from the presidency.
Democrats agreed that Chandler would no longer be referred to as the "acting'' Senate president, ostensibly removing any question about who was in charge as the Legislature tackles the $40 billion state budget and other key bills in the coming months.
"We have work to do for the people who have elected us and 'acting' doesn't do it for us anymore," Chandler told reporters after the caucus. "We are now at the point where we need a president who has the full responsibilities and the full authority of the president of the Senate."
Chandler, 80, reiterated that she has no desire to serve as president beyond this year. She said an election to name a new president would be held on the first day of the 2019-2020 legislative session in January.
The Senate was first thrown into turmoil after The Boston Globe reported in December that several men, including some with business before the Legislature, had accused Rosenberg's husband, Bryon Hefner, of sexual assault or harassment.
The Senate Ethics Committee quickly voted to hire a Boston law firm to independently investigate whether Rosenberg violated any Senate rules in connection with the allegations. No timetable has been set for completing the probe.
Pressure mounted on senators after the Globe reported Sunday that Hefner had involved himself in matters before the Senate, including having access to Rosenberg's email account, despite Rosenberg's earlier promise to keep a "firewall" between his professional and personal lives.
The Amherst Democrat did not attend Wednesday's caucus but indicated in a statement released by his office that he backed the decisions made.
"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. "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."
Rosenberg's statement did not address whether he planned to run for re-election to his Senate seat in November, or if he had ruled out entirely the possibility of running for the presidency in January should he be fully exonerated.
A spokeswoman for Rosenberg did not immediately return a message.
By putting off the election of a new leader until next session, senators hoped to blunt for now the distraction of a high-stakes leadership battle being fought during the current session.
Democratic Sens. Karen Spilka, of Ashland, Sal DiDomenico of Everett, and Eileen Donoghue, of Lowell, have publicly indicated interest in running for Senate president. Reports surfaced in recent days that Democratic Sen. Eric Lesser, of Longmeadow, also was weighing a bid.
A spokesman for Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said he looked forward to working with Chandler to pass his administration's proposals around opioid abuse, public safety and housing. Earlier in the week, Baker said if the report about Hefner's possible involvement in Senate affairs were true, Rosenberg should not ever return as president.