Quincy Democrat Ron Mariano was elected as the new speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives Wednesday, filling the role left vacant Tuesday by longtime Speaker Robert DeLeo.
Mariano, 74, takes control of the House six days before the end of the unusual 2020-2021 lawmaking session.
Mariano had 123 votes, while his Republican opponent, Minority Leader Brad Jones, received all 31 votes from his party. State Rep. Russell Holmes, who dropped his own bid for speaker, had nominated Mariano to serve as the next speaker, during Democrats' caucus meeting.
In his first speech as speaker, Mariano cited COVID-19 response as his top priority.
"All of us have faced challenges, whether it be with at-home learning, providing for the oldest and youngest in our care or with maintaining our own mental health. And certainly no one has sacrificed more than our frontline health care workers, public safety personnel and even our grocery store clerks," Mariano said. "The climb back to where we were just one year ago will be a long one, but this is job number one: meeting the needs of each resident throughout this time of crisis."
Mariano named other issues he wants to address, including the lack of affordable housing supply -- a topic that he said could be addressed with "meaningful zoning reform" -- rising pharmaceutical costs, strengthening community hospitals and investing in offshore wind.
In an interview with NBC10 Boston, he mentioned more priorities: maintaining balance within the Democratic party while listening to all sides, climate change and helping smaller community hospitals that don't always get as much as big-city hospitals
“They’re constantly putting off improvements and equipment and building so we’re trying to devise a support system that gets more money into the coffers of community hospitals,” Mariano said.
He will need to be re-elected as speaker Wednesday at the start of the 2021-2022 two-year session, but must first navigate the final days of this two-year session. He said he's worked well with Gov. Charlie Baker and sees no reason for that to change.
Ahead of the vote on Wednesday, with his victory looking certain, Mariano tweeted a picture of the House's gavel, without adding a caption.
DeLeo -- the longest-serving speaker in state history -- formally stepped down Tuesday after he said goodbye in an at-times emotional speech.
DeLeo was applauded as he took the House floor Tuesday afternoon ahead of his 6 p.m. resignation and thanked his legislative colleagues, the body's staff and the people who have elected him.
"It's so hard to say goodbye to this place, and to the people with whom I've worked so closely and love," he said.
The half-hour-long speech ended with him stating his belief that the body he was leaving will continue its work through the challenge of the coronavirus pandemic.
"I know that I have unyielding faith in this institution, its people, all of its members and its leadership; that this house is going to rise to the occasion and our great state, Massachusetts, is going to continue to lead this nation."
In a letter to the House chamber Monday, DeLeo wrote that he would formally step down, ending a 12-year run during which he oversaw the legalization of casino gambling and passage of landmark health care, gun control and criminal justice reform laws.
Homes had said he would challenge Mariano earlier this month, but he has since announced he will no longer seek the post.
Holmes, a Mattapan Democrat, said he decided to end his candidacy after talking with many of his colleagues over the past two weeks, including a conversation he had with Mariano on Wednesday evening before the Christmas break.
"For whatever different reasons, folks were clearly with Ron and it made sense for me to not be a sore loser and throw mud into the process just because I could," Holmes said. "Folks heard my perspective. It was laid in front of the members and they've decided they want to move forward with Ron, and I have to respect that."
The State House News Service contributed to this report.