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WORCESTER, MA — State Sen. Harriette Chandler, a preeminent force in Worcester politics, announced her retirement on Wednesday, bringing to a close a political career that began on the Worcester School Committee in the early 1990s.
Chandler made the announcement at Worcester City Hall, saying that a new person will be in her seat by this time next year — but she still has a lot of work to do.
"Today I will return to the Senate to vote on a second COVID-recovery bill that invests $55 million into testing sites, improving youth vaccination efforts, and sourcing personal protective equipment for schools," she said. "I have robust legislative agenda that includes investing in Regional Transit, protecting student borrowers, expanding access to healthcare for seniors, and so much more that I want to accomplish in the remainder of this legislative session."
Chandler's retirement opens the door to a possible reshuffling of the Worcester political order. In recent weeks, Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty and state Rep. David LeBoeuf have been rumored to be eyeing a run for Chandler's seat, which would create openings for others to run for the state House and to serve on City Council.
LeBoeuf released a statement immediately after Chandler's announcement confirming his interest in running.
"I want to be straightforward in saying that I’m seriously considering running. In the calls and conversations I've had, the most immediate concern I’m hearing right now is that we’re losing the incredible sway and influence that Sen. Chandler has won for Central Mass through her lawmaking experience and high position of leadership," he said.
Chandler, 84, was the first woman ever elected to the state Senate from Worcester. She took the 1st Worcester seat in 2001 after serving three terms as a state representative. She was first elected to the Worcester School Committee in 1991.
Over nine terms in the Senate, she served as assistant majority whip, majority whip, assistant majority leader and majority leader. Chandler became Senate president in 2017, the second woman to hold the post after Therese Murray broke the glass ceiling after 227 years. Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Framingham, took over from Chandler in 2018.
"The [Senate] will miss Senate President Emerita Chandler’s wisdom, humor, and the compassion and care she brought to all of her work," Spilka said on Twitter. "On behalf of my fellow senators, I’d like to offer my deepest gratitude to Senator Chandler for her service and her leadership."
Chandler earned a Ph.D. from Clark University in the 1970s, initially working as an instructor at colleges including Clark, Tufts and the Worcester Polytechnic Institute. After getting a masters in business from
"And so I thought, gee I have a great education, an maybe I could be of some help, and so I decided to run for the School Committee. My mother died just before I ran, and the rest is history as they say," she told the Worcester Women's Oral History Project at Assumption University in 2010.
She ran for the 13th Worcester district state House seat in 1995 when Kevin O'Sullivan left to run for Congress. Chandler was the first woman to hold the seat since the 1920s. Three terms later, she beat Joseph Early Jr. — now the Worcester County District Attorney — in the 2000 state Senate race.
"[Early's] father [former U.S. Rep. Joe Early] had done wonderful things for so many people throughout my district, and people don’t forget nice things that are done for them. So, it was a tough race," she said in the interview. "And frankly, Joe Jr. is a nice guy. So that’s why it was such a brutal race."
During her time as a lawmaker, Chandler was key in reforming the Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) system. More recently, Chandler was key in passing the ROE Act following a veto by Gov. Charlie Baker. The law expands abortion access without parental consent, and allows abortions after 24 weeks in some cases.
"Pregnant people who once faced near-insurmountable barriers accessing abortion care can now seize the right to control their own bodies," she said when the law passed in December 2020.
Several sources in state and local politics have said Petty and LeBoeuf are the likely candidates for Chandler's seat. A win by either politician would mean changes in the political landscape.
If Petty runs and wins, the face of the City Council could change — if Petty steps down at all. The City Charter does not rule out mayors serving simultaneously in the Legislature.
But with a Petty resignation, the second place finisher in the most recent mayoral election would step into the seat. That means At-Large Council Donna Colorio would become mayor and chair of the School Committee.
A Petty resignation would also leave an At-Large Council seat vacant. Similar to filling the mayor's seat, the open seat would go to the first runner-up from the last election, the charter says. That's former District 5 Councilor Matthew Wally.
After the 2020 Census, LeBoeuf's 17th Worcester District seat was redistricted to become a majority-minority opportunity district. It now includes more core areas in Worcester, including much of Main South. City Council candidate Guillermo Creamer, a Main South resident, has been talked about as a possible contender for LeBoeuf's seat. He earned name recognition in the 2021 At-Large race, and still has money left from the campaign, according to campaign finance records.
Both Petty and LeBoeuf also have plenty of campaign cash on hand. Petty had nearly $50,000 at the end of December, and LeBoeuf close to $40,000, according to the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance. January campaign finance filings will come around Feb. 1, possibly revealing higher totals.
But Chandler's district is not limited to Worcester. The 1st Worcester District stretches from Main South northeast to Bolton, encompassing towns like Northborough, the Boylstons and Berlin. That leaves the door open for many potential candidates to enter the race — including state Reps. like Mary Keefe, John Mahoney and Megan Kilcoyne — before the May 31 deadline to run in the Sept. 20 Democratic preliminary.