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Briefings: A Lesser Candidacy Testing Senate Waters…

Eric Lesser for (Senate) President? (WMassP&I)

The jockeying to permanently succeed Stanley Rosenberg as Senate President began anew last weekend amid fresh reports about the widening scandal surrounding his husband. The new details about his spouse, Bryon Hefner, have all but bulldozed Rosenberg’s narrow, delicate path back to power.

Acting Senate President Harriett Chandler is not expected to seek the job permanently. Meanwhile a top contender for president, Linda Dorcena Forry, abruptly quit last month for a private sector job. Senators Sal DiDomenico, Eileen Donoghue, and Karen Spilka have expressed interest, but they may not be alone. Longmeadow Senator Eric Lesser may join the fray.

“I would feel very confident backing Eric as Senate president,’’ Spencer Senator Anne Gobi told The Boston Globe.

WMassP&I independently confirmed Lesser has been talking to colleagues to gauge support. Sources say he has been speaking to senators individually, which may have kept a lid on leaks until now. Discussions are at a somewhat preliminary stage, though serious.

News of Lesser’s possible candidacy first appeared in The Globe.

Sen. Stan Rosenberg in 2015. (WMassP&I)

In November, The Globe published allegations of Hefner sexually harassing men who worked on and with Beacon Hill. Amid pressure, Rosenberg stepped down as the Senate’s leader on December 4 pending an investigation into Hefner’s behavior. The Senate, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley, Attorney General Maura Healey, and the FBI have opened probes.

Nonetheless, some Rosenberg allies saw a path back for him. Then this past Saturday, The Globe reported that Hefner had access to Rosenberg’s official email, which, if true, undercut the Amherst Democrat’s assurances a firewall existed between his husband and the Senate.

That reignited DiDomenico and Spilka’s maneuvering for President’s chair. The whole Senate elects the president, but practically speaking that person is whoever has the support of the majority party.

Like his potential Senate President rivals, Lesser, who turns 33 this month, has not locked down a majority of Democrats’ 31-member caucus. Two heavily Democratic seats are currently vacant. Depending on how the presidential contest shapes up, the special elections set for March and May, could become decisive.

This Lesser news comes on the heels of his recent win on East-West rail. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s draft state rail plan now includes a study of service between Boston and Springfield. Better rail service has been a hallmark of Lesser’s political identify since his first campaign for the 1st Hampden & Hampshire Senate district.

Then-not-yet-Senator Eric Lesser and President Obama in 2011. (via White House/Pete Souza)

A former aide to David Axelrod, President Barack Obama’s one-time top political advisor, Lesser was elected in 2014. It was his first campaign for elective office. Though he ran a grassroots campaign in a district spanning from Belchertown to Longmeadow, his connections to Obamaworld ensured he never wanted for cash or advice.

State and local politicos have long speculated about Lesser’s future. Some saw him and Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse as potential rivals for US Rep Richard Neal’s seat one day. However, Neal’s ascension as the top House Ways & Means Democrat—and the possibility of a Democratic House come November—has reduced the odds of a local congressional vacancy any time soon.

Other possible title bumps would also be years off. The Senate Presidency would catapult Lesser into one of the state’s most powerful positions much sooner and at a young age. Senator Gobi, speaking to The Globe, welcomed the idea of a fresh face leading the Senate.

Sen. Sal DiDomenico (via senatordidomenico.com)

Sen. Karen Spilka (via Twitter/@KarenSpilka)

The contest carries some risk. While recent Senate turnover has left Lesser relatively senior for a sophomore, others may resent his jumping the line. Spilka, who is also Senate Ways & Means chair, and DiDomenico have ten and five years of seniority over Lesser. A bloody contest could leave a defeated Lesser hobbled depending on who the victor is.

At the same time, Lesser, who was close to Rosenberg, could offer a fairly seamless transition. Their ideological bases overlap and their districts abut—though Lesser’s district is more conservative. Removed from Boston, but savvy about its machinations, his elevation would preserve some status quo while letting the Senate move on.

A spokesperson for Lesser declined to comment.

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