Jack Hart to leave Legislature, setting off scramble for next Senate president

State Senator John A. Hart Jr., a South Boston Democrat and heavy favorite to succeed Therese Murray as Senate president, plans to announce Tuesday that he is resigning to take a job at a law firm.

His departure will set off a behind-the-scenes race among those hoping to to be the next Senate president. Murray, a Plymouth Democrat, is bound by term limits to leave the president’s post in 2015. But some believe she may quit the Senate before that.

“When it happens, it will be a wide-open scramble,” Hart said in an interview Monday. “There are many valid candidates.”

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Hart, 51, was first elected to the House in 1996 and to the Senate in 2002, and is perhaps best known outside the State House for crooning Irish tunes and cracking corny jokes as host of the annual St. Patrick’s breakfast in South Boston.

He said serving in the Senate has been the “thrill of a lifetime” but he could not pass up a job offer from the law firm of Nelson Mullins.

“I was not interested in looking to leave at all, but this firm had approached me several weeks ago with an opportunity that was in the best interests of my wife and four children,” Hart said.

Hart said he was particularly proud of his work helping to spur the construction of the South Boston convention center, and his support for the University of Massachusetts-Boston and the South Boston beaches, which have undergone a major cleanup, along with Boston Harbor.

A special election will now be set to fill Hart’s seat. He said he believes the contest may be scheduled to coincide with the special election to fill US Senator John F. Kerry’s seat, which would mean a primary on April 30 and a general election on June 25.

The race could draw a wide field. State representatives Nick Collins of South Boston, and Martin J. Walsh and and Linda Dorcena Forry of Dorchester all live in Hart’s district.

As to whom will fill the role of emcee at the St. Patrick’s day breakfast in March, Hart said, “That’s the million dollar question.”

The job is is traditionally given to the state senator from South Boston.

In Hart’s absence, the senator said the microphone may be passed this year to a trio of South Boston politicians —City Councilor Bill Linehan, US Representative Stephen F. Lynch, and Collins—who will take turns warbling and tossing political zingers.