State Senator Steven C. Panagiotakos, the chairman of the powerful Senate Ways and Means Committee whom many Beacon Hill insiders considered a heavy favorite to be the next Senate president, said today that he will not run for re-election this year.
His unexpected departure leaves a major void in Senate President Therese Murray's leadership team and further underscores just how much the face of the 40-member state Senate will dramatically change after this year's elections. Nearly a quarter of the incumbents have left this year or are not seeking re-election.
Panagiotakos, a 50-year-old Lowell Democrat who served two terms in the House before winning his Senate seat, said in an interview that he has been looking to end his 18-year legislative career for several years, but his elevation to the chairmanship of the Senate Ways and Means Committee three years ago put his plans on hold. He felt he owed it to Murray to help steer the state through tough economic times.
''I never looked at this as a career,'' Panagiotakos said.
His decision comes amid a raft of retirements of some veterans -- such as Democrats Joan Menard of Fall River, Susan Tucker of Andover, and Marian Walsh of West Roxbury -- and the decision of others to seek other offices. Democrats Robert O'Leary of Barnstable is running for Congress and Michael Morrissey of Quincy is seeking the Norfolk County district attorney's post.
In addition, the Senate's five-member Republican team has already lost Scott Brown to the US Senate and will see its minority leader, Richard Tisei of Wakefield, leave to run for lieutenant governor.
''It's definitely a transformational time,'' Panagiotakos said. ''We are at a crossroads as a country. That certainly causes a mood for change.''
He said he has no plans for another job, other than to fall back to his small law practice in Lowell, where he drew an $80,000 salary last year, 50 percent less than what he did before he took over the second most powerful position in the Senate in 2007. He said he has avoided actively seeking another job while chairing the Ways and Means Committee, because of the potential conflict he could create.
''I just don't want any of the entanglements,'' he said.
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