WORCESTER — State Sen. Harriette Chandler, the former president of the state Senate who has represented Worcester in the Senate for more than 20 years, will not seek reelection.
Chandler, 84, a Democrat representing the 1st Worcester District, made the announcement during a press conference at City Hall Wednesday morning in the Levi Lincoln Center, where Chandler cast her first votes as a member of the Worcester School Committee.
Chandler said Wednesday that she intends to finish out her term, saying that there is still work to be done, even on the day of her announcement.
"My work is not yet done – 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," Chandler said. "I have robust legislative agenda that includes investing in regional transit, protecting student borrowers, expanding access to health care for seniors and so much more that I want to accomplish in the remainder of this legislative session."
In an interview Tuesday, Chandler said she felt that now is the time for someone else to come in and represent her district.
"I had a wonderfully long and I think very fruitful career, and I've done many, many things. But I think now it's time for someone else to come in with new ideas, new perspectives and run," Chandler said. "We're seeing lots of people who are interested in running nowadays and I'm encouraged by that."
After serving as a member of the Worcester School Committee from 1991 to 1994, Chandler first represented Central Massachusetts on Beacon Hill as a state representative for the 13th Worcester District from 1995 to 2001, the year when Chandler became a state senator. Chandler served as the 94th president of the state Senate from 2017 to 2018.
Chandler was the first woman to be elected to the state Senate from Worcester.
Chandler's first major piece of legislation guaranteed that women could stay at least 48 hours in a maternity ward after giving birth. Later on in her tenure as a senator, Chandler advocated for the NASTY Women Act, which repealed a more than 150-year-old law banning abortion.
In 2020, Chandler sponsored the ROE Act to create an affirmative right to abortion in the state, expanded abortion access after 24 weeks and removed a parental consent requirement for 16-year-olds.
"When everybody else was going one way, Massachusetts in my bill went the other way. And now Roe v. Wade is codified into state law," Chandler said.
In her announcement Wednesday, Chandler reflected on coming to understand how fragile abortion law was in the country; several states have placed restrictions on abortion in the past several years.
"I think about just a few days ago, when we marked the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade – a monumental Supreme Court decision that changed the course of so many women’s lives for the better – and just how fragile Roe now seems today," Chandler said. "It only takes one president, one Supreme Court justice or one senator to revoke a woman’s right to choose. It only takes one politician to shift the fate of women’s rights and human rights across this country."
Time as president of state Senate
As Senate president, Chandler presided over the "grand bargain" in 2018 that set the state on the path to raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour, implemented a guaranteed paid family and medical leave program, and established a permanent sales tax holiday.
Another of Chandler's favorite pieces of legislation is her work expanding civics education and involvements across the state.
On a local level, Chandler said she has had a hand in several Worcester projects.
"I've been involved in every new school that was built in Worcester, I've had my finger in getting that to happen. I've brought millions and millions of dollars back to Worcester," Chandler said.
During her tenure, Chandler said she has a saying that has been a guiding principle.
"I have a saying that everybody who knows me knows, and that is 'Don't care who gets the credit. You can get an awful lot of things done,' " Chandler said.
In the next couple of years, Chandler said that securing a floor for funding for regional transportation authorities will be important, and she is hoping to get a bill passed on the matter in her final year.
"We've always in the past, really gotten crumbs of whatever's left after the MBTA," Chandler said. "That's not really fair because the RTAs represent more travelers than the MBTA does from Worcester on."
The state does not have enough affordable housing, Chandler said, and she added that the state must continue to do everything it can to keep building housing to meet demand.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made the issues of transportation funding and housing more important, Chandler added.
In her 28 years as a representative for Worcester on Beacon Hill, Chandler said she has witnessed the city undergo major changes. In her original campaign for School Committee, Chandler said she heard that people were not coming to Worcester in part because of poor public education. Now the city has a population of more than 200,000.
"We're going through a renaissance now. It's a wonderful thing to see," Chandler said.
The opening of the 1st Worcester District Senate seat creates an opportunity for several potential candidates to enter the race to represent Central Massachusetts on Beacon Hill. On the question of a possible successor, Chandler said she had no preferred candidate to take over her long-held seat.
"The same people that elected me, which is the general public, are going to elect my successor. I have faith in them," Chandler said.
Chandler said she is not sure what her next steps will be after leaving the state Senate, saying that she has been working since she was a teenager and hopes to continue being involved in her community.
"I will stay involved one way or another," Chandler said.
Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO and former Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray said Chandler was a "pioneer" for women seeking elected office and that her seniority in the Senate was important for Central Massachusetts.
"I'm very happy for her and her family. She has given a significant portion of her life to public service," Murray said.
Along with Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito not seeking an executive position this year, Murray said Central Mass. legislators may need to regroup to continue to influence decision making on Beacon Hill.
The 1st Worcester District after redistricting includes much of Worcester and Boylston, Berlin, Bolton, Northborough and West Boylston.
This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: State Sen. Harriette Chandler will not seek reelection