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January 22, 2014

Updated: Fox's Widower, Michael Sirotkin, Expresses "Interest" in Her Senate Seat

SirotkinUpdated below with news that former Vermont Democratic Party chairman Jake Perkinson and Rep. Kesha Ram (D-Burlington) have dropped out and endorsed Sirotkin. Rep. Tim Jerman (D-Essex Junction), meanwhile, says he will stay in the race. Gov. Shumlin says he's "thrilled" Sirotkin is interested.

In a move likely to upend the contest to fill a Chittenden County state senate seat opened up by the death of Sally Fox, her husband of 36 years says he's interested in succeeding her.

Michael Sirotkin, a longtime lobbyist and well-known figure in Montpelier, wrote Chittenden County Democratic Party chairman David Scherr late Tuesday to raise the possibility.

"Please accept this letter as an indication of my interest in being appointed to Sally's Senate seat," Sirotkin wrote. "Sally had months ago expressed an interest in my doing so, although clearly our first preference was always that the choice would never present itself. After much soul searching and encouragement from others, I decided I would welcome the opportunity if given such honor by your Committee and the Governor."

Sirotkin's decision comes just hours before an 80-member committee of Chittenden County Democrats is set to winnow the field to three candidates, whose names will be forwarded to Gov. Peter Shumlin. The governor is free to appoint a replacement from that list, or he can select his own candidate. 

"I sincerely apologize for the lateness of this request," Sirotkin wrote. "As I am sure you can imagine, the last 3 weeks have been extremely difficult for those closest to Sally."

Fox died January 10 after a two-year battle with sarcoma.

In the email, Sirotkin said he is currently out of state and therefore won't be able to attend Wednesday's meeting of Chittenden County Dems, which is scheduled for 6:30 at Burlington's Fletcher Free Library. Neither Sirotkin nor Scherr could immediately be reached for comment.

Sirotkin is no stranger to the Statehouse. The South Burlington attorney has worked as a lobbyist for more than three decades and is a partner in one of Montpelier's most influential lobby shops, Sirotkin & Necrason. 

While the contest to replace Fox includes a number of heavy hitters, Sirotkin's late entrance will undoubtedly alter its dynamics. No favorite has yet emerged, and no candidate can make the case more persuasively than Sirotkin that he or she would carry on Fox's legacy in the Senate.

Among the other contenders are Reps. Tim Jerman (D-Essex Junction) and Kesha Ram (D-Burlington), former Vermont Democratic Party chairman Jake Perkinson, Williston selectboard member and former Senate candidate Debbie Ingram and Burlington consultant Dawn Ellis.

In an unrelated development, philanthropist and Democratic donor Crea Lintilhac withdrew from the race Tuesday evening.

Updated at 9:32 a.m.:

Former Vermont Democratic Party chairman Jake Perkinson, who was considered a leading contender for Fox's seat, emailed committee members Wednesday morning to say he was dropping out of the race and endorsing Sirotkin. 

Perkinson, a Burlington attorney and political consultant, urged committee members to "unanimously endorse" Sirotkin.

"This morning I learned through news reports that it was Sally's desire that her husband, Michael Sirotkin, fulfill the remainder of her term in the State Senate," Perkinson wrote. "I want to honor her wish by withdrawing my name from consideration and asking the Chittenden County Senatorial Committee to unanimously endorse Michael Sirotkin as the single choice of the committee."

He added, "My respect for Sally’s wisdom and her life-long dedication to the core values of the Democratic Party give me the confidence that she made the best choice for the people of Vermont."

Updated at 9:47 a.m.:

Shortly after Perkinson notified committee members he was withdrawing, Rep. Kesha Ram (D-Burlington) said in an email to fellow candidates that she would follow his lead.

"I have seen Jake already graciously withdraw his name for consideration," Ram wrote. "This is a difficult, though courageous and healing decision for Michael to make. He would make an effective senator and would deeply maintain Sally's legacy. I believe we should all follow Jake's lead and withdraw our names, hopefully making way for a motion to advance Michael Sirotkin's name unanimously. 

Updated at 12:50 p.m.:

Not every candidate is jumping ship.

"I'm still in the race," Rep. Jerman said early Wednesday afternoon in the Statehouse cafeteria.

"I think it's kind of exciting that Michael's interested," he added. "His name has been surfaced going way back. I've known Michael, like Sally, forever — and I know his work in the building. I think he would do a fabulous job and hit the ground running and has all the experience."

Referring to Sirotkin's long tenure as a lobbyist, Jerman said, "He would obviously have to figure out his professional— be done with the firm and all in a short period of time. That would be some work, but nothing insurmountable there."

Asked why he decided to stay in the race, Jerman said, "I really want this to be a successful process. We'll have our meeting tonight. We hope everybody attends. And we'll go from there."

Gov. Peter Shumlin also briefly weighed in on the news of Sirotkin's interest at the governor's weekly press conference Wednesday morning. 

"We're all obviously going to miss Sally Fox tremendously," the governor said. "What I have said is I will let the process work. I'm thrilled that Michael Sirotkin is interested in the job. As you know, most of us just learned that, and we'll let the process move forward."

Asked what qualities he's looking for in candidates seeking to replace Fox in the Senate, Shumlin said, "What I always look for is someone who can represent Chittenden County with distinction and who is able to, in this case, make sure that they carry on the legacy of Sally's, which was a real deep concern for folks with children and for folks living in poverty."

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