Dick Mazza, dean of the Vermont Senate, resigns

Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Grand Isle, in the Senate Transportation Committee room at the Statehouse on Tuesday, February 6, 2024. (VtDigger - Glenn Russell)

Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Grand Isle, in the Senate Transportation Committee room at the Statehouse on Tuesday, February 6, 2024. (VtDigger - Glenn Russell) VtDigger — Glenn Russell

By ETHAN WEINSTEIN andPAUL HEINTZ

VtDigger

Published: 04-09-2024 11:51 AM

Vermont’s longest-serving state senator resigned Monday.

Sen. Dick Mazza, a Democrat from Colchester, had represented the Grand Isle Senate district for close to four decades, making him the second-longest serving senator in Vermont history. He was considered one of its most influential members, chairing the Senate Transportation Committee and serving on the Senate’s powerful Committee on Committees. 

In a letter to Gov. Phil Scott, Mazza wrote that, “with great sadness,” he had decided to step down, effective Monday. 

“Due to health reasons, I am unable to provide the quality of service and dedication I have always given to my constituents and the State of Vermont,” Mazza wrote. “Having dedicated representation has always been one of my top priorities and I believe the people I serve deserve someone who can provide their full attention to this critical position.”

Representing his community at the Statehouse, Mazza wrote, had been “the privilege of a lifetime.”

Mazza, 84, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last fall and suffered other ailments, including a broken hip, he told VTDigger earlier this year. He rarely made it to the Vermont Statehouse this legislative session, though he was able to participate remotely in committee hearings and occasional floor votes. 

Mazza’s family declined to elaborate on his health Monday. 

In a written statement, Scott said, “It would be difficult to find a Vermonter who has been more impactful, committed or dedicated to public service over the past four decades than Senator Dick Mazza.” The governor, who is one of Mazza’s closest friends, said the Senate “will not be the same without his humor, enthusiasm, practicality and dedication.”

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In an interview Monday, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Baruth, D/P-Chittenden Central, called it “a very sad day.” Mazza, he said, had been “a giant in Vermont legislative history.”

“I know that he’s being cared for very lovingly by his family and has friends and loved ones around him, so that is a comfort to all of us who love him and respect him,” Baruth said.

Like all members of the Legislature, Mazza’s two-year term would have expired in January 2025. He had not previously indicated whether he would seek reelection this fall. 

Vermont statute calls on the governor to fill legislative vacancies by appointment. Scott may, but is not required to, choose from a list of candidates put forward by the local political party of the outgoing legislator. In his statement Monday, Scott did not weigh in on that process. 

The full Senate will be charged with naming a new “third member” to the Committee on Committees, which makes all other committee appointments. Baruth and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman also serve on the panel. 

The Committee on Committees would presumably appoint a successor to Mazza as chair of the transportation committee. Sen. Andrew Perchlik, D/P-Washington, the transportation panel’s vice chair, has been running it this session in Mazza’s absence.

Baruth said Monday that he hoped the roles Mazza was leaving would be filled soon.

“We need to make sure that we quickly turn the page on those positions of authority that he was in,” Baruth said, adding that he expects Perchlik will take over Mazza’s leadership of the transportation committee. 

Given his close relationship with the governor and lengthy tenure, Mazza may play an unusually prominent role in determining his successor, according to those who have discussed the process with him. 

David Carter, chair of the South Hero Selectboard, who has known Mazza for four decades, said he visited with the senator twice last week to discuss who might fill the seat.

“He wanted to have several names from Grand Isle County,” Carter said of Mazza. 

Carter ultimately recommended two names to Mazza, he said: the county Democratic Party chair, Deborah Lang, and executive director of the Lake Champlain Islands Economic Development Corporation Andy Julow, a former Democratic candidate for Vermont House.

Usually the process would move more slowly, Carter said, but “time is not the luxury we have right now.”

According to Jim Dandeneau, executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party, Mazza is also recommending to the governor three people from Colchester. 

Mazza, Dandeneau said, has been a “thoughtful, hardworking public servant for a really long time. We’re never going to find someone to replace that.” 

In an interview Monday, Rep. Patrick Brennan, R-Colchester, said he was “very seriously” considering running for Mazza’s seat and had talked to the senator about it last month.

“The way we left it was if he chose not to run, I would most likely run for that seat,” Brennan said. 

Mazza was first elected to the House in 1972, succeeding his father, Joseph Mazza, Sr. After two terms, the younger Mazza took a break — and then was elected to the Senate in 1984. A lifelong resident of Colchester, he is the owner of Dick Mazza’s General Store.