After a day of high drama in Vermont political circles, Chittenden County Democrats on Wednesday evening settled on three names to send Gov. Peter Shumlin as he considers who should fill the county's vacant senate seat.
Among them was the race's most recent entrant — and its heavy favorite: Michael Sirotkin, whose late wife, Sally Fox, held the seat until her death nearly two weeks ago.
In the end, the county Democrats gathered at Burlington's Fletcher Free Library voted to send all three names to Shumlin.
With 60 eligible voters casting up to three votes each, Sirotkin won 48 votes, Ingram 33 and Ellis 20.
Sirotkin, who was visiting family in Florida, was not present for Wednesday night's vote. But in an interview earlier in the day, he said he would like to continue his late wife's work in the Senate.
"Sally and I talked about it several months ago and she wanted me to do it if I was willing to and felt able to," he said. "The decision-making has been very hard, but all the outpouring of support and love for her has made both the grieving as well as this decision a little bit clearer to me. I think I can continue her work and contribute something to the legislature."
Sirotkin received a word of encouragement Wednesday morning from Shumlin, who said he was "thrilled that Michael Sirotkin is interested in the job." The governor said he would not interfere with the county Democrats' nominating process, though he is free to ignore their recommendations.
Soon after Seven Days reported on Sirotkin's interest in the position Wednesday morning, former Vermont Democratic Party chairman Jake Perkinson announced he would withdraw from the contest and urged his fellow candidates to do the same. Rep. Kesha Ram (D-Burlington) followed his lead. But Rep. Tim Jerman (D-Essex Junction), Ingram and Ellis did not. A seventh candidate, Crea Lintilhac, dropped her bid Tuesday evening, before Sirotkin entered the race.
In an interview early Wednesday afternoon, Jerman said it was "exciting" that Sirotkin was interested, but he said he would remain in the race.
"I really want this to be a successful process," he said. "We'll have our meeting tonight. We hope everybody attends. And we'll go from there."
Within hours, Jerman had changed his mind.
As he stood up to deliver his nominating speech Wednesday night, he told county Democrats that he, too, would withdraw — and he placed Sirotkin's name into consideration.
"It's been quite the week of surprises," Jerman (pictured at left) said. "I found out yesterday that [Sirotkin] was interested and obviously it's a game-changer. There's no road map for this. And I hope there's not a lot of recriminations coming out of this about who knew what, and when did they know it, and why did we not all know this sooner?"
Jerman went on to praise Sirotkin, a lobbyist who has championed many of the same liberal causes as Fox.
"I believe that if the governor were to nominate Michael to this position, that in an incredibly short time everyone would know exactly what a great choice that was," Jerman said. "He will fit in. He's been doing the work for years. Sally herself would be totally pleased with any one of us, I'm sure, to take her place. It would be a great honor for us. And she would have been honored by it. But who better than Michael to know exactly how to continue the legacy and the hopes and dreams she had for her fellow Vermonters."
When it was her turn to speak, Ingram said her decision to remain in the running was not easy. But she said she was doing so to "honor the process."
Ingram, who came in seventh place in the 2012 race to fill the county's six Senate seats, said she felt "a great responsibility to the 23,441 people who voted for me in the 2012 general election."
"I value democracy and the democratic process and I think those people had something to say," she said.
(Pictured left to right: Chittenden County Democratic Party vice chairman Ed Cafferty, committee woman Selene Hofer-Shall and chairman David Scherr)
Ingram also noted that, after Fox's death, only eight of the 29 members of the Vermont Senate are women.
We don't have a great record in Vermont of women in leadership," she said. "I think part of Sally's legacy is to encourage women to be part of leadership, and I would love the opportunity to be a role model to other women, as she was a role model to me."
Ellis, too, argued that county Democrats deserved a choice — and she said she would bring a "new and fresh perspective" to the Senate.
"I'm here for you today just because at the heart of democracy is the idea of choice," she said. "And I committed to myself that I would stand up and offer you what I have to bring. And so I'm here. And I'm happy if you need me now. And I'm happy if this is not the right time."
Shumlin has not indicated when he will make his decision. But with the legislative session in full swing, he is likely to do so soon.