BOSTON — The push to name a successor to the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy gained momentum Monday, with state lawmakers scheduling a hearing on whether to allow an appointee to serve until a special election in January.
Gov. Deval Patrick also said Monday that Kennedy's widow, Vicki Kennedy, told him she does not want to be appointed as an interim replacement.
"Mrs. Kennedy is not interested in the position," Patrick said, referring to the interim post.
Before he died last week, Kennedy had asked Massachusetts lawmakers to change state law to let the governor name an interim appointee to serve until voters can choose a permanent replacement. Current Massachusetts law does not allow an interim appointee.
"This is the only way to ensure that Massachusetts is fully represented," Patrick said, but cautioned that "I don't think by any means it is a certainty it will happen."
Patrick said he agreed with Kennedy that the state needs two voices in the Senate during the intervening five months. State law requires a special election between 145 and 160 days after a vacancy; the special election was set for Jan. 19.
Patrick said he has heard from top Democrats in Washington, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., both of whom support the change allowing an appointee. Senate Democrats say they need as many votes as they can during the debate on President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.
Lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled Massachusetts House and Senate announced Monday they would hold a hearing Sept. 9 on a bill that would allow the interim appointment.
The race to fill Kennedy's seat is expected to be crowded.
The biggest question is whether another Kennedy will jump into the race. Kennedy's nephew and former U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II has also been suggested as a possible candidate but has not said whether he is interested in running for the seat.
Potential Republican candidates include former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan, state Sen. Scott Brown, Cape Cod businessman Jeff Beatty and Chris Egan, former U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Cooperation and Development.