BOSTON (AP) – Robert DeLeo is poised to become the next speaker of the Massachusetts House, after rival John Rogers dropped his bid Tuesday to succeed the departing Salvatore DiMasi.

DeLeo’s ascendancy to one of the most powerful posts on Beacon Hill could signal a tack back to the political center in the House from the more liberal DiMasi. It could also open the door to expanded gambling in the state, something DiMasi vigorously opposed.

No sooner had DiMasi, D-Boston, delivered his farewell remarks to a packed House Chamber, then Rogers, D-Norwood, walked up the center aisle, shook DeLeo’s hand and conceded what had become a bitter fight for the powerful position.

“He feels that I will be the Democratic nominee and he’s going to urge all his supporters to back me for speaker of the House,” DeLeo said, backed by a group of supporters outside the House Chamber.

Late Monday, DeLeo, a Democrat from Winthrop and the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, had released a list of the names of 92 House lawmakers he said were supporting him – more than the 81 needed to secure the Speaker’s office.

Rogers said he called DiMasi and DeLeo at about 8 a.m. Tuesday to concede he didn’t have the needed votes. DiMasi’s resignation takes effect at 5 p.m. Tuesday. The House planned a vote Wednesday to choose its next speaker. DeLeo said the House must move quickly to deal with a slew of mounting challenges, from the state’s fiscal crisis to ethics reform.

“Everything from the budget standpoint is real,” said DeLeo. “Our economy continues to spiral downward. We have transportation issues. We have to talk about pension reform.”

DeLeo, 58, also said he expected the House to take up the question of expanded gambling.

DiMasi led the effort to kill Gov. Deval Patrick’s plan to license three casinos in Massachusetts.

but DeLeo has supported some gambling measures, including allowing the state’s racetracks to install slot machines.

DeLeo’s 19th Suffolk District, which consists of the town of Winthrop and all or parts of three precincts in Revere, includes Suffolk Downs and Wonderland Greyhound Park.

“We’d like to have some discussions relative to other forms of expanded gambling,” DeLeo said Tuesday.

Rogers said he’s ready to work with DeLeo and conceded he won’t be part of the new leadership team. He criticized what he called the “power plays” and closed door deals that play a key role in leadership battles.

“It’s an ugly, ugly process,” Rogers said. “I’m not sure it is the healthiest thing.”

Shortly after DeLeo declared victory and Rogers conceded, they both appeared with Patrick outside the governor’s office. Patrick congratulated both, and said he’s ready to get to work with the new House team, despite any differences that might arise.

“There were difference, some of them sharp, between me and Speaker DiMasi but we worked together where and as we could and I’m expecting the same working relationship with the new leadership,” the governor said.

House Republican leader Brad Jones also said he was ready to work with DeLeo.

“That doesn’t mean we’re going to agree,” said Jones, R-North Reading. “It doesn’t mean that occasionally I’m not going to try to put my foot out and try to trip him up.”

As speaker, DeLeo will inherit enormous power over the House. He will put together his own leadership team, appoint members to committees, name the heads of committees and set the legislative agenda.

It’s a big change for the 10-term lawmaker who has kept a relatively low profile in the House, even as chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

On Tuesday DeLeo described himself as “a guy who’s been a very good listener, who’s tried to help people” and said he sees himself “more as a moderate than a conservative.”

He also said he didn’t expect to be caught up in any ongoing investigations.

“I have not been talked to by the Attorney General or any other law enforcement official so I feel extremely confident that we’re entering the speakership ready to go with no issues whatsoever,” he said.

The dramatic changes were being played out as DiMasi delivered his swan song to House members. The goodbye came three weeks after DiMasi was overwhelming re-elected by House members to another two-year term as Speaker.

The Boston Democrat has been battling months of scrutiny about the alleged lobbying actions of a close friend accused of using his influence with DiMasi to push ticket-scalping legislation on behalf of ticket brokers.

DiMasi made no direct reference to the ethics questions, but said his decision to step aside was driven more by a desire to spend more time with his family and pursue other career options. He also said it would have been distracting to step down midway through the budget debate, given the state’s perilous fiscal situation.

“It wouldn’t be fair to you in the middle of this budget crisis to get up and leave,” he said.

DiMasi, who served 30 years in the House, ticked off a series of accomplishments including state’s landmark health care reform law. He also said he was proud to be the first Italian American to become Speaker.

AP-ES-01-27-09 1637EST

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