House Democrats elect Sharkey as next majority leader

State Rep. J. Brendan Sharkey of Hamden beat Rep. Andrew Fleischmann of West Hartford for House majority leader in voting by the Democratic caucus Thursday night.

Sharkey will take over in January when the current majority leader, Denise Merrill of Mansfield, becomes the next secretary of the state.

“Team building is going to be the key, Sharkey said after the vote in a closed-door caucus. “There is still work to be done.”

The caucus also endorsed House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, for another term. Donovan called the vote between Sharkey and Fleischmann a “tough choice” for House members.

“People liked both the candidates … We can only have one majority leader,” Donovan said.

“Brendan Sharkey is a very capable, intelligent, experienced legislator. He’s going to be a great majority leader,” Fleischmann said after the vote.

The contest for majority leader had been expected to be a three-way race, but Rep. Steve Fontana of North Haven lost his bid for reelection on Tuesday.

Sharkey has been the Democratic leadership’s go-to person for regionalization efforts and lessening the financial burden of state mandates on towns.

Several of Sharkey’s initiatives — including extending a tax on home sales that was set to expire and no longer requiring towns pay to store the belongings of evicted tenants. — were signed into law last legislative session.

Democrats maintained sizeable majorities in both the House and Senate in Tuesday’s election, but they lost the two-thirds margin in the Senate necessary to override a veto. Recounts are being conducted in three House races, but Democrats are expected to lose their veto-proof majority there as well.

In the Senate, Donald E. Williams Jr. of Brooklyn and Martin M. Looney of New Haven remain the president pro tem and majority leader, respectively.