STAMFORD -- State Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, handily won a fifth term in November, but will instead return to Hartford in January as counsel to longtime friend Gov.-elect Dan Malloy.

Malloy, Stamford's former mayor, announced he will be naming two important appointments Thursday at noon at the city's Government Center, rather than the capitol in Hartford.

Hartford Courant Columnist Kevin Rennie first reported Wednesday afternoon on his blog that McDonald, a Stamford native and longtime Malloy friend and confident, will be named the new governor's top lawyer.

Sources contacted by Hearst Connecticut Media Group supported Rennie's claim.

A Malloy spokesman declined comment and McDonald did not return phone calls.

"If it's true it's a superb choice," said Attorney General-Elect George Jepsen, whom McDonald succeeded in the state Senate in 2003. "Andrew is immensely capable. Works very hard. Has the utmost integrity and, in addition to being an excellent lawyer, has excellent political judgment and knowledge of governmental process. He's about as complete a package for that job as you could possibly find " He enjoys Dan's complete confidence."

A former Stamford corporation counsel under Malloy, McDonald earned notoriety when, as a freshman legislator, he was made co-chairman of the legislature's powerful Judiciary Committee.

"Regardless of what you think of his politics, Andrew McDonald is a very accomplished attorney," House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, himself a lawyer, said.

Cafero noted McDonald is employed as a litigation partner with Stamford-based Pullman and Comley.

"Pullman is no slouch firm," Cafero said.

Although there has been speculation among political insiders that McDonald, a member of Malloy's transition team, would join the administration, there have been some who thought Malloy would maneuver to elevate his friend to a more powerful role within the state Senate to ensure passage of priority legislation.

"I heard the rumors they were going to find a spot for (Senate President and Brooklyn Democrat) Donald Williams " and clear the way for Andrew as far as being senate majority leader or president," Cafero said. "And in that way the Malloy/McDonald partnership would take effect, with him being head of one chamber of government."

Asked why an influential senator like McDonald might choose to leave the General Assembly, Jepsen, a one-time senate majority leader, said as Malloy's counsel, McDonald "would be an immensely powerful figure in the administration during what promises to be four of the most important years for determining Connecticut's future course."

The thought of McDonald gaining even more power is sure to worry some of his critics who have been concerned he and Judiciary Committee co-chairman Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, have overstepped their bounds in recent years.

Though fiscally conservative, McDonald is socially liberal and was at the forefront of efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Connecticut. He has also clashed on numerous occasions with the Catholic Church, most notably in 2009 when his proposal to alter oversight of parish finances ignited a political firestorm and was soon withdrawn.

State Rep. Arthur O'Neill, R-Southbury, a ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, called McDonald "an able chairman" who brought "a fairly rationale approach" to the position and was respectful of his colleagues.

"It makes a lot of sense Governor-elect Malloy might pick someone like Andrew, and being chief counsel to the governor is a tremendous opportunity to influence public policy," O'Neill said. "Obviously Andrew and I have disagreed on a variety of different issues over the years " As the governor's counsel he will be acting on behalf of the governor and not a completely free agent. He'll have influent " but I get the distinct impression the new governor has a lot of his own ideas and specifics of how he wants to handle things."

Reached by phone Lawlor declined to comment for this story.

State Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, who, with McDonald, also represents a portion of Darien, said McDonald joining the Malloy administration will be a big win for the governor-elect.

"I know that Dan relies on Andrew and frankly Andrew has a great legal mind," Duff said. "He's been such a good force on the Judiciary Committee and as a legislator. But if he can serve the entire state, I think that's good too."

Duff and McDonald have been voices for Fairfield County on the Transportation Committee. Asked if McDonald's departure will be a loss in that area, Duff said, "I think anybody who takes his seat would still be a strong voice on transportation. And he'd continue to be a strong voice within the administration."

Gary Rose, chairman of the Department of Government and Politics at Sacred Heart University, said it would be a "logical choice" if state representatives in the district run for the seat. Those, excluding the seat won this fall by Republican Michael Molgano, include state Representatives Gerry Fox III, Carlo Leone and Patricia Billie Miller, all Democrats. However, moving from representing a house district of about 29,000 to a senate seat encompassing 90,000 constituents can be a big change, Rose said.

"You're really talking about double the responsibilities in terms of constituent services, in terms of issues," Rose said. "All of a sudden serving in the state senate, it's a whole different dynamic. It's two different worlds in many ways."

Republican Board of Finance member Bob Kolenberg, who ran against McDonald for the senate seat, questioned why McDonald ran for the office if he was going to accept an administration position. But he said he is open to running again.

"I'm not going to say no and I'm not going to say yes but I'd definitely consider it," Kolenberg said. "I'd have to see what kind of support is out there for me."

Democratic City Committee Chairwoman Ellen Camhi said there are "many Democrats that would fit the bill" for a special election, but did not elaborate.

Asked whether he would consider running, Fox said it was too early to comment.

"I'm sure there will be a number of announcements in the next few weeks and I don't want to speculate on what might be," Fox said.

Leone and Miller could not be immediately reached for comment.

Stamford Democratic Registrar of Voters Alice Fortunato said she and her Republican counterpart would have to look into how and when a special election would take place, as there has never been one for a state senate seat during her 12 years serving in the office.

"We'd have to research that, it hasn't happened in my time as registrar," Fortunato said. "Certainly that's a very important position."

Staff Writer Magdalene Perez can be reached at 203-964-2240.