Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, a fixture in Congress for the past 18 years, said Thursday she is considering retirement after completing her 10th term in 2012.

Woolsey, 73, said she was talking about her future now to give those vying to succeed her — in what would likely be a crowded and expensive race — a chance to make their names known to voters.

State Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said he has formed a federally registered exploratory committee and will run for the Sonoma-Marin congressional seat if Woolsey steps down.

State Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, said it was premature to declare her intentions but she is not ruling out a run for Woolsey's job.

"We are going to have a whole bunch of capable people running for my seat if I give it up it," Woolsey said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C. with The Press Democrat editorial board. "I want them to have a chance to get out there and let people know them."

Woolsey, a former Petaluma councilwoman elected to Congress in 1992, noted that at the end of her next term she will have served 20 years on Capitol Hill and will be 75.

"So the truth is of course I'm reassessing now," she said, adding that she has told her staff that she will make a decision "sometime in early June."

If she were to retire, Woolsey, who handily won re-election in November, said: "My satisfaction is that I know it is my choice."

Huffman, 46, who will be termed out of the Assembly in 2012, said other Democrats are "out there jockeying for a run" and he wanted to be the first to make his plans public.

"I'm not going to be coy with people," said Huffman, whose district is encompassed by Woolsey's. "I think people are entitled to know my intentions."

Anticipating stiff competition and a $500,000 cost to compete in the 2012 primary, Huffman said he wants potential backers to know he is running "before they commit to another candidate."

If Woolsey seeks re-election in two years, Huffman said he will "absolutely support her."

Evans, 55, who served three terms in the Assembly and won the 2nd District Senate seat in November, is widely rumored to be eyeing Woolsey's job.

"It's a little premature," said Evans, a former Santa Rosa councilwoman and planning commissioner. "The ink isn't even dry on my certificate of election."

Evans in November won the Senate seat held by Pat Wiggins, also a former Santa Rosa councilwoman.

A wide open race for Woolsey's 6th Congressional District seat, representing Marin and much of central Sonoma County, would likely attract "a pretty crowded field," Evans said.

Shirlee Zane, a first-term Sonoma County supervisor, and Petaluma Mayor Pam Torliatt, who lost a race for south county supervisor in November, also are considered potential contenders for Woolsey's job. Torliatt and Zane could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday. <NO1>zane may call guy's cell tonight<NO>

Woolsey, who previously owned a Petaluma employment agency, began her political career on the Petaluma council in 1984. She catapulted to Congress in 1992, the "year of the woman" in American politics, winning the seat held by Barbara Boxer for 10 years.

Democrats Boxer and Dianne Feinstein were elected California senators that year, as well.

Woolsey, a former welfare mother, is best known for her early opposition to the Iraq war and continued oppostion to the conflict in Afghanistan. She is co-chairwoman of the House Progressive Caucus.

In the health care debate, she was a strong advocate of a government-funded insurance plan, although she did vote for President Barack Obama's health care bill, which did not include the so-called public option.

Facing an election challenge this year from Republican Jim Judd, a Rohnert Park businessman, Woolsey won her 10th term with 66 percent of the vote in a district where Democrats hold a more than 2-to-1 voter registration advantage over Republicans.

In October, Woolsey said she had no plans to retire. "I've got the health, the energy and the desire," she said.

But as she coasted to victory on election night, Woolsey noted that Democrats face "two really hard years in the House" under a Republican majority.

"It's going to be hard years for our progressives," she said.