Democratic Rep. Martin Meehan, known for his work on campaign finance reform, formally submitted his resignation from Congress on Wednesday, paving the way for him to become chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.

Meehan, 50, said his resignation letter was delivered to House officials Wednesday morning. His resignation is effective July 1.

University of Massachusetts trustees in March had approved Meehan as head of the Lowell campus, his alma mater. Meehan, who was elected to Congress in 1992, graduated cum laude from UMass-Lowell in 1978.

"I have a strong attachment to the school," said Meehan in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "I feel a strong debt to Lowell public schools and UMass Lowell. This is an opportunity to repay that debt with interest."

Meehan carved a national profile advocating campaign finance legislation, accusing the tobacco industry of collusion to promote smoking and pushing to repeal the military's current "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gay soldiers.

His departure has sparked an intense race to fill his highly coveted seat, one of 10 U.S. House seats in Massachusetts.

Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, has set a Sept. 4 primary and an Oct. 16 general election to replace him.

A crowd of potential successors already has lined up, including Democrats Niki Tsongas of Lowell, wife of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas; Lowell City Councilor Eileen M. Donoghue; state Reps. Barry Finegold of Andover, James Eldridge of Acton, and James Miceli of Wilmington.

On the Republican side, Air Force Lt. Col. James Ogonowski, whose brother, John, was the pilot of one of the planes that was hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Center in the Sept. 11 attacks, is the only announced candidate.