Federal Reserve Board Vice Chairman Alan Blinder announced his resignation Wednesday, effective Jan. 31.
In a letter this week to President Clinton, Mr. Blinder said he debated for months before deciding to return to his teaching post at Princeton University.
"I found this decision extremely difficult, and wrestled with it for months," Mr. Blinder wrote. "In the end, however, a variety of personal factors overcame the strong pull of public service."
Industry sources speculated Wednesday about possible replacements, reiterating demands that a banker be nominated. The banking industry pushedhard for one of its own last year after John P. LaWare, the Fed board's only banker, retired.
But the White House has left the seat open for eight months, leading many sources to believe Mr. Clinton planned to package Mr. LaWare's replacement with the renomination of Mr. Blinder and Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, whose term expires in March.
Federal law limits the President from selecting more than one Fed governor from the same reserve bank district. Mr. Blinder's departure frees up the Philadelphia district, where Fed watchers and bankers said there are at least four possible replacements.
The most popular choice is Anthony P. Terracciano, First Fidelity's chief executive officer before its merger last year with First Union Corp. A spokesman for Mr. Terracciano said he had no comment.
Also topping lists is Samuel McCullough, the CEO of Meridian Bancorp and former president of the Association of Bank Holding Companies. He did not return a call for comment.
Observers also tagged two academics: Anthony M. Santomero, director of the financial institutions center at the University of Pennsylvania; and Peter B. Kenen, chairman of the economics department at Princeton University. Mr. Santomero declined to comment, and a spokeswoman for Mr. Kenen said he had no comment.
These four names join more then a dozen others that have been bandied about since Mr. LaWare's departure, including PNC chief economist Stuart Hoffman and Cleveland Fed President Jerry Jordan.
Mr. Blinder's departure could hand bankers a victory on the regulatory front. James McLaughlin, the director of agency relations at the American Bankers Association, said he expects Mr. Blinder's proposal requiring banks to compute an annual percentage rate for leases will evaporate after he leaves.
The vice chairman's resignation surprised some observers, who said they thought he had decided this fall to stay for another term.