, Salem, MA

May 23, 2013

Our view: Murray's exit ends a once-promising political career

The Salem News

---- — It’s not a huge surprise that our lieutenant governor has decided to quit his post and take a much lower-profile job in the private sector. Perhaps the only surprise is why it took him this long to acknowledge that he had lost the public’s confidence.

Lt. Gov. Tim Murray was something of a rising star when Gov. Deval Patrick picked him as his running mate six years ago. At the time, Murray was the young mayor of Worcester, our state’s second largest city, and seemed well poised to map out his political future.

We don’t expect a lot from lieutenant governors. If they are smart, they can build up goodwill with the public, form a political base to advance their career, and still stay under the radar. That was Murray’s problem — he couldn’t do any of those things right.

First, there was the mysterious high-speed pre-dawn car accident in late 2011 that utterly destroyed his state-provided car. Murray’s story for why he was on the road at that time — and for driving 108 mph — changed as more evidence emerged, which only generated suspicion. That alone was not enough to really damage him; it just raised eyebrows.

Then came the bombshell. Murray had exchanged dozens of phone calls with Chelsea Housing Authority Director Michael McLaughlin, and had been the recipient of donations that McLaughlin had raised for him, allegedly from housing authority employees. The state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance found that the fundraising was not done in compliance with state law, and asked the attorney general’s office to investigate.

There was hardly a worse official for Murray to find himself coiled around. McLaughlin had a long and sullied past in politics, and was most recently under investigation for falsifying records to hide his vastly fattened $360,000 salary, making him one of the highest paid housing authority directors in the nation... in one of the smaller cities. Murray denied he did anything wrong.

In January, as the heat over this scandal rose, Murray announced that he would not be running for governor. Little wonder. Campaign finance records indicated that he had already spent over $70,000 in campaign funds to hire lawyers to defend himself. He was damaged goods.

Murray has denied that these investigations had anything to do with his decision to leave office, and with some hubris he looked back on his record with pride.

“If people want to take the time to look at all the issues in my portfolio and the substantive work we’ve done, which doesn’t often happen with lieutenant governors, they’re going to see a record of accomplishment, getting things done, good leadership, good judgment and I’m comfortable with that,” Murray said.

Yet everything about Murray’s departure has the feel of a man who is fleeing from trouble. He’s leaving office to become the head of the Worcester Chamber of Commerce in 11 days — even the lowliest of laborers is expected to give two weeks notice, let alone the state’s second-ranking elected official.

A few days after that, McLaughlin is expected to be sentenced for falsifying records. And who knows what that may lead to.

Republicans made some political hay of Murray’s quick exit.

“I wouldn’t put him up there in the Hall of Fame of lieutenant governors,” said House Minority Leader Brad Jones.

No, it’s not good for your political future when you are best known for a mysterious car crash and shady fundraising.

We expect and deserve better from our elected officials. We are glad to see that Murray had the good sense to leave office and head to a new job out west down the Mass. Pike, but we hope that doesn’t mean that the probe into his fundraising activities will also be pushed down the pike.