Before Michael E. McLaughlin and his $360,000 salary became front-page news, “Political Intelligence’’ told the small-town story about efforts to oust Mary Karabatsos from the Dracut Housing Authority.
Low-income residents in the Merrimack Valley town accused the authority’s board of directors of ambushing the popular Karabatsos, after they abruptly voted in late August to seek new applicants for her job as executive director.
They were especially galled that one member, Brian Bond, joined in the vote, even though he was at his first meeting after a last-minute appointment by Governor Deval Patrick.
The seniors feared the fix was in for some politically connected applicant. And they suspected the strings were being pulled by McLaughlin, a longtime area politico who, at the time, was serving as executive director of the Chelsea Housing Authority.
When the Globe ultimately asked Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray - Patrick’s liaison to such boards - whether McLaughlin had spoken to him about getting Bond appointed in Dracut, Murray stammered.
“Mike McLaughlin?’’ he said. “Uh, maybe at some point he might have mentioned, you know, the, the, um, mentioned it.’’
Since then, the sky-high pay McLaughlin received for his own housing authority job has sparked public outrage, his resignation, and state and federal investigations.
It also led the Globe to obtain McLaughlin’s cellphone records, which, among other things, detailed 83 calls between him and Murray during the past seven months.
Perhaps most interesting, for those recalling the Karabatsos episode, was a series of calls on Sept. 21. The Globe asked Murray about McLaughlin after a Governor’s Council meeting that day. The conversation ended at 12:16 p.m., according to a digital tape of it.
McLaughlin’s cellphone records then show two incoming calls from a blocked phone number, much like those used in the lieutenant governor’s office, which is located just steps from the Governor’s Council chamber.
The first call to McLaughlin’s phone, at 12:16 p.m., lasted eight minutes. The second, immediately after at 12:24 p.m., lasted two more.
Those calls were followed by a series of outgoing calls from McLaughlin’s phone to a number in Lowell, next door to Dracut.
And they were followed by a series of three outgoing calls to the cellphone of McLaughlin’s son, Matthew, whom Murray has admitted to referring his application for a state job, before the son’s phone was used to call back the father’s.
The records show McLaughlin’s phone was used next at 1:47 p.m., this time to dial Murray’s cellphone number. That call lasted two minutes.
Both Murray and an attorney for McLaughlin refused to confirm if that specific series of calls related to the Globe’s Karabatsos questions or if the calls from the blocked phone were indeed from Murray.
But the lieutenant governor acknowledged generally that the questions prompted him to try to get to the bottom of things with McLaughlin.
“Obviously, in the aftermath of the situation in Dracut, where my name was brought into it, I had a number of conversations with him - as well as other people - as to why my name was being brought into a situation that I wasn’t aware of,’’ Murray said.
Karabatsos, by the way, got to keep her job - after the board voted 5-0 last month to retain her over the other applicants.
Patrick has already said he won’t seek reelection after his current term ends in 2015, and one assumption is that Murray will run to succeed him.
Regardless of his plans, three potential opponents were in the same place last weekend, working the same crowd.
Republican Charles Baker, and two Democrats, Attorney General Martha Coakley and Treasurer Steve Grossman, were at the Museum of Fine Arts for a dinner benefiting the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston.
Grossman seemed to have the best time, dancing with abandon to pop and hip-hop music.
Coakley, meanwhile, had a predinner conversation with another attendee: Elizabeth Warren. She is a Democrat hoping to knock off Republican Scott Brown in next year’s US Senate election - something Coakley tried but failed to do in January 2010.
Asked what she and Warren discussed, Coakley laughed and said: “Wouldn’t you like to know!’’Glen Johnson is lead blogger for Political Intelligence; available online at www.boston.com /politics. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.