House majority whip Charles A. Murphy, facing certain defeat in any effort to hold his office, resigned his leadership position at a Democratic caucus yesterday, sharply criticizing House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo for forcing him out.
“I resigned because I wasn’t going to put the members through a vote like that,’’ Murphy told reporters as he emerged from the caucus room where DeLeo was ready to redraw his leadership team. “I find that unpalatable.’’
But in a letter he sent to DeLeo several hours after the closed-door caucus, Murphy excoriated the House leader for dumping him and cited what he said are DeLeo’s shortcomings. He even accused the speaker of lying when DeLeosaid the caucus was simply a “reshuffling of the deck.’’
“You know, I know, every member at caucus knows, and anyone paying attention to the current drama playing out on Beacon Hill knows that is simply not true,’’ he told DeLeo. “The reason for today’s meeting was to fire me.’’
He also chided his colleagues for allowing a system that suppresses dissent with its “top-down leadership model where dissent is discouraged, debate is limited, decisions are made by a select few, and formal session are rare.’’
Murphy, who just a few years ago appeared to be a rising star in the House and a potential successor to DeLeo, said his resignation “is certainly not voluntary.’’
“Rather, it reflects my recognition that you are removing me,’’ Murphy said.
The letter appears to serve as his attempt to position himself as leader of an opposition bloc among House Democrats, although legislative insiders say his support is still thin in party ranks.
DeLeo’s press aide said the speaker would have no comment on the letter. A top lieutenant, Representative Vincent Pedone of Worcester, said Murphy, while popular with most members, could not effectively challenge DeLeo.
Asked if there was enough discontent to mount a serious challenge to DeLeo, Pedone said, “There is absolutely none.’’
Murphy’s bitter departure from the top leadership levels is a highly unusual public break in the House Democratic decorum.
The last highly dramatic move in recent decades came in 1983, when Speaker Thomas McGee fired his popular majority leader, George Keverian, who led a rules reform revolt that resulted in McGee’s ouster more than a year later.
According to senior House leadership sources, DeLeo forced Murphy’s removal from the leadership team after he was convinced that Murphy had told fellow lawmakers that the ongoing federal investigation into the state Probation Department could topple the speaker and other top legislative leaders.
Murphy has made no secret of his desire to be elected the next speaker.
DeLeo filled Murphy’s whip position yesterday with veteran state Representative Byron Rushing, a South End Democrat who has been serving as a floor division chairman, a post with few duties. DeLeo gave Rushing’s job to Representative Michael J. Moran, his Election Committee chairman. Moran won praise for his work in the legislative and congressional redistricting process.
The promotion will double the $7,500 stipend Moran now receives as committee chairman.
Immediately following yesterday’s caucus, Murphy, who was third in line in the House leadership, denied to reporters that he had been disloyal or ever suggested that DeLeo would be swept in the federal probe.
“I have never suggested Bob DeLeo would be indicted,’’ he said.
There is no evidence DeLeo is the focus of the Probation Department investigation, which has stemmed from a series of articles by the Globe Spotlight Team detailing how the department gave patronage jobs to people sponsored by legislators while the House and Senate leadership increased budget and staffing of the department.
As he emerged from the caucus, DeLeo offered little insight into why he made the move, other than to say he wanted to create the best team as the House prepared for the 2012 session that opens in January.
He brushed aside the question of whether he had forced Murphy out because his majority whip had been disloyal.
“I am not going to get into the reason why,’’ he said.Frank Phillips can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFPhillips.