The announcement Wednesday that Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray will resign to lead the Worcester Chamber of Commerce mainly served to ratify what most on Beacon Hill basically knew: that his recent political scandals had left him without a path to higher office, while his current duties were too limited to sustain an ambitious person’s career.
Murray’s departure ends an awkward chapter in Massachusetts political history. Any hopes he had of using his current office as a platform for a gubernatorial campaign were dashed by his connection to Michael McLaughlin, a longstanding political fixer who allegedly plundered the Chelsea Housing Authority for his own gain — and apparently ran an improper political fundraising operation on Murray’s behalf. Under different circumstances, Murray might have been the front-runner to replace Governor Deval Patrick, who isn’t running again in 2014. But acknowledging the obvious, Murray already announced earlier this year wouldn’t seek the office, either.
The combination of Patrick, who in 2006 captivated grass-roots liberal activists and reform-minded Democrats, with Murray, a former Worcester mayor, was a political shotgun marriage; in an odd quirk of state law, party nominees for governor and lieutenant governor are elected separately but then run as a ticket in the general election. Yet Patrick’s deep appreciation for Murray is evident. In office, Murray has proved to be both approachable and a sincere advocate for veterans, transportation improvements, and local communities’ needs.
Yet his role within the administration hasn’t been benign. By some accounts, making sure political supporters are rewarded with jobs has been his responsibility; Murray’s efforts to secure a state job for McLaughlin’s son provide some evidence in that direction. For his part, Patrick has fiercely defended his lieutenant governor at every turn, but the kind of back-scratching evident in the McLaughlin scandals is precisely what undermines support for the activist government Patrick promised and Massachusetts needs.
The state constitution makes no provision for replacing a departing lieutenant governor — a situation that hints at the broader question of whether Massachusetts needs a lieutenant governor at all. While lieutenant governor’s office hasn’t been known in the past as a hotbed of political skulduggery, one could argue that Murray’s woes grew in part out of his efforts to build a statewide political presence while seeking — and then serving in — a position without a strong portfolio of responsibilities.
Even after leaving state government, Murray will still need to answer any questions that might arise from inquiries into McLaughlin’s activities. In the meantime, the lieutenant governor’s departure lands him in a substantial role for which he seems well suited: as a champion of the state’s second-largest city, a city to which his devotion has never been in doubt.