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Opinion | Brian McGrory

Politics as usual

At what point does Deval Patrick stop being an oddly indifferent observer to the ethical meltdown at the core of his administration and start being a critical contributor to it? Answer: That point has almost certainly passed.

This is the governor who promised to change the way business is done in the State House, to transform the culture of insidious favors for the powerful few.

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“If you want the same old, same old, the politics of money and connections, I’m not your guy,’’ he said in 2006. “But if what you want is the politics of hope and a change of culture on Beacon Hill, I’m your guy.’’

This was a governor who not only talked about, but represented, a meritocracy, not only talked about, but represented, the splendor of diversity - not merely the color of his skin, but the life experiences that shaped who he was and where he vowed to go.

And just five years into his tenure, what we have is nothing more and nothing less than the politics as usual that he so steadfastly decried. Credit where it’s due, he played the right role on ethics reform. He did the right thing on pension reform. He’s said most of the right things on probation reform.

But as questions of ethics touch his own administration recently, Patrick has coiled into a ball of sanctimony and denial. And the truth is, ethics issues in the form of Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray’s close relationship with ousted Chelsea Public Housing chief Michael McLaughlin aren’t just touching the administration, they’re giving it a Swedish massage.

For anyone in need of a reminder, McLaughlin made $360,000 to run a public housing agency in a tiny city. Worse, he didn’t report much of it to state officials. And after the Globe’s story of his pay, he grabbed another $200,000 for - wink-wink - unused sick and vacation time on his way out the door.

When McLaughlin wasn’t soaking taxpayers, he was helping to fill Murray’s campaign account with contributions from public housing workers and other assorted McLaughlin lackeys. Maybe this was the politics of hope that Patrick talked about - everyone hoping that they didn’t get caught.

Of course, a contribution to Murray was the same thing as a contribution to Patrick. They were running mates. Likewise, when Murray recommended McLaughlin’s son for a do-little job at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, he was acting on the administration’s behalf.

So when the Globe broke word McLaughlin and Murray spent half their days talking by cellphone to each other, did Patrick demand answers? Did he call Murray on the carpet?

None of the above - at least as far as the public knows. Actually, Patrick stood in front of reporters trying to ask Murray about the 193 calls exchanged between the two men and, in his best bristling tone, tried to make common sense questions seem out of bounds.

“Do you know how much phone tag we play around here?’’ Patrick asked, hilariously, though unintentionally so. “We and, in particular, the lieutenant governor, is in constant contact with local elected officials all around the Commonwealth. And let me tell you what I don’t like, what I don’t appreciate, is insinuation when there is nothing.’’

The question is, how would our stunningly incurious governor even know? The administration was too busy sending out press releases with titles like, “Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray spends yet another day fighting for more jobs in the Commonwealth,’’ that they didn’t have the time to investigate. When Patrick dismissed this paper’s request to supply Murray’s state cellphone records yesterday on the night of his infamous car crash, it was politics as usual on Beacon Hill - “same old, same old,’’ as the governor once said.

McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.

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