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Opening for Suffolk sheriff job turns a few heads

A decade ago, a vacancy in the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department turned a nonpartisan prosecutor into a potential political player. Now that Andrea Cabral is leaving the department to become state public safety secretary, other hopefuls are eyeing the sheriff’s seat as a launching pad.

But one of the most obvious contenders for the post is highly unlikely to win the appointment, political observers say, due to long-lasting political grudges.

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City Council President Stephen J. Murphy has often sought higher ­office, including Suffolk sheriff, but his appointment is considered ­improbable, due to the bad blood between him and Cabral. Murphy ran a bruising but unsuccessful race against her when she was the interim sheriff seeking her first election in 2004.

Murphy would not comment for this report, and Cabral’s spokesman did not respond to requests for comment. Cabral told reporters at a Thursday press conference that she would talk with the governor about whom he might appoint as an interim replacement until the election.

The Suffolk County sheriff is elected by voters in Boston, Chelsea, Winthrop, and Revere to oversee the Suffolk County Jail, the Suffolk County House of Correction, and the Civil Process Division. Though an unglamorous law enforcement post, the position of sheriff is typically seen as a political prize. The sheriff runs a political fiefdom of some 1,100 employees, mostly correction or jail officers, and only has to run for reelection every six years. The job also offers lucrative pension prospects.

Further diminishing Murphy’s odds is an unrelated grudge between Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Michael F. Flaherty, the former Boston city councilor who challenged him for mayor in 2009. Last year, ­Flaherty sought to reclaim one of four at-large seats on the council, but came up short, in fifth place. If Murphy were to surrender his citywide council seat to become sheriff, Flaherty would automatically be elevated to the open council seat. And ­political observers say Menino, who was stung by Flaherty’s campaign against him, would not want to see that happen.

Finally, the political jockeying among councilors is complicated by Menino’s health. The mayor has been ill since October, hospitalized, and diagnosed with diabetes. If he were to step down before his term ends next year, the City Council president would become acting mayor. Menino himself became mayor as a City Council president elevated by the early ­departure of Mayor Raymond L. Flynn to become ambassador to the Vatican.

That makes the presidency an especially valuable honorarium at this time.

Michael J. McCormack, a onetime city councilor who keeps close tabs on city politics, said Murphy told him he is not a candidate for sheriff and is working hard to line up the votes to be reelected council president.

A city councilor since 1997, Murphy ran for state treasurer in 2002 and 2010 and was said to be eyeing another run for higher office before the latest developments.

He is not the only member of the 13-member City Council who would like to be council president, of course.

“It’s like a default position,” said Councilor Mike Ross. “Maybe one or two members wouldn’t want that position.”

Ross, said to be a top contender for another stint as council president, demurred Friday, saying he has already held the post.

Of the others whose names have been raised as possible contenders for sheriff, none ­expressed clear interest Friday. State Representative Eugene L. O’Flaherty, a Charlestown Democrat who has headed the ­Judiciary Committee, would not comment, and state Representative Martin Walsh, a ­Dorchester Democrat, said he is not interested.

City councilors Ayanna Pressley, Tito Jackson, and Felix Arroyo all said that, while they were flattered to be mentioned as potential candidates for sheriff, they were not seeking the job. State Representative Linda Dorcena-Forry likewise said she was pleased to be mentioned, but is not seeking the job.

Massachusetts Republican Party spokesman Tim Buckley would not comment on whether any Republicans are interested in running for the spot.

Cabral, a political independent, became a Republican when she was appointed by Acting Governor Jane Swift, a Republican, to take over as sheriff in November 2002. She later switched her registration to Democrat.

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter ­@stephanieebbert.
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