Friends call him a “warrior from the old school.” But others who watched Democratic power broker Michael E. McLaughlin at work over the last four decades, from Middlesex County commissioner to close ally of the current lieutenant governor, call him “a thug,” “a liar,” and now “a felon.”
The disgraced Chelsea public housing chief, 67, is a throwback to rogue politicians in the mold of the legendary James Michael Curley, who once served as Boston’s mayor from a prison cell. For them, public service was often just a game of “let’s make a deal” in which the only limit was what they could get away with.
Long before McLaughlin stood before a federal judge last Tuesday and pleaded guilty to deliberately concealing his inflated $360,000 salary at the Chelsea Housing Authority, his integrity had been questioned in one job after another and he had repeatedly avoided criminal charges despite at least five previous investigations.
McLaughlin took a star turn on Lowell’s infamous 1987 “bookie tapes,” in which he was caught on a wiretap urging a bookie with mob connections to help him win promotion to Lowell city manager by leaning on a city councilor with big gambling debts. McLaughlin had once hired the bookie’s son to provide courthouse security; now he was calling in the favor.
But McLaughlin walked away from the scandal, unlike some other politicians, who were indicted based on the secretly recorded tapes, or the bookie, who was shot to death the next year by a mob associate. The worst McLaughlin suffered was a missed opportunity after US Senator Paul Tsongas threatened to “puke in the waste basket” if McLaughlin became Lowell city manager.
You have reached the limit of 5 free articles in a month
Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.
- High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
- Convenient access across all of your devices
- Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
- Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
- Less than 25¢ a week