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Joan Vennochi

Tim Murray’s delusional ambitions

Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray

Joanne Rathe / Globe Staff

Lieutenant Governor Tim Muray talked about his early morning car crash on Nov. 2, 2011.

What’s Tim Murray smoking? Did the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts score an early prescription for voter-approved medical marijuana?

“Like many of you in the room, I would like to be governor,” Murray told a recent gathering of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

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He’s not the first second-banana to aim for the top spot. But he’s one of the most politically bruised.

When Murray looks in the mirror, he sees a public servant grappling with serious issues like housing and homelessness, veterans’ services, domestic violence, substance abuse, rail and freight, municipal matters, and education.

But when voters see Murray, they think of a bizarre car crash, a murky patronage trail, and ongoing state and federal investigations. Unless he changes the politically toxic words associated with his name, a run for higher office is DOA.

For Murray, image rehab will be difficult.

He never fully addressed the circumstances of a mysterious Nov. 2011 car crash that wrecked his state car. Major discrepancies between his initial version of events and subsequent revelations also remain unexplained.

The accident happened when he was supposedly out surveying storm damage, in pre-dawn darkness. Murray said he was doing the speed limit, but black box data showed he was driving at more than 100 miles per hour. He said he was wearing a seat belt; he wasn’t. He said his car skidded on black ice; State Police later suggested he might have fallen asleep.

Murray tried to keep the black box data secret. With the blessing of Governor Deval Patrick, Murray still refuses to release cell phone records to prove he wasn’t talking or texting while driving.

A lack of transparency regarding the accident is one reason to question Murray’s overall credibility and judgment. There are others.

Murray is considered the go-to guy for patronage appointments in the Patrick administration. It was on his recommendation that a constituent named Matthew McLaughlin got a $60,000-a-year job on a state board that hears appeals from drunken drivers. It was a curious hire, given that McLaughlin’s license was once suspended for failing to take a breathalyzer test and he was the recipient of six speeding tickets.

It’s less curious once you know that Matthew McLaughlin is the son of Michael McLaughlin — the former Chelsea Housing Authority director who came under federal and state investigation after the Globe revealed that he concealed a $360,000 salary from state regulators. Michael McLaughlin has also worked as a key operative for Murray and acted as master of ceremonies at Murray fundraisers.

Murray, who has been questioned under oath by investigators looking into the Chelsea Housing Authority scandal, downplays his ties to McLaughlin, even though the two exchanged nearly 200 cell phone calls in 2010 and 2011.

Murray also insists he had nothing to do with the state’s latest patronage scandal, but he’s still a little too close to it for political comfort. Despite a dismal driving record that includes seven accidents, four speeding violations, and two failures to stop, Sheila Burgess was hired for an $87,000-a-year position as state highway safety director. Her sponsor was Representative James McGovern of Worcester. Her sister, Coleen, worked as a fundraising consultant for Murray during his Worcester mayoral days.

Maybe Murray isn’t connected to the Burgess hire; but the fact that people think he might be illustrates his problem.

However obvious the problem to others, Murray is unlikely to set aside reason and ambition on his own. He lives in the bubble that insulates Massachusetts Democrats from harsh political outcomes. It must feel particularly warm and safe, after November’s election results, when Bay State Democrats like US Representative John Tierney couldn’t lose and Republicans like Richard Tisei couldn’t win.

Still, there’s a difference between running for Congress and running for governor. Massachusetts voters didn’t want to send Republicans to Washington who would be pressured by national party leaders on social and fiscal issues.

The calculation is different when it comes to Beacon Hill, as demonstrated by a past fondness for Republican chief executives. Voters could be open to one again after eight years of Democrats controlling the executive and legislative branches.

Fellow Democrats may think of Murray as a likeable enough guy. But as a candidate for governor, his delusions are much grander than his prospects for victory.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.
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