In his six years as a statewide office holder, Tim Murray has pulled off an astounding feat. He has become that rare politician who seems too small for the lieutenant governor’s job.
It’s not just that Murray never grew in the job. He actually seemed to shrink there. That reality makes Murray’s announcement that he won’t run for governor good news for the Democratic Party and a victory for common sense.
In his letter to supporters, Murray invoked the usual malarkey that politicians resort to when they decide retreat is their best course: Running would require too much time away from his family.
But everyone knows the real reason Murray is bowing out. After his entanglement with ethically challenged Middlesex County rogue Michael McLaughlin, the lieutenant governor was and is a severely damaged figure.
When the Globe reported that McLaughlin, then the hugely overpaid Chelsea housing authority chief, was raising political funds for Murray, in possible violation of federal law, Murray and his team seemed utterly clueless about how to handle it.
Despite considerable evidence to the contrary, Murray claimed he hadn’t realized that McLaughlin was raising money for him. He further complained that no one had told him about McLauglin’s unsavory reputation. Had that latter assertion been true, the best one could say is that it made Murray look like either a dope or a dupe. But as I’ve previously reported, several credible sources say that Murray had indeed been warned about McLaughlin.
His political team seemed to think that ducking into a gopher hole and leaving the impression that Murray was somehow constrained from discussing the matter because McLaughlin is under investigation was a savvy strategy. Actually, that made Murray seem like someone with something to hide, an elected official unwilling to level with the press or the public.
Inside the administration, meanwhile, there were regular worries about the political allies Murray pushed for government posts, all with an eye to his political future.
A prime example of Murray’s propensity for playing pack-a-hack was his recommendation of McLaughlin’s son Matthew for a $60,000 post on a state board that hears appeals from people who have lost their licenses. That appointment came despite Matthew McLaughlin’s own spotty driving record. After the larger McLaughlin scandal broke, the Patrick administration broomed the younger McLaughlin from that job. Murray also embarrassed the administration by larding up various housing authority boards with his cronies.
Still, despite his many political liabilities, Murray would have occupied a certain political space in a Democratic field: That of a reasonably well-funded insider with a network of party regulars and strong ties to organized labor. In this day and age, those are only middling assets, but they could have made him a factor in the Democratic field.
But even in the unlikely event that he had emerged as the nominee, he would have been easy picking for Republican Charlie Baker, if, as expected, he runs again.
At this early stage, the Democrats lack a particularly persuasive gubernatorial hopeful. But Murray’s announcement at least means they won’t be embarrassed by a thoroughly unpersuasive one.