A much younger Timothy Murray worked in the mail room at the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce while he was still a student in high school. Now lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, Murray will resign next month to become the chamber’s president.
After more than six years as the number two in Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration, Murray said the decision to step aside before his term expires was a “difficult one,” but a choice that’s best for him and his family.
The executive board of the chamber voted unanimously on Wednesday afternoon to hire Murray to replace retiring president Richard Kennedy. The lieutenant governor plans to resign effective June 2. A press conference has been scheduled for 1:45 p.m. at the State House.
“It’s a unique opportunity and a job that’s not going to be available in January 2015,” Murray told the News Service during an interview in his office on Wednesday, noting how he watched as mayor of Worcester and then lieutenant governor as the chamber played a key role in the development of the Worcester Biotechnology Research Park, the DCU Center and other key projects in the central Massachusetts.
Murray said he was approached by the leadership of the executive board of the chamber a little over a month ago, and was not initially interested in the job because it would require him to step down from the administration.
After talking with his family and considering the opportunity further, Murray said he came to see the job as an extension of the work he has been doing with Patrick promoting regional economic development and being a cheerleader for central Massachusetts.
“The chamber has been a real catalyst in working with the public sector and creating jobs and diversifying the economy and it’s kind of consistent with what I’ve been doing for 15 years as a public official,” Murray said. “There’s never a perfect time, but this was just the timing. It wasn’t something I was seeking.”
Murray said he told Gov. Deval Patrick about the opportunity as soon as he started exploring the option, and he hired a private attorney to consult with the state Ethics Commission and file the necessary disclosures. He described the governor as “torn” about his decision to leave the administration early, but understanding that the chamber job presented a good opportunity for Murray both professionally and personally.
Heading into his second four-year term as Gov. Patrick’s right-hand man, Murray’s political future appeared bright and he was considered by many as a solid contender to succeed Patrick. But Murray’s star dimmed as he was dogged by a probe into his relationship with corrupt former Chelsea Housing Authority director Michael McLaughlin as well as lingering questions among Massachusetts citizens about a high-speed car crash.
McLaughlin earlier this year pleaded guilty in federal court to falsifying records about his salary, and will be sentenced June 14. As part of his plea deal, McLaughlin is required cooperate with investigators and has been probed for his potential fundraising ties to Murray, which would have been illegal given McLaughlin’s position as a federal housing employee.
“This has nothing to do with that, and I believe that thing will resolve itself over time and we’re continuing to try to do what we can to facilitate that,” Murray said. “This guy misled and lied to a whole bunch of people and organizations, including me, and that frustrates me to no end and makes me angry as someone who has worked since college on issues of housing and affordable housing and quality housing for people, so you live and learn.”
The Massachusetts Republican Party expressed skepticism about Murray’s motives for leaving the administration at this time, suggesting he could be following a course taken by former House Speaker Thomas Finneran who left the House for a high-paying job as head of the Massachusetts Biotech Council before pleading guilty to obstruction of justice charges.
“History doesn’t always repeat itself, but in this case it looks like Tim Murray is following the same path as a previous, disgraced Democratic official,” said MassGOP Executive Director Nate Little, in a statement. “Only time will tell if Murray follows the Finneran playbook to the end, complete with indictment and guilty plea."
Murray said his acceptance of the job and the McLaughlin scandal have nothing to do with one another, but said it will be for others to decide whether his tenure as lieutenant governor has been tainted and how he will be remembered.
“If people want to take the time to look at all the issues in my portfolio and the substantive work we’ve done, which doesn’t often happen with lieutenant governors, they’re going to see a record of accomplishment, getting things done, good leadership, good judgment and I’m comfortable with that,” Murray said.
Murray in January announced that he would not run for governor, saying he’d considered the impact that another grueling campaign would have on his family, including his wife and two young daughters.
Though he said he has often wondered over the past six plus years what he might do if he were governor, Murray said it “wasn’t a done deal” that he would run four years later after the 2010 reelection. He ultimately opted against pursuing a new chapter in his political career, but on Wednesday wouldn’t rule out a possible return to politics.
“We’ll see what the future holds. You never say never, right?” Murray said.
House Minority Leader Brad Jones wished the lieutenant governor well “on a personal level,” but said he had no doubt the scandals involving McLaughlin and the hiring of former highway safety director Sheila Burgess “precluded him from running effectively for governor.” He also wondered whether Murray, in his new post representing the business community, would continue to be a “zealous” advocate for the governor’s plan to raise taxes by $2 billion to invest in transportation.
“I wouldn’t put him up there in the Hall of Fame of lieutenant governors,” Jones said, a category the Republican reserved for Bill Weld’s one-time deputy Paul Cellucci, who as governor left office before his term ended to become U.S. ambassador to Canada.
Jones said he didn’t know if the investigations into McLaughlin would further ensnare Murray, but said, “We’re in a building and a business where guilt by association pays a heavy price even if you have nothing to do with it.”
Jones also predicted Murray’s departure will complicate any plans Patrick might have to travel over the last 19 months of his term, let alone should he want to leave early for a job in the Obama administration or pursue any opportunities. With Murray gone, Secretary of State William Galvin assumes the power of the governor when Patrick leaves the state.
“The scandals have, from what I understand, taken a toll,” Jones said, adding he believes Murray is “sincere in his argument that he wants to spend more time at home with his family.”
In his role as lieutenant governor, Murray became the link between the administration and municipal leaders. He also worked extensively on policy issues related to veterans, domestic abuse, and STEM education and led a task force focused on protecting the state’s military bases from closure.
Murray recently completed a multi-year effort to visit all 64 vocational-technical schools in the state, describing them a vital resource to train students in science, technology, engineering and math for job opportunities in growing sectors of the Massachusetts economy.
He said he was most proud of the work the administration has done to partner state government with cities and towns, expand commuter rail services to places like Worcester, clean brownfields for redevelopment, improve public education and promote regional equity.
“That’s what I ran on and what has been a constant theme of what we do every day,” Murray said.