New CEO Murphy brings Beacon Hill experience to Harvard Street

Charley Murphy

There’s a fresh face on Blue Hill Ave. at one of the community’s key health centers. Charley Murphy, a former top state lawmaker, has taken over as the new President and CEO of the Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center in Dorchester.

Murphy wants to bring more efficiency, as well as more money, to the center. As a “lookalike” health center, Harvard Street is not eligible for federal grants that federally certified centers can apply for. This leaves the center reliant on private donations and the state budgeting process, something Murphy has unique expertise with.

Murphy said his primary qualification for the job is the time he spent helping manage the state’s budget on Beacon Hill. From 2009 to 2011, Murphy served as chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, the chief budget writer under House Speaker Robert DeLeo. Healthcare made up an $11 billion line item in the budget, Murphy said. The budget posting was the culmination of Murphy’s 16 year career in the House.

Other goals Murphy has for the health center include the addition of five new behavioral health experts, greater outreach into the community and the creation of a task force to draw up a five-year plan.
Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center offers pediatric, dental and general medical care. It runs a women’s clinic as well as a men’s clinic with a range of services.

After a stint at a healthcare IT company after leaving the Legislature, Murphy said he wanted to get back to a “mission-driven organization,” akin to his time in the U.S. Marine Corps and the Legislature.

Harvard Street has been without a permanent president since Dr. Chidi Achebe left the post in June. Murphy said he “tripped over” the job listing on a website and on Aug. 18 submitted his name for consideration to the center’s Board of Directors. Murphy told the Reporter in an interview this week that he took the health center job after applying and interviewing for several jobs in the health, education and homelessness sectors.

Harvard Street Board of Directors chairperson Bonnie Brathwaite said the Board was impressed by Murphy’s first interview, where he presented them with a 60-day plan to improve the center’s performance.
According to Brathwaite, Murphy’s plan was deeply researched and he “knew all of the things in the closet,” including details on financial status and the center’s past CEOs. Brathwaite said Murphy left the plan with the board without knowing whether he’d get the job.

After leaving the State House last year, Murphy found a job at health IT firm Arcadia Solutions in his hometown of Burlington, MA. As Arcadia’s vice president of public policy and government affairs, Murphy says he expanded his knowledge of the healthcare field.

“But it wasn’t getting me out of bed in the morning,” Murphy said of the Arcadia job.

Now, Murphy is back to commuting to Boston every day from his home in Burlington with new motivation. When asked if he’d be moving to the city, Murphy left the door open saying “maybe in the future” he’d come to live in the area.

Murphy doesn’t consider his background in Burlington, a town of about 24,000 between Boston and Lowell, to be a disadvantage working for an urban health center.

“My place of birth is wholly irrelevant,” Murphy said, adding that the knowledge he gained as a statewide leader will guide his decisions.

Brathwaite insists Murphy was the best candidate the Board looked at and that the job is about leadership, “not the color of his skin.”

“At the end of the day, we need to ask ‘who is going to be the best leader here for Harvard Street?’”
Brathwaite said.

The Ways and Means position is considered one of the choicest assignments on Beacon Hill and more than one recent Ways and Means Chair has been elevated to the Speakership by their colleagues.

It was the potential opportunity to become speaker himself that reportedly lead to the end of Murphy’s legislative career. Murphy has said in interviews that he spoke with numerous representatives about the “future of the House” but that he never asked for colleagues to support him in an effort to oust DeLeo or to become his successor. DeLeo replaced Murphy on Ways and Means in 2011 with Haverhill Rep. Brian Dempsey, but retained Murphy on his leadership team as majority whip.

That position lasted until the end of 2011, when Murphy resigned from leadership entirely and claimed DeLeo was centralizing power in the Speaker’s office. Murphy hung on to his House seat for a few months before resigning and joining Arcadia full time.

Murphy’s office in the center’s 632 Blue Hill Ave. headquarters is adorned with photos from his career in state government. Upon the wall hangs a photo portrait of the members of the House of Representatives and at least one photo features a former colleague that could play a big role in helping Harvard Street flourish: Boston Mayor-elect Marty Walsh. Murphy has known Walsh for 18 years and has been “through thick and thin” with the Savin Hill representative, including budget battles during his time at Ways and Means.

“It’s certainly not going to hurt,” Murphy admits about his relationship with Walsh, who attended the center’s recent gala event.