So it turns out that Lt. Governor Tim Murray was pretty tight with Michael McLaughlin, the Chelsea housing official currently under federal investigation for finagling (and failing to report) a whopping $360,000 salary, and then snatching another $200K on his way out the door. If you don't know what I'm typing about, read this and this before you continue.
Specifically, Murray and McLaughlin were apparently phone buddies. McLaughlin's cell phone records show more than eighty calls between the two over the past seven months (and that's just the cell phone).
Yesterday Murray, joined by a testy Governor Patrick, argued that there is nothing inappropriate or even unusual about Murray's relationship with a crook. Let's unpack their defense.
First, there's the "just doing my job" line. McLaughlin was a housing official. Housing policy is in Murray's issue portfolio. What's the issue? From Boston.com:
“Part of my portfolio is working with local officials - elected and appointed and others. I have dozens of phone calls on a day-to-day basis with lots of officials across the state including Mr. McLaughlin,” Murray explained.
Murray said he was outraged to learn McLaughlin’s true salary, which may be the highest for any public housing official in the United States.
McLaughlin “was a political supporter. As I said, he’s someone on housing issues that I would talk to from time to time, but I was not aware of the full extent of his contract, like everyone else, until that Globe article appeared on” Oct. 30, Murray told reporters. “He misled me. He misled other people. I’m disappointed. I’m frustrated, and I’m angry.”
This defense relies on the (safe and reasonable) assumption that 99.9% of the voting population has no idea whatsoever what the Lt. Governor does, and therefore no basis to question the proposition that it is perfectly normal for him to chat an average of three times a week with a single local official.
As it happens, I do know exactly what the Lt. Governor does, and this assertion that there was nothing out of the ordinary going on here is complete nonsense. There are 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts, many with dozens of local elected officials. It is conceivable that there was nothing inappropriate about the frequency of Murray's contacts with McLaughlin, but the claim that there was nothing unusual about their volume is laughable.
Next there's the "he was a political supporter" defense. Again from Boston.com: "Several Merrimack Valley politicians said the frequency of the calls reflect the fact that McLaughlin is one of Murray’s main political operatives north of Boston." That's not part of the defense we'll hear from Murray or Governor Patrick directly - claiming a guy who finagled hundreds of thousands of public dollars into his personal accounts as a "main political operative" doesn't exactly help the LG's case.
It doesn't help explain the volume of calls either. In a non-election year, the Lieutenant Governor's political machine isn't exactly a 24/7 operation. Three calls a week with a regional political operative? Sorry - still doesn't pass the smell test.
That stench gets worse as we learn that McLaughlin called Murray "within hours" of learning that the Globe was on to his exorbitant salary. And worse yet when we find out that Murray arranged a job for McLaughlin's son (who has a "lengthy driving record, which included a license suspension for refusing to take a breathalyzer test") with the Registry of Motor Vehicles' board of appeals ("which hears appeals from drunk drivers who have lost their licenses.") Honestly aren't there any standards at all in the Massachusetts Democratic patronage machine? The kid apparently referred openly to Murray as his "godfather," an appellation that is a term of art within state government, meaning 'the VIP who has my back.' Common usage might be, for example, 'We can't fire that kid - the LG is his godfather.'
So then Patrick and Murray go where Patrick at least always goes when pressed - to self-righteous indignation at the fact that anyone would dare to question his motives or actions. Here's the Herald:
“[There is] nothing indicating there was something inappropriate about those phone calls. I do not believe in guilt by association. This is a fabulous lieutenant governor who runs to works every day to do the best he can by the people of the Commonwealth. I am proud of him and I am proud to serve with him and the Chelsea housing authority executive director who breached the public’s trust has some consequences,” Patrick said.I don't believe in "guilt by association" either. Suspicion by association, though? Legitimate questions prompted by association? Judging a person by the company he chooses to keep? That's all pretty rational stuff. And there is plenty "indicating there was something inappropriate about those phone calls" - starting with their sheer volume. Here's a little more Patrick, from Boston.com:
Patrick stoutly defended his second in command, bristling when a reporter asked why the lieutenant governor would need to call a Chelsea housing official so frequently.How obnoxious. Know what we don't like, Governor? What we don't "appreciate"? Public officials who look at plumes of billowing smoke and get all pissy at the suggestion that there just might be a fire.
“Do you know how much phone tag we play around here?” Patrick asked. “We and in particular the lieutenant governor is in constant contact with local elected officials all around the Commonwealth. And let me tell you what I don’t like, what I don’t appreciate, is insinuation when there is nothing.”
Something is going on with Tim Murray lately. I have no idea whether it is a series of unfortunate coincidences that have transformed him from a non-entity to a total political train-wreck over the past few weeks, or if all of these strange occurrences are somehow connected. But he's a mess.
That said, he's a mess at the best possible time, with the last election safely in the rear-view and the next (in which it is no secret Murray wants to play the leading role) still a long ways off.
Speaking of that election, while Tim Murray spends a good chunk of his time on the phone with a crook, or surveying storm damage in the dead of night, more than a few political observers lately have noted that just about every week the Attorney General manages to get herself on the front page with smart, consumer-friendly initiatives that fairly scream "I'm thinking hard about running for governor"...
UPDATE 11/20: Seems the LG's explanation didn't exactly lay all questions comfortably to rest...