BOSTON — Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray announced Wednesday that he will resign on June 2 to accept a position as president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Murray, 44, was once considered a leading contender to succeed Gov. Deval Patrick. But in January he announced that he would not seek the top office.
The lieutenant governor faced poor polling numbers and considerable political baggage: a mysterious car crash in 2011 and ties to disgraced former Chelsea housing chief Michael McLaughlin.
McLaughlin pleaded guilty earlier this year to concealing his outsize $360,000 salary from regulators.
The former housing director, who will be sentenced June 14, has agreed to cooperate with authorities. Attorney General Martha Coakley is investigating McLaughlin’s alleged illegal fundraising on Murray’s behalf.
The lieutenant governor denied, in January, that the McLaughlin entanglement had anything to do with his decision to forgo the governor’s race.
And he insisted, on Wednesday, that the case had nothing to do with his decision to resign and take the job at the chamber of commerce.
“It had nothing to do with this decision,” he said at a State House press conference. “This is a unique opportunity, a special opportunity.”
Murray, who has a strong relationship with the governor, had a broader portfolio than many of the lieutenant governors who preceded him. He played a lead role on veterans issues, substance abuse, domestic violence and economic development.
A former Worcester mayor, he also worked as the governor’s liaison to local elected officials.
“Tim Murray has been a trusted partner and a — just a great friend,” said Patrick, standing at Murray’s side. “So this is no small loss — for our team, or for me.”
The governor downplayed suggestions that Murray’s departure is a sign of the growing lame-duck status of his administration, which comes to an end in January 2015.
Murray said he was not seeking an early exit. And when the chamber approached him in late March, he initially dismissed the idea.
But Murray said he came around in time, recognizing the job as an opportunity to continue working on some of the issues that occupied him in office.
The new job will pay some $200,000 — more than the current chamber president earns and more than the roughly $125,000 Murray earns in the lieutenant governor’s office.
But Murray said the decision was not about money. He could earn more, he suggested, as a lobbyist or lawyer.
Lou DiNatale, a Democratic operative based just outside Worcester, suggested Murray’s rise and subsequent troubles have to be viewed through the prism of geography.
“It’s always tough for somebody outside the greater Boston area to play major league ball in Boston,” he said. “You’re at such a disadvantage, in terms of vote totals, as well as available resources, fundraising resources and media attention.”
In that context, DiNatale said, Murray’s ascension to the lieutenant governor’s chair was a “Cinderella story.”
But ultimately, the operative said, the former Worcester mayor was “undercapitalized” — partially explaining his association with an unsavory character like McLaughlin.
Murray himself expressed some frustration with the Boston-centric focus of the State House at the Wednesday press conference.
And he suggested that part of his job, at the chamber, will be winning more attention for Worcester and central Massachusetts.
“People in this building, too often, focus…in the area…immediately around this building,” he said. “And if we were to be serious about long-term economic development growth, we need to focus on different regions of the state.”
Shifting the orientation of policymakers will be no small task. But Murray, well-liked on Beacon Hill, may be better positioned than most to take a crack.
Murray seems unlikely to run for office in the near future. But he would not rule out another campaign down the line. “There’s all these comeback stories,” he said at the press conference. “Read the news.”
Murray may have been referencing disgraced former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner’s announcement late Tuesday that he will run for mayor of New York City.
For now, Murray’s departure leaves a hole in the administration.
The state constitution does not provide a mechanism for replacing the lieutenant governor. So the slot will remain open until the end of Patrick’s term.
Secretary of State William Galvin is next in line to the governor’s office and will serve as acting governor when Patrick is out of the state.
– Here’s more from WBUR’s Fred Bever: