BOSTON (AP) — Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray announced yesterday that he would step down from his elected post to accept a job as head of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, saying his departure from state government did not stem from controversies that had swirled around him in recent years.
His resignation from the position he has held for more than six years will be effective on June 2.
Murray, who decided earlier in the year not to run for governor next year, succeeding Gov. Deval Patrick, said in an interview with The Associated Press that he had not been job hunting.
“I wasn’t seeking the position. This is something that came to me,” Murray said.
The lieutenant governor also said his resignation had nothing to do with an ongoing investigation into his ties with a former housing official who has pleaded guilty to federal charges or with an early-morning car crash in November 2011 in which investigators said he driving more than 100 miles per hour.
The chamber’s board of directors unanimously approved Murray’s appointment as president and chief executive of the business group, succeeding Richard Kennedy, who retired after nine years.
Murray said the organization first contacted him about the position about a month ago, but that he initially was not interested because he intended to complete his second term, which ends in January 2015.
He said he later decided, however, that the opportunity would be a good one professionally and for his family, and realized the job would not still be available after he leaves office.
Murray, 44, is the father of two girls, ages 7 and 8. He said he would earn more than $200,000 in the new job, though he declined to give the exact salary. He earns nearly $125,000 as lieutenant governor.
There is no provision in Massachusetts law for filling a vacancy in the lieutenant governor’s office, so the position will remain vacant until after the next state election.
Secretary of State William Galvin would become the next in line to the governor’s office following Murray’s departure, and will serve as the state’s acting governor when Patrick is traveling.
Murray, a former Worcester mayor, has enjoyed strong support from Patrick and has been credited with leading many of the administration’s economic development initiatives, as well as strengthening ties with municipal officials around the state. But recent missteps have clouded his tenure.
In January, the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance made public a letter it sent in September to Attorney General Martha Coakley saying there was evidence Murray and his political committee broke the law by accepting donations raised by former Chelsea Housing Authority Director Michael McLaughlin.
McLaughlin pleaded guilty in February to federal charges that he knowingly concealed his salary in annual housing authority budgets from 2008 to 2011 and submitting the false figures to state and federal regulators. He admitted to falsely reporting his annual salary as $160,415 in 2011, when his total compensation was at least $324,896.
Murray has acknowledged that McLaughlin was a political supporter but said he never asked McLaughlin to raise campaign money for him and was unaware of the bloated salary.
“Michael McLaughlin misled a whole lot of people and organization, including me,” Murray said Wednesday, adding that it played no role in his resignation.
Murray also faced questions about the pre-dawn crash on Interstate 190 that totaled the state car he was driving. Data later released from the vehicle’s “black box” show the car was traveling more than 100 miles per hour in the moments before it left the highway, hit a rock ledge and rolled over.
Murray, who was not seriously injured, was issued a $555 ticket.
His version of the events of that morning shifted during the course of the investigation. He initially told reporters he was driving around the speed limit and believed the cause of the accident was black ice, but he later said he probably fell asleep at the wheel just before the accident.
Rep. Bradley Jones, the Republican leader in the Massachusetts House, wished Murray well but said unanswered questions remained about the controversies.
“His direct connection to improper hiring practices and midnight car rides leave far more questions upon his departure than answers,” Jones said.
After entering into employment discussions with the chamber, Murray said he hired a private attorney and as a precaution, filed a notice with the state Ethics Commission because of a “potential appearance of a conflict of interest.”
But Murray added that the chamber receives no state funding and had no active issues pending before the governor’s office or the Legislature.
At an afternoon news conference, Patrick called Murray “a friend, a mentor and a partner,” who had been an integral part of his administration and a leader on a variety of issues.
Both Patrick and Murray insisted there was never any effort to nudge the lieutenant governor from office.
Murray, who was applauded by state employees before and after the news conference, acknowledged mistakes but said he was extremely proud of his accomplishments in public life.
“Nobody’s perfect. Nobody bats 1000,” Murray said.
He would not rule out a future run for office.