Murph’s Last Grasp?

Can Stephen Murphy rally his troops one last time, or is this stab at higher office his last?
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  March 24, 2010

The ever-restless Stephen Murphy is at it again, running anew for state treasurer — just a few months after voters re-elected him to the Boston City Council. Murphy, 52, has spent most of the past decade alternating between Council re-election campaigns and trying to get off the Council — and into a better job.

In 2002, he ran for state treasurer (losing in the primary to Tim Cahill), and in 2004 for Suffolk County sheriff (losing to Andrea Cabral); in 2007 and 2008, he negotiated for an appointment from Governor Deval Patrick, nearly accepting at least one offer from the administration to head a state commission.

His wandering eye has been targeted as a political liability: before the 2007 city election, a mailing depicted Murphy with a shopping cart of boxes labeled with all the jobs he has sought. But that charge has not prevented him from retaining the citywide seat he has held since 1997.

Now, as Murphy tries to rally his supporters for another bigger-than-just-Boston campaign, some are saying that it will be the last time they will answer his call.

One city-politics insider wonders if Murphy, should he lose this race, will run again for City Council — or, if he does, whether he can hope to win. Boston’s voters, says this operative, are like a girlfriend who Murphy keeps coming back to after courting other women. Eventually, the girlfriend stops taking him back.

Of course, pundits and pols have counted out Murphy before, and he has always managed to win one of the four at-large spots. In fact, Murphy had one of his best showings in 2009, ending up second, just 354 votes behind John Connolly.

During that campaign, rumors started to spread that Murphy was already eying the state auditor position for 2010. He ultimately stayed out of that race. But when Norfolk County treasurer Joe Connolly withdrew from the treasurer’s race last month — leaving businessman Steve Grossman as the only Democratic candidate — Murphy quickly jumped in.

This race looks like an uphill climb for Murphy. Grossman is a long-time Democratic Party fundraiser, former head of both the state and national Democratic Party, and a onetime candidate for governor. That has helped earn him endorsers and organizers across the state, not to mention roughly $700,000 in campaign contributions; he is likely to spend roughly $1.5 million in the primary campaign, according to Doug Rubin, an advisor to the Grossman campaign.

Murphy will be hard-pressed to keep up with that. He raised $664,000 for his 2002 campaign for treasurer, by far the most he has ever raised — and times are tougher for fundraising now.

But Murphy has friends and contacts, as well, ranging from old Boston Irish connections (he was once Dapper O’Neil’s driver) to Patrick, who Murphy endorsed and worked for early in his gubernatorial bid. Before announcing his candidacy, Murphy made the calls to be sure that he could count on enough support — money and volunteers — to run a credible race.

By virtue of his personality, Murphy also may be better able to position himself as a man of the people and Beacon Hill outsider — though Rubin and other Grossman supporters scoff at that notion.

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  Topics: Talking Politics , Doug Rubin, Deval Patrick, Michael Flaherty,  More more >
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