The Magazine

The Anti-Brahmins

Not every Massachusetts dynasty is great.

Jul 24, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 42 • By EDWARD ACHORN
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"He's a special, special person," Connolly said of Billy. "He taught me the value of public service." Connolly ultimately began making so much money on the side--more than $200,000 from the mob, Carr asserts--that he let his government paychecks pile up, uncashed. The feds charged that he tipped off Whitey to an impending indictment in 1994, allowing the mobster to flee authorities and live off the fortune he amassed through crime--about $40 million, Carr estimates.

The author keeps the anecdotes flying. He recounts a story told by the late Boston Globe sportswriter Will McDonough, who grew up in Southie with the Bulgers. One day, when Will and Billy, then about 13 years old, were walking home from the beach, Whitey pulled up in a Cadillac convertible that neither of them had ever seen. They climbed in, and as they drove along, Billy spotted a kid his age pedaling a bicycle with an ice-cream chest attached to the handlebars.

"I never liked that kid," Billy said. Whitey followed the boy, and bumped the back of his bike with his fender, while the terrified boy tried to get away, racing toward Broadway. Billy told his brother he simply said he didn't like the kid; he didn't say to kill him.

"We're not going to kill him," Whitey answered. "When he gets to Broadway and barrels out into the street, the bus'll kill him." That passed for charming banter in the Bulger circle.

Why didn't the press more vigorously pursue the Bulgers? When Paul Corsetti, a Vietnam veteran and police reporter for the Boston Herald, began looking into a gangland murder, and Whitey's involvement in it, he ran into a stranger in a bar.

"I'm Jimmy Bulger and I kill people," the stranger told Corsetti. Then Bulger pulled out a piece of paper and began reciting to the reporter: Corsetti's address in Medford; the make, model, and license number of his car, and that of his wife; and such information about Corsetti's preschool daughter as where she was dropped off at day care each morning, and when. According to Carr, Corsetti began wearing a .38-caliber revolver to work--and it was five years before the Boston media looked seriously at Whitey again.

Many people who were more powerful than any mobster joined in promoting Billy Bulger. Religious leaders and politicians, including John Kerry and Edward Kennedy, flocked to Billy's annual St. Patrick's Day breakfasts, where the good old boys traded jokes about political bullying. The Bush family developed a fondness for Billy after he helped deep-six the 1988 presidential campaign of Michael Dukakis, Billy's fellow (but far more liberal) Democrat, with advice to the Bush campaign to look into the putrid condition of Boston Harbor. After winning the White House, George H.W. Bush gratefully phoned in quips on St. Patrick's Day, helping underscore Billy's clout. And in 2002, President George W. Bush's Justice Department stonewalled Congress on FBI documents that might have embarrassed Billy.

The ultimate effect of it all might be depressing, in that Whitey escaped to enjoy his millions on the run, and continues to do so more than a decade later, while Billy left the University of Massachusetts with a settlement that cost taxpayers $960,000, plus a steady pension check from Massachusetts--which, after taxes, came to $11,312.29 a month. Except that, thanks in part to The Brothers Bulger, Billy and Whitey will not escape the judgment of history, and such productions as Billy's self-serving autobiography, While The Music Lasts, will be seen for the claptrap it is. Continued exposure of the Bay State's often tribal and corrupt politics should alert perceptive critics to pertinent questions about Massachusetts politicians who rise from the muck.

As Whitey's gangster associate Kevin Weeks once testified, when asked how the power, reach, and connections of the brothers Bulger could have been covered up, or ignored, in America: "We weren't in America. We were in Boston."

Edward Achorn is deputy editor of the editorial pages at the Providence Journal.