Monday, June 27, 2011
William Bulger had a remarkable career, particularly in light of his brother Whitey's criminal history. Billy was first elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1961, then to the State Senate in 1970, and served as President of the Massachusetts Senate from 1978 to 1996. In 1996 he was appointed President of the University of Massachusetts by then-Governor William Weld.
That Whitey Bulger is a sociopath goes without saying. He was extremely treacherous, and played everyone off against each other, betrayed partners, and almost certainly murdered 19 -- and probably more -- people. And character tends to run in families. So did the same character traits which helped Whitey climb to the top of the criminal heap in Boston help propel Billy in his rise to the top of the Massachusetts Senate? Did he, like Whitey, curry the right contacts, play people off against each other, and betray people whenever it would benefit him?
To what extent did Whitey himself actually help Billy's career? He was continually reelected from South Boston, the area his brother ruled over criminally. It's not hard to imagine Whitey helping the turnout for Billy the same way Mayor Daley did for John F. Kennedy in Cook County in 1960.
And to what extent did Billy aid his brother when Whitey was on the lam? Billy eventually admitted to speaking to his brother on a pay phone once, an act for which then-governor Mitt Romney forced him from his Presidency of the University of Massachusetts. But it's not hard to imagine that the contacts -- and the aid -- far exceeded that one call.
When they were young, Whitey took to the streets, while Billy gravitated to more bookish pursuits. Billy certainly can't be blamed for Whitey's criminal career. Nor would I blame him for aiding his fugitive brother. (It would, in my opinion, take a colder fellow to turn in his own brother than to aid him.)
But the more interesting question is, did the same traits which helped Whitey in his criminal career aid Billy in his political one? It would, of course, be impossible to give any sort of rigorous quantitatively-based answer to that.
But my guess is yes.