I’m wagering that he’s the only police officer who felt the least bit saddened by the capture of James “Whitey” Bulger in Santa Monica, Calif.
And not because when the cop was 8, maybe 10, Whitey used to pile him and his buddies into a convertible and take them all to an ice cream parlor in Mashpee, Cape Cod, what was then known as the “Irish Riviera.” The cop, who works for a department here in the Capital District but wants his name omitted because his superiors get all jumpy at anything other than “hey, we arrested the bad guy” press releases, caught a touch of the melancholy not for Whitey’s predicament, but because of Billy Bulger, his brother.
The classic Irish-American cliche, that’s what it is: Good sonbad son, priest with the collar and criminal who gets collared. It is the stuff of James Cagney-esque movies, the son who goes up the river and the brother who goes straight.
By the time he got arrested last week, Whitey Bulger’s name had been mentioned in connection with 19 murders, on the run for 16 years after he allegedly got tipped off by a corrupt FBI agent that he was being indicted, central fi gure in the most embarrassing scandal to afflict J. Edgar’s bureau probably ever. After he fled, the scale of this deal with the devil would surface.
Whitey and Co. were FBI informants whose criminal activities were sanctioned, even assisted, by the federal agents, who would pass along their gangland intelligence to Whitey. In return, Whitey would rat out associates in South Boston. Whitey’s stomach-turning exploits would be the inspiration for the ruthless gangland boss played by Jack Nicholson in the 2006 movie “The Departed.” And I am guessing that nearly every Irish-American pol, cop or news reporter in the Albany area has seen the movie or read the 2000 book on Whitey titled “Black Mass” by a couple of reporters from The Globe.
During all that time, younger brother Billy Bulger was becoming the go-to guy in commonwealth politics, rising to the rank of president of the state Senate. A professional Irishman — his St. Patrick’s Day breakfasts were the material for legends — Billy probably was more powerful at the state level than Ted Kennedy.
“Mr. Bulger, that’s how we addressed him,” says my man, whose family summered in Mashpee, not far from where Billy would bring his nine kids. “We all hung out on the beach and we knew that Mister Bulger was powerful in state politics, but we didn’t know how powerful until one year we got tossed — his kids and ours — from a beach because they said it was ‘private.’ The very next year, when we went down there, there were no more ‘private’ beaches on the Cape. The statehouse had outlawed them. Nobody said what happened; nobody had to.”
Whitey, he says, would show up in Mashpee three, maybe four times a summer. The cop says none of the kids seemed to know that James Bulger already had served time in Alcatraz for armed robbery, which is frowned upon, even in Southie.
“All we knew was that Whitey was a nice guy and we were goin’ for ice cream in the convertible,” he says, “but a few years later, that’s when we read about what a bad person he was.”
Meanwhile, as they say, Billy would leave the Senate and become president of the multicampused University of Massachusetts. Billy would be called before a congressional commit- tee, which asked him if he had had contact with brother Whitey, and Billy answered absolutely not, well, just that one time when I went to a phone booth and took a call from him. Many people in Southie would smile as Billy said these things, and it was not long after that when Gov. Mitt Romney, not appreciating the tribal customs of South Boston, would force him to resign.
So Billy spends his summertime now in Mashpee, counting his $200,000-a-year public pension.
“That’s why I felt a little bit sad,” the cop says. “For Billy, not for Whitey; he’s just a common criminal, nobody cares about him. But it’s the family, Mr. Bulger and the others who have to go through all this again.” I told the cop about the Gore-Bush debate at the Quincy campus of UMass back in 2000 and the little interview I did with University President Billy Bulger, who was strutting about like a peacock, entertaining the out-of-town reporters. Later, Emily Rooney, Boston TV producer and daughter of Andy, said to me, “I hope you didn’t bring up Whitey in your interview because he will just storm off.” My cop says he will go next week to Cape “Cad,” as the Southies say, and he will not mention Whitey, either.
John McLoughlin is a veteran Capital Region journalist, now at NewsChannel 13. Reach him by email at JMcLoughlin@WNYT. com.