Southie Residents Divided On Bulger's Legacy

By Adam Reilly

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June 23, 2011


Residences at the Mary Ellen McCormack housing development, formerly as the Old Harbor Housing project, are seen in South Boston on Thursday. Bulger once lived in the Old Harbor Housing project. (AP)

SOUTH BOSTON — From the outset his criminal career, James "Whitey" Bulger was boosted by his image as a gentleman gangster: A tough guy who did some bad things but always looked out for the best interests of his neighbors in South Boston.
 
That myth has taken a hit in recent years by a steady succession of books detailing Bulger’s toxic effect on his hometown. But for some people in Southie, the Bulger mystique is alive and well.
 
“If you were from the neighborhood, he always helped out the kids, always gave them money always gave them food if they were hungry and had nothing to eat,” said a woman who asked not to be named. “If you didn’t have a coat, he would put a coat on your back.”
 
The woman was in her twenties, but she learned about Whitey from her mother who grew up in the Old Colony housing projects, where Bulger lived. He was bad, she admits, but not all bad.
 
“He wasn’t somebody that you wanted to go and have a slumber party with. But he – he had a heart,” she said.
 
Her friend Kellie O’Toole, another woman in her twenties, had a similarly generous take -- and some deep suspicions about the FBI.
 
“Everybody’s saying they’ve been looking for him for 16 years? No one can be on the run that long. You have to admit that the FBI hasn’t been looking for him every day,” O’Toole said.
 
But for people who knew Bulger at the height of his powers, he’s harder to romanticize. Linda Ambrosia, 57, had nothing good to say about Bulger, or his impact on South Boston.
 
“I was in one of his after-hours clubs one night and he came in and gave me the stare down and I walked out the door. He did have those piercing eyes that would, like, stab you
 
Ambrosia says her ex-husband was a Bulger associate who did time on drug charges. She was elated when she heard about his arrest.
 
“I was really happy. I mean, to think this guy can get away for 16 years and they got Osama bin Laden before him – I was really happy,” Bulger.
 
And she scoffs at the notion that Bulger was a do-gooder who dispensed handouts to needy kids.
 
“ He took your money. He put the drugs on the street and took your money. And if you didn’t give him money you were dead,” Ambrosia said.
 
Anyone who speaks well of Bulger, she added, is crazy.


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