The President Of Senate And The King Of The Underworld

By Sarah Birnbaum

June 24, 2011

BOSTON — When the news broke about James "Whitey" Bulger's arrest on Thursday, there were a few obvious places for reporters to go. Some headed to Southie, the streets Bulger said he used to own. Others hopped on a plane to LA, hoping to arrive in time for Bulger's arraignment. And some spent a long, uneventful day waiting outside the home of William Bulger, former Massachusetts Senate president — and Bulger's brother.

The tale is almost Shakespearian. Two brothers grew up in a working class, immigrant neigbhorhood. One would go on to be one of the most powerful politicians in the state. The other would become a notorious crime boss, wanted for his alleged role in 19 murders. 
Reporter Peter Lucas has covered Billy Bulger since 1963:

“Whitey Bulger went on a path that led to criminality and murder. And Billy Bulger was a little bit different. Always and intellectual, and got into politics and was very very successful at it,” Lucas said.

As Whitey rose through the ranks of the violent Winter Hill Gang, Billy climbed the ladder of state politics, ascending from State representative, to state Senator, to Senate president. He held that position for 17 years, later becoming the president of the University of Massachusetts.
But the brothers’ fates would ultimately be tied.

In 2003, Billy was called on to testify before a Congressional committee, where lawmakers grilled him on Whitey’s whereabouts.  Bulger said he had no idea where Whitey was hiding.
"I do not know where my brother is. I do not know where he has been over the past 8 years," William said. 
Then Governor Mitt Romney grew angry over what he saw as Billy’s refusal to cooperate with authorities.  He called for Billy’s ouster as resident of the university and Billy resigned in 2003.

William stayed quiet upon the news of his brother's arrest on Thursday. When he finally released a statement, late Thursday night, he asked for privacy.

"I wish to express my sympathy to all the families hurt by the calamitous circumstances of this case. As the judicial process takes its course, I shall make no further comment at this time. Along with everyone else involved, I look forward to a resolution of this matter," William said, concluding, "I do hope, in the meantime, that my family may be accorded a measure of privacy,"  

Sign Up

Sign-up for WGBH News updates, WGBH promotions, and previews of what's coming up on WGBH TV.




Support for WGBH is provided by:
Become a WGBH sponsor