Just how cowed was the entire city of Boston, top to bottom, when Whitey Bulger was in the middle of his serial-killing reign of terror?
This is how terrified: the mayor of Boston, Kevin White, told a TV reporter in a videotaped interview in 1979 that he once feared that Whitey was planning to assassinate him in order to install a Mob stooge as mayor!
And, Hizzoner added for good measure, no reporters in the city dared to take on Whitey’s brother, Billy Bulger, then the president of the state Senate, because they too were afraid of being whacked by the pathological Whitey.
“The point is,” Mayor White told Chris Lydon of Ch. 2 after being reelected to a fourth term, “if my brother threatened to kill you, or you thought he would kill you, you would be nothing but nice to me, just wouldn’t want to get too close to investigating….”
Despite the wall-to-wall coverage this week of Whitey’s murder, many people still don’t understand just how scary it was to have stone-cold killers operating not just with impunity, but with the seal of approval from major segments of the city’s power structure.
(Here’s the link to listen to White’s comments to Chris Lydon.)
When this interview was recorded, Kevin White had been the mayor since 1967. Billy Bulger, Whitey’s brother – the Corrupt Midget, as a judge later dubbed him — was president of the state Senate.
At the time, Bulger was probably the most powerful politician in Massachusetts. As mayor of Boston, White was maybe number three or four in terms of overall clout. And yet he was petrified of being gunned down at any moment by the serial-killing, cocaine-dealing brother of the top pol in the state.
They say politics makes strange bedfellows. This was a case of politics maybe making strange deadfellows.
During the post-interview cutaway shots, White mildly chides Lydon for his reluctance to delve too deeply into the Bulgers’ depravity. (Actually, Chris had more stones than most – he lost his Ch. 2 newscast later because he did cross the Corrupt Midget, and his puppet governor, M. Stanley Dukakis.)
But although Kevin says Lydon’s fear “says a helluva lot about you,” he adds sympathetically, “I know how you feel.”
He means the palpable terror of all things Bulger. To be sure, White was a major-league BSer, with a flair for the melodramatic. But here I think he’s just pretty much laying out how he felt at the time. He segues into the bitter 1975 mayor’s race, at the height of busing. Organized crime was backing his opponent, Sen. Joe Timilty, who later went to prison for bank fraud.
“I know what it is,” White says, “in the ’75 fight, to realize at the end, the Mob was in the fight. A blind man knew that. And if they shot me they win all the marbles, so why not shoot the son of a bitch?”
He meant himself. The city was wracked with violence – there were riots, civil disturbances and random mayhem everywhere.
Whitey was taking advantage of the chaos to wipe out anybody who represented even the slightest threat to his rackets — he’d already clipped a bar owner in a phone booth on Morrissey Boulevard, and right before the election he murdered two guys in Southie in separate shootings in one night.
The first guy he killed and buried on the banks of the Neponset River. The second guy he killed and then dropped his body in the first guy’s car, so that the first guy would be blamed, and the cops would assume – and Whitey would tell them – that Number One must have killed Number Two and then gone on the lam to rob banks in Canada.
When you’re whacking that many people, what’s one more mayor, more or less?
“Do you know what it was like for me?” the mayor said. “I’m not exaggerating, I realized in busing one night — I went over, came out of, never went over again, came out of the tennis club at 11 o’clock at night, the parking lot with my cahhhh.”
I think he’s talking about the Boston Athletic Club on Summer Street. I never got a chance to ask him because he always denied this videotape existed. But anyway, the mayor is in Southie, and it’s very late, and he walks outside and realizes he’s all alone, on Whitey’s turf.
“I was never as scared in my life. I almost slept in the club, ‘cause I figured if they pump me out, which, why not, Whitey would be – they were crazy enough to do it then, then they draw Gerry O’Leary as council president –“
In other words, if Kevin gets two in the hat from Whitey, Gerry O’Leary becomes mayor. Like the Bulgers, Gerry O’Leary was from Southie. He even ran against Billy for state rep in ’60.
This was 1979, and O’Leary had just been elected to the School Committee. After nine months in office, the feds would arrest O’Leary for trying to shake down a school bus company for $650,000.
As Michael Corleone said, this is the life we chose – actually, the life they chose. They just dragged the rest of us into it with them.
If you’re ever talking to somebody who wasn’t around back in the day, and they dismiss the notion that each Bulger’s malevolent power fed off the other’s evil, just remember the words of Mayor Kevin Hagen White:
“If my brother threatened to kill you, or you thought he would kill you, you’d be nothing but nice to me.”