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William Michael "Billy" Bulger (born February 2, 1934) is a retired American politician from South Boston, Massachusetts who rose to become President of the Massachusetts State Senate and president of the University of Massachusetts. He is the third of six children born to Irish immigrants who settled in South Boston during the Depression, and brother of fugitive mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger.

Contents

Education and early career

Bulger was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts to Irish immigrants James Joseph Bulger and Jane Veronica "Jean" McCarthy. The Bulgers moved to South Boston's Old Harbor housing project when it opened in 1938, when Bulger was four years old. He grew up there and has maintained lifelong friendships with many of those who were his neighbors there, including best friend, Korean war Marine P.O.W. and purple heart recipient Fred L. Toomey. The late Congressman Joe Moakley (1927–2001) was also a close childhood neighbor.[1] Although the Bulger family was poor, William successfully matriculated into Boston College High School. He enrolled at Boston College in 1952, but his undergraduate career was interrupted when he joined the United States Army in order to serve his country in the Korean War. He served from September 1953 to November 1955, then returned to Boston College and completed his undergraduate degree in English Literature with the help of the G.I. Bill. He attended Boston College Law School, from which he received his Doctor of Jurisprudence degree in 1961.[1]

As a graduate of Boston College High School, Boston College (as an undergraduate), and Boston College Law School, he is what is commonly referred to as a "triple eagle." He is also the recipient of over 20 honorary degrees from a variety of academic institutions,[1] and is renowned by friends and acquaintances for his erudition, his facility with Latin and the Classics, and his voracious reading habits. In August 2008 he was a featured guest on The Kindle Chronicles, a weekly podcast program on the Amazon Kindle and the reading habits of Kindle owners.

Political career

Bulger became interested in politics in 1959 and was first elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1961. After serving four terms, Bulger was elected to the Massachusetts State Senate in 1970 representing the First Suffolk District. He was elected President of the Massachusetts State Senate in 1978 and re-elected every two years to 1996, making his time as State Senate President the longest tenure in Massachusetts history.

A consummate South Boston Irish American politician, Bulger joined other neighborhood leaders in opposition to court-ordered busing.

Like other Massachusetts politicians who were elected leaders of their legislative chambers, Bulger was frequently pilloried in the media, but remained very popular in his district. He won his district election every two years from 1961 to 1994 without ever facing a challenge more serious than he faced in the Democratic primary in 1988, when Stephen Holt, a neophyte liberal activist and bookstore owner from Dorchester won 31 out of 60 precincts, only to lose the district by a landslide due to the huge turnout of Bulger supporters in South Boston.

Political milestones

During the 1960s, he led efforts to write the first child abuse reporting laws in the state.

Bulger was among the first advocates of charter schools and public school choice. During the 1980s, he advocated funding of public libraries, the expansion of childhood nutrition services and fuel assistance programs. As Senate president, Bulger led the debate on welfare reform in the early 1990s, with the resulting legislation becoming the model for a national law.

For many years, Bulger hosted the annual St. Patrick's Day Breakfast in South Boston. This was a "roast" of politicians.[1]

President of the University of Massachusetts System

Although a Democrat, Bulger was appointed President of the University of Massachusetts by Republican Governor William Weld in 1996.

On August 6, 2003, Bulger announced that he would resign as President of the system with effect from September 1, 2003. His resignation came due to pressure from Republican Governor Mitt Romney. In addition to Bulger the entire Senior Staff of the Office of the President of the University of Massachusetts resigned. Jack Wilson, a hand-picked Bulger staffer, who was overseeing the creation of the University Online Web Learning Portal was tapped to be the interim President. He would later take the post in whole.

Controversy over brother

Bulger's elder brother, James (aka Whitey), is a fugitive Boston crime boss sought for murder and several other crimes. William Bulger's role in his brother's escape from authorities is a matter of some dispute. On June 19, 2003, he testified to a House about an incident in which, while still President of the Massachusetts State Senate, he "went to an arranged location in 1995 to take a call from his fugitive brother, apparently to avoid electronic eavesdropping. He said that accepting the call from the gangster without bothering to inform the FBI was 'in no way inconsistent with my devotion to my own responsibilities, my public responsibilities.'"[2]

During the hearing, when asked what he thought James (Whitey) did for a living, William Bulger said: Rep. ... “ I had the feeling that he was uh in the business of gaming and uh ... Whatever. It was vague to me but I didn't think, uh—for a long while he had some jobs but uh ultimately uh it was clear that he was not uh um being um uh you know he wasn't doing what I'd like him to do.[2]

Bulger also testified that the FBI never asked if he knew of Whitey's location. Those remarks were disputed by a former FBI agent who claimed Bulger declined to submit to an interview with the bureau.[3] Months later, the committee report found Bulger's testimony "inconsistent" about whether the FBI had contacted him in its search for his fugitive brother.[3]

The controversy over the relationship between the two brothers, one a political leader, the other a crime boss, is further examined in a recent book "The Brothers Bulger" by Howie Carr[4]

Active retirement

Bulger is a past president of the Boston Public Library Board of Trustees and continues to serve on the board. He is also Overseer Emeritus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In addition, he is a former member of the Massachusetts General Hospital Board of Trustees, Museum of Fine Arts Board of Trustees, McLean Hospital Board of Trustees and Citizens Bank of Massachusetts Board of Directors. He joined the faculties of Boston College and Suffolk University as a lecturer of political science in 2004. Bulger lives in South Boston with Mary, his wife whom he married in 1960. They have nine children (Bill, Jim, Sarah, Patrick, Mary, Dan, Kathleen, Chris and Brendan) and now have 32 grandchildren.

Bibliographical Works

  • Bulger, William M. While the Music Lasts: My Life in Politics. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1996. ISBN 0-395-72041-9.
  • Carr, Howie. The Brothers Bulger: How They Terrorized and Corrupted Boston For a Quarter Century. Lebanon, IN: Warner Books (Hachette Book Group, Inc.), 2006. ISBN 0-446-57651-4.
  • PROFILE IN POLITICAL POWER, a 2009 documentary produced by JAMAR Productions and narrated by John Burke, is about the political career of William M. Bulger.

See also

Footnotes

  1. ^ a b c d Bulger, William (1996). While the Music Lasts. Houghton Miffen Co. ISBN 0-395-72041-9. 
  2. ^ a b Edward Achorn,"The Anti-Brahmins: Not Every Massachusetts Dynasty Is Great," book review of The Brothers Bulger: How They Terrorized and Corrupted Boston For a Quarter Century, by Howie Carr, The Weekly Standard magazine, July 24, 2006.
  3. ^ a b Fox Butterfield, "F.B.I.Used Killers as Informants, Report Says," New York Times November 21, 2003, accessed September 10, 2006
  4. ^ Howie Carr, "The Brothers Bulger" The Brothers Bulger (New York: Warner Books, 2006) 323.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Kevin Harrington
President of the Massachusetts State Senate
1978 - 1996
Succeeded by
Thomas Birmingham
Academic offices
Preceded by
Sherry H. Penney
President of the University of Massachusetts
1996 - 2003
Succeeded by
Jack M. Wilson
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