The Bulgers' Public Connections, Explained in a Giant, Messy Map

Who isn't the Winter Hill Gang leader connected to in Boston?

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When it comes to the Whitey Bulger arrest, we understand some of you may be wondering why the arrest of a New England gangster--even one as infamous as Whitey Bulger--is being treated as a national news story. It's only when you understand the overlaps between Whitey (center image) and "good brother" William (the former president of the University of Massachusetts and head of the Massachusetts State Senate, pictured on the bottom in black-and-white) and the men who held power in media and politics in the Bay State. Sooner or later, they all hooked up with the Bulger brothers. To show these intertwined relationship, The Atlantic Wire has constructed a graphic that, well, won't exactly make the Byzantine inner workings of the Commonwealth any more clear, but will at least give you an appreciation for how complicated they are. Call it our attempt at "Art." Allies are linked to each in green, while rivals are in red. The LSD is just there because it's one of the wackier parts of the Bulger saga. Below the graph there's a brief write-up on each relationship by corresponding number, which is a much better way to understand the information.

As for the relationships, they are

1. Whitey Bulger and John Kerry The future U.S. Senator got a big early boost to his career when, as Middlesex District Attorney, he charged Bulger associates Howie Winter and Sal Sperlinga for violating a ban on pinball machines in the county. (Laugh now, but it was a huge deal, and a huge profit source for organized crime back in 1977. Soda machines too.)

2. John Kerry and William Weld  The former U.S. Attorney and Massachusetts governor gave Kerry the race of his life in 1996 when he was trying to get back to the Senate.

3. William Weld and William Bulger, Whitey's brother  The two got along surprisingly well when Weld was governor and Bulger was majority leader in Boston. They played the Brahmin and Irishman routine very well. Bulger would make a joke about Weld's family coming over on the Mayflower, and Weld would go, "Actually, they weren't on the Mayflower. They sent the servants over first to get the cottage ready."

4. Mitt Romney and William Bulger  Romney wasn't happy with Bulger's leadership of the UMass system or the fact that William was supposedly talking to his fugitive brother. He made a campaign promise to get rid of Bulger if elected. He got elected and then followed through with it when Bulger wouldn't meet with him. "It's not like Bulger is Mitt Romney's white whale," said one staffer to Boston magazine.

5. Barney Frank and William Bulger  Frank didn't care for Bulger's style back in 1972 when he refused to hear Frank's plans for a new black Senate district. Said Frank in 2004, "What bothered Bulger was the idea of the people who were involved in trying to change his districts--liberals, blacks, a Republican governor from Dover. And busing was coming too."

6. Morley Safer and William Bulger  Safer enjoyed Bulger a great deal when he profiled him for 60 Minutes on St. Patrick's Day in 1992. The video isn't online, but it sounds delightful. According to the Boston Phoenix archives,  President Clinton somehow even managed to enhance the moment by "placing jolly telephone calls to Bulger’s annual St. Patrick’s Day breakfast.

7. Howie Carr and Morley Safer and William Bulger  Easily excitable, frequently offensive Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr writes about the the Bulgers in his book The Brothers Bulger, and it's terrific. After the Safer interview, he could only marvel at how Bulger was trying to "reinvent himself, for a national, if not local audience, as a lovable leprechaun."

8. William Bulger and Whitey Bulger  William didn't have any comment when reporters told him about his brother's arrest this morning. But they're still brothers, and William's alleged communication with Whitey, and his refusal to give the law enforcement folks hints as to his brother's whereabouts was part of what led to his losing his job leading the University of Massachusetts. There was much public debate in the state at the time about the ethics of family loyalty.

9. See No. 7.

10. Mike Barnicle and Whitey Bulger  Carr rails frequently in the book (and did in his column today) about the Boston Globe lending tacit support to the Bulger brothers because of a highly specific kind of liberal guilt that makes them worry what mobsters will think of their editorial board. Neither Bulger has many friends on the Herald or Globe today. That wasn't the case in the early-'90s when Mike Barnicle still had a column at the Globe. Whatever you happen to think of him (and we like him), a column praising "Jimmy" Bulger as a model citizen because he split a $14 million lottery ticket four ways is problematic.

11. Whitey Bulger and Will McDonough  Perhaps the most incongruous defender of Whitey Bulger was esteemed Boston Globe sportswriter Will McDonough. He was best friends with Willl growing up. McDonough died suddenly of a heart attack in 2003. Bulger fainted at his funeral.

12. Whitey Bulger and LSD  Bulger insists that his participation in an LSD study while in jail in 1957 is what set him off. "We were recruited by deception," said Bulger in notes left behind when he left Boston in 1995. "We were encouraged to volunteer, to be guinea pigs in a noble humanitarian cause--searching for a cure for schizophrenia. We were told they could induce all the symptoms of schizophrenia by a chemical LSD-25."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.