You may have to be from Massachusetts to get the full flavor of what a big deal it is that James “Whitey” Bulger, who has been a fugitive since he disappeared just before his federal racketeering indictment in January 1995, has finally been apprehended.
Here’s the lede from the Boston Globe:
Sixteen years after he went on the lam, fugitive Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger was found living in a sun-splashed California community in a rent-controlled apartment just a few blocks from the beach, under an assumed name, with an arsenal of guns and a small fortune in cash, federal authorities said today.
Bulger, who once rampaged through Boston’s underworld and allegedly committed 19 murders, was arrested, along with his girlfriend, Catherine Greig, without incident late Wednesday afternoon. The arrest brought a successful conclusion to a global manhunt, said Richard DesLauriers, special agent in charge of the FBI office in Boston.
“Although there were those who doubted our resolve over the years, it has never wavered,” he said.
I can’t add much to the Globe’s superb coverage. But for political junkies, it’s worth noting that this apprehension is a piece of good news for Mitt Romney. Romney had tangled with Whitey’s brother Billy, a legendary Massachusetts politician whom Romney pushed out as president of the University of Massachusetts-Boston. Glen Johnson of the Globe explains why Romney had a right to crow a bit today.
To outsiders, it may have seemed strange for a Republican presidential candidate to issue a statement about the arrest of a fugitive.
But Mitt Romney isn’t just a presidential candidate. And James “Whitey” Bulger isn’t just an everyday fugitive.
As the newly inaugurated governor of Massachusetts in 2003, Romney pressured Bulger’s brother William to resign as head of the University of Massachusetts system when he admitted - under a grant of immunity - that he had spoken with his brother after he became a fugitive in 1995.
Subsequently, James Bulger joined Osama bin Laden on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. Among other things, he is accused of murdering 19 people.
“I hope the capture of Whitey Bulger brings some measure of relief to the families of his numerous victims. It brings to a close a sad and sordid chapter in recent Massachusetts history,” Romney said in his statement today.
Left unstated was that James Bulger's arrest is a fresh talking point for a candidate who casts himself as a non-politician, and as someone who took on the Democratic establishment when he finally entered the political arena.
And that argument could gain fresh resonance in the 2012 presidential race, as Romney pitches himself universally as a political outsider; to Democrats as someone capable of working in a bipartisan fashion, as proven with the 2006 Massachusetts universal health care law; and to Republicans as a candidate who can be trusted to challenge the Democrats who already control the US Senate and the White House.
“The entire Bulger affair established Mitt Romney as a genuine political outsider and as a person who was more interested in cleaning up government than in going along with the business-as-usual crowd,” said a top adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom.
As Johnson reported, Bulger had told the grand jury: “I do have an honest loyalty to my brother and I care about him. I don’t feel an obligation to help everyone to catch him.”
Perhaps this won’t resonate much outside of the Boston area, though the Whitey story is quite extradordinary. But remember that the most populous part of New Hampshire is in the Boston media market. Romney has built up a big lead in the polls in New Hampshire. This will only help him some more. Of course, it would have been even better for Romney if the arrest had happened, say, a week before the New Hampshire primary.