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Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Irony at UMass

UMass seems set to name Jack Wilson as its new president today, and that is causing some gnashing of teeth among the Bulger haters at the Globe like Scot Lehigh and Steve Bailey because of Wilson's close Bulger ties. The beautiful irony of the whole episode, though, is that the preferred Globe candidate, Democratic fundraiser Alan Solomont, has been hurt in his efforts to land the job by his brothers' legal problems. Sound familiar? Here's Lehigh (who doesn't bother hiding his disdain by referring to Bulger "apparatchiks" and "acolytes") on Solomont:

What he has is fund-raising prowess. Although that initially interested the board, Solomont's candidacy apparently was hurt by the disclosure that one of his brothers is in prison in Israel for embezzlement and another is being sued for allegedly diverting funds from a start-up company.

Solomont himself is known as a honorable guy and a straighter shooter, but after the rough ride with Bulger, whose presidency was marked by controversy about his role in regard to his fugitive brother, James "Whitey" Bulger, trustees are said to have grown skittish. Meanwhile, the Wilson faction has taken advantage of that nervousness to press for their man.

This seems a perfectly reasonable response. After seeing their previous president run out by opportunistic pols and spiteful journalists because of his brother's legal problems, the board should be wary of bringing on board someone with similar troubles. Bailey tries to distinguish the Bulger and Solomont cases:

The disclosures mattered to the UMass board. Foley Hoag attorney Michael B. Keating, who advised the board on the Bulger controversy, was asked to investigate Solomont his brothers as well as other finalists for The UMass board has an obligation to due diligence on all the candidates, but it should not confuse Billy Bulger with Alan Solomont. Bulger was damaged not by his brother's behavior but his own. When he grand jury that he felt no obligation to get gangster brother off the street and then bobbed and weaved with a congressional committee, forfeited his right to lead. Solomont, on the other hand, brought his family's dirty laundry to the board. (Clearly this text I've copied from the Globe site is screwed up, but you get the point he's making.)

A few other things might also help to distinguish the cases. For one, the Solomont brothers' legal issues have not been banner headline stories in Massachusetts newspapers for the last several years, as Bulger's have, hence Solomont's need to reveal them. Also, though I'm not on top of all the Solomont details, I have seen no indication that Solomont has been called upon by the authorities to rat out his brothers, something I believe Bill Bulger never should have been asked to do. Neither Solomont brother is on the run, nor are they possible targets of an FBI hit if Alan tells things to the authorities (which have been awfully corrupt in their investigations of the Boston mob). Plus, it bears repeating that Bill Bulger has never been charged with any criminal act related to his testimony--he has been convicted only in the court of public opinion.

The media reap what they sow, and today they are witnessing the unintended consequence of their witch hunt to have Bill Bulger removed from the UMass presidency: their favored candidate will not ascend to the job.