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Joan Vennochi

Loyal to a fault

By Joan Vennochi
Globe Columnist / May 6, 1998
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Last week, ex-FBI agent John Connolly took the Fifth Amendment rather than answer questions in federal court about his relationship with the locally famous Bulger brothers: James F. ``Whitey'' Bulger, the South Boston crime boss who is now on the lam, and William M. Bulger, the ex-Senate president who now heads the University of Massachusetts.

This week, Connolly was on the job for his current employer, Boston Edison Co., at a public utilities conference on the Cape.

The obvious message: Thomas J. May, Edison's chairman and chief executive, is sticking by his controversial director of corporate relations.

``John's going through a very difficult period right now, clearly,'' allows Edison senior vice president L. Carl Gustin. ``But the accusations that have been made relate to a previous career. They are not related to his employment at Boston Edison. From our perspective, it's important to let the judicial process take its course.''

In a quintessential Massachusetts way, Edison and Connolly were made for each other, perhaps even fated for each other.

The Edison, as oldtimers refer to it, is an insular Boston institution, woven tightly into the fabric of the city's business and political communities.

Connolly, 57, grew up in Southie, an insular Boston neighborhood, woven tightly into the fabric of the city's business and political communities.

He holds degrees from Boston College and Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. But above all, Connolly is a product of his past. His world is still largely defined by friends from his South Boston childhood.

Today, the looming question is whether Connolly allowed his friendships to cloud his professional judgment to a point where the system was terribly corrupted. He denies that happened, although not under oath.

Edison hired him in 1990, after he retired from the FBI, and after The Boston Globe Spotlight Team alleged he was Whitey Bulger's chief protector within the law enforcement bureaucracy.

The company insists Connolly got his job on the merits, not because of any political connections. His initial title was director of corporate security.

Edison was working its way through difficult times. Arrogant and resistant to change, the company battled fiercely with regulators and its own employees in the late 1980s.

Bernard W. Reznicek, who was brought in from a public power company in Nebraska, teamed up with May, an Edison veteran, to turn things around and build a new Edison. Jobs were cut and insiders were moved out.

One high-profile casualty of the turnaround: Boston Edison's old-line lobbying firm, Joyce & Joyce. Thomas M. Joyce Jr., the well-connected son of legendary lobbyist Thomas M. Joyce Sr., was damaged goods after another Spotlight Team expose highlighted his connections to William Bulger.

Unlike Connolly, Joyce was never accused of helping a criminal like Whitey escape justice. But the new Edison wanted a new image. It dumped Joyce in favor of Connolly, essentially replacing one Bill Bulger friend with another.

And for now, Boston Edison is standing by its man, a display that may be as much about politics as personal loyalty.

On Beacon Hill, which adheres to an odd code of honor, the perception lingers that John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. distanced itself in an unseemly way from Bill Sawyer, a onetime Hancock lobbyist who was convicted of giving illegal gratuities to legislators.

The company paid Sawyer's legal bills, but made it clear he was acting on his own, not under the company's direction.

Hancock president David D'Alessandro says his company merely obeyed the law by honoring all federal subpoenas. He sees no fallout when it comes to advancing Hancock's legislative agenda, although he observes ``some people told us that would happen.''

For Connolly, who has not been charged with any crime, Edison's support ``means a lot.'' ``I feel bad for the company,'' he says. ``These matters that are occurring had nothing to do with Boston Edison.''

What if Edison must ultimately contend with an employee under indictment? ``That has not happened,'' answers Gustin.

Loyalty is fine. Up to a point.

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