January 28, 2016

Passings; Buddy Cianci

 Providence mayor's office

Buddy Cianci, former long-time mayor of Providence RI and federal prison inmate for nearly five years has passed at the age of 74. He will share his place in urban history with the complex likes of James Curley, Richard Daley, and  Marion Barry.

Buddy Cianci - Just remember, the toe you step on today may be connected to the ass you're kissing tomorrow

ABC News, 2015 - A portrait of former mayor and two-time felon Buddy Cianci was unveiled at [Providence] City Hall... "It's not the first time I've been framed," Cianci cracked to an overflow crowd of cheering supporters. Cianci, who spent 21 years in office and is the city's longest-serving mayor,...Cianci was forced from office twice, first in 1984, when he pleaded no contest to assaulting a man with a fireplace log, an ashtray and a lit cigarette. His second administration ended in 2002 with a 4 1/2-year federal prison term for racketeering conspiracy. He attempted a comeback bid for mayor as an independent last year but lost to Jorge Elorza, a Democrat and political novice.

Ryan Holeywell, Governing, 2011 - Governing caught up with former Providence mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, who just released his new book, Politics and Pasta: How I Prosecuted Mobsters, Rebuilt a Dying City, Dined with Sinatra, Spent Five Years in a Federally Funded Gated Community, and Lived to Tell the Tale.

Cianci started his career as a prosecutor who tried cases involving organized crime. That spotlight helped catapult him into politics, where he was elected to the mayoralty as a Republican, despite the overwhelmingly Democratic makeup of the city. Cianci, who served as mayor from 1975 to 1984 and again from 1991 to 2002, is recognized for having helped launch the transformation of the city by revitalizing its downtown, promoting its arts district, and championing historic preservation.

Cianci is equally known for his legal troubles. In 1984, he was found guilty of assaulting a friend whom Cianci believed was having an affair with his wife. Though Cianci didn’t do time in prison, the conviction cost him his job – temporarily. Cianci made a comeback, but he would again find himself in hot water. In 2001, a grand jury indicted Cianci and others in his administration on a slew of corruption charges. His conviction on a single count -- racketeering conspiracy -- put Cianci in prison for more than four years.

Governing: One of the most interesting parts of the book is when you discuss the role of patronage in politics, and how it’s something that’s sort of built into the system. How did you use patronage?

Cianci: When I first ran I was a Republican in a Democratic city. I won because the Democrats were fighting. How I won was taking the disgruntled Democrats and bringing them into my fold.

I was a Republican in 1974. That was like being Ayatollah Khomeini at the American Legion Convention. I knew the Republican Party didn’t have the kind of base I needed to win. I had to make arrangements with disgruntled Democrats…

You’re always looking for something, whether it’s a job for their kid in the summer, a job for their relative.  And by the way, there’s nothing wrong with patronage if someone’s qualified. It’s not a dirty word. Your jobs are the currency of politics – except for [actual] currency, of course.

Governing: In the book, you write that you hadn’t set foot in city hall until you registered to be on the ballot. Why did you run?

Cianci: I was an assistant attorney general. I was prosecuting cases. I made a name for myself. Basically, I didn’t like what was going on in the city. I ran for office because I felt like I could make a difference. People say that all the time. It was also the fun of it all and the challenge of it. You get into it, and you start enjoying it. You start meeting people. You get that ego building. Sometimes you start believing your own press clippings. That’s where you get into trouble.

Governing: In the book you reveal you did a lot of things for purely political purposes, including your stance on abortion, your choice of political party, and even staying in your marriage as long as you did. After 20 years, did you ever get sick of putting on an act?

Cianci: If it was an act, I stayed on Broadway longer than My Fair Lady. I never got tired of it because every day is different in office. There are different problems you confront

Governing: There’s a part of the book where you describe your battle with the sanitation workers, which famously resulted in your hiring outside contractors to do the job and having to place armed cops on the trucks to ensure their safety. You were taking on public employee unions before it was in vogue.

Cianci: Today, we have these mayors who are wonks. They’re Kennedy School of Government guys. The big problem with guys today, they appoint a committee for everything, and they’re wonkish. They don’t teach snow removal at the Kennedy School of Government. When you are at the local level, there’s no Democratic way to plow snow or a Republican way to build a home for the elderly. It’s [about] getting it through, getting it done.

Governing: How were you treated in prison? Did your status make you a target or help you win friends?

Cianci: I never had one bad incident. My position gave me celebrity status, in a sense. The bad part is, because you’re a high-profile guy, they make sure you have a job that’s high-profile like cleaning floors in the mess hall and washing dishes. Everyone has to go through the mess hall, and they see me washing pots and pans.

 Providence City Hall

David Freedlander, Daily Beast - In the Museum of American Political Scandals, if it ever gets built, there will be exhibits on Bill Clinton and Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner and Larry “Wide Stance” Craig and Marion Barry. And there should be an entire wing dedicated to The Buddy Cianci Story…

Cianci made ads that look now like ‘70s police procedurals. “Take a good look at the face on your TV screen,” the ads intoned, labeling Cianci “The Anti-Corruption Candidate.”

His tenure ended when Cianci, who had a reputation as one of Providence’s most active ladies’ men, summoned to his home a friend he thought was having an affair with his ex-wife. (Both denied it.) Over the course of three hours, Cianci poured liquor on the man, threw an ashtray at him, punched him repeatedly, burned him with a lit cigarette, and threatened him with a fireplace log while demanding hundreds of thousands of dollars of payoff.

“I saw a lunatic, simply stated,” the victim, a contractor from nearby Bristol, told police. Facing a long prison sentence, Cianci pleaded no contest to the charge in order to avoid jail time, and was forced to step down.

As Providence blossomed into a Seattle of the East in the ‘90s, with its brick-building stock getting converted into lofts for the postgrad art-school set, Cianci again reigned as its crown prince, in a whirlwind of parades and ribbon cuttings and school graduations. “I’d attend the opening of an envelope,” he says now. He was out on the town nearly every night, pulling up in his limo, breezing past lines of waiting diners to hold court at the choicest tables, leaving without paying. “The cost of doing business,” one restauranteur told a Cianci biographer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Buddy, RIP. One Cianci was worth more than our entire kennel of colorless pseudo-Presidential dimwits.