The Big Question: "Buddy" Cianci
Photo/Art by Chris VaccaroAlthough Buddy Cianci is no longer mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, his presence there is palpable since his May 2007 release from prison, where he had served time following his conviction on a racketeering conspiracy charge. He’s got his own morning radio talk show, TV appearances, and a penchant for banging on his opponents. We spoke with Cianci–whose four and half years’ incarceration saw him ditch the hairpiece but not the cigarettes–over lunch at a cigar bar in Providence’s Federal Hill neighborhood.
“When I came into office [in 1975], there was a lot of hope, a lot of expectation that we could rebuild. I didn’t know how to run a city, but I had the vision thing, and the one contribution I thought I could make was raising the self-esteem of the people to make them believe that they thought they were better than they were. And that was the foundation for everything that happened. I married the city. If you were criticizing Providence, you were criticizing me. I was out every single night. The joke was that I’d go to the opening of an envelope. But I believed in the city, and I believed that the way it could get out of the doldrums of the ’60s was through historic preservation.
“Did we have problems? Yes, we sure did. We had a few bad apples. But look, you’re always going to have the do-gooders who come in and criticize and pick. I bet I can find $500 worth of damage on a new Rolls-Royce in a showroom just by looking at it. You can find $500 worth of damage on me, anyone. Nobody’s perfect. They had the CIA, the Navy Seals, the Coast Guard, the FBI, and the IRS all over me because they could never get me at the ballot box.”
“They have a saying in prison: You do the time–don’t let the time do you. Keep yourself busy. Make a routine. Set a goal. The truth is, I don’t think I’ve ever been as informed. I subscribed to every newspaper I could. I read more than 500 books–a lot of histories and biographies. And I wrote a lot. I was away from everything that I loved, but I’ve never been more self-sufficient, more self-confident, because I had to reach deep down into my soul to find out who I really was. I’m not the kind of guy who goes to jail and comes out and says, I’m spiritually renewed, and I’ve joined a cult or something. I always respected people, but I think I have a better and deeper understanding of the problems that confront people than I had before. I’ve become a better listener.”
“When I first drove into Providence after getting out, it was emotional. I was anxious about how people would react. I was also very anal. I was concerned about the litter on the streets. I didn’t want the graffiti: Hey, look what happened. Better get someone on it. You know, typical mayor.
“The thing that boggles my mind is that you can work 15 hours a day as mayor, try your best, do a job, change a city, and then earn a certain amount of money. Or you can go on the radio for three hours a day, enjoy life, have fun, go do a little television, and make about eight times as much. It’s crazy.”
“Nobody can change what we did. Nobody can change what we accomplished. Nobody can change the attitude of the people who were here when we started. I don’t know how history will remember me, but I know I’ll be remembered more than other politicians.
“Will I run for mayor again? Well, the easy answer to that is, I’m not allowed to until 2012. Would I do it? I never say never to anything. But I enjoy my life. I enjoy doing radio. I enjoy doing television. I enjoy being involved in real-estate projects. I’m still at the center of the storm, only now I don’t have to worry about votes–only ratings.”
Click here for information on the forthcoming film The Prince of Providence, based on Providence Journal reporter Mike Stanton’s biography of Buddy Cianci. Click here for Stanton’s “Yankee Classic” interviews with Mayors Cicilline and Perez — Buddy Cianci’s successor, David Cicilline of Providence and Eddie Perez of Hartford.