In December 2002, when Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci stepped into a car for the drive to his new home at a federal prison in Fort Dix, New Jersey, some thought that life in Rhode Island would never be the same. Providence and Buddy went together, or so the thinking went, as surely as night follows day.
GIFT OF GAB: Cianci is expected to land on the airwaves.
In the years since, however, the mercurial mayor who ruled Providence and enthralled the state during two tenures at Providence City Hall has not been a factor.
But with local production expected to start this fall or winter on the feature film production of Providence Journal reporter Mike Stanton’s Cianci biography The Prince of Providence, the release from prison next year of Rhode Island’s rascal king will likely become a topic of public curiosity. And with an expected perch on talk-radio, Cianci could conceivably become a thorn in David N. Cicilline’s side when the hyper-articulate rogue makes his return to Rhode Island.
“That’s something they’re going to have deal with,” says Joseph R. Paolino Jr., who felt the sting of Cianci’s on-air jabs from WHJJ-AM when he served as mayor, from 1984 to 1991, between Buddy I and Buddy II. “They’ll wish that Thomas Edison never invented the radio.”
“Like him or dislike him, he’s going to be a presence in Providence,” Paolino adds. Giving more thought to Cianci’s potential local impact, Paolino believes this could prove something of a wildcard. “He’ll maintain his celebrity status when he comes back, but he’ll have his own responsibility on how he does that,” the former mayor says — and Cianci might improve his public perception with charitable pursuits and a mellower disposition. Ultimately, says Paolino, “The key is just running the city. There’s only one mayor at a time.”
Cianci left office in 1984 after pleading no contest to assault, and was convicted by a federal jury in June 2002 of a single count of racketeering conspiracy. He is legally precluded from seeking elective office. During his sentencing, US District Court Judge Ernest C. Torres memorably likened the gifted and self-destructive politician to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
City Council President John J. Lombardi, whose relations with Cicilline have been strained, suggests that Cianci, with a forum on talk-radio, will be an empathic source for critics of Cicilline, who draws largely favorable coverage from the ProJo. “If he has a radio talk-show, many people will be tuning in,” Lombardi notes.
Cicilline, though, is diplomatic in assessing Cianci’s potential effect on the local body politic: “He certainly was a very talented radio-show host, and if he resumes that, I expect he’ll be very successful. I don’t know beyond that what impact he has on the state or the city.”
Asked about the possibility that Cianci would try to make himself a thorn in his side, Cicilline says, “I think whatever people think about my predecessor, I have every confidence to believe he wants what is best for the city,” and he won’t see something to be gained by criticizing the current mayor, “so I don’t think that will be the case.”