Is it something in the water? Can Rhode Island make it a few weeks into a New Year without some flagrant reminder of the state’s signature mix of colorful politics and distinctive personalities?
The first week of 2007 hadn’t yet hit the books when we had the indictment of John M. Cicilline, the brother of Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline, and fellow defense lawyer Joseph A. Bevilacqua Jr. — who are accused by federal prosecutors of seeking illegal payments from defendants in drug cases. This followed the news that Gian Piscione, the stepson of Secretary of State Ralph Mollis, had been arrested and charged with attempted murder in connection with an incident in which a shotgun was fired at an occupied car in North Providence.
John Cicilline had already caused some embarrassment for his more prominent brother. Last August, the ProJo’s Bill Malinowski revealed how the older brother had racked up almost $6000 in parking violations, much of it while doing business at courts in Providence. The sum was settled for $2300.
Still, the fallout from these two recent episodes seems likely to be more of an issue for Mollis, in part because of subsequent revelations about other brushes with the law involving Piscione.
Cicilline, after emerging five years ago as an early challenger to Buddy Cianci, faced some questions during that campaign about the legal work of his father, Jack Cicilline. As an August 2002 Scott MacKay profile in the Journal famously asked, “Can an openly gay Jewish man who happens to be the son of one of New England’s best-known organized-crime lawyers become the next mayor of Rhode Island’s largest city?”
The answer, as we know, was a resounding “yes.” And since David Cicilline’s tenure at City Hall has been free of scandal, his brother’s foibles seem unlikely to rub off on the mayor. (Although it is somewhat poetic that ace Boston defense lawyer Richard Egbert — who represented Cianci during his Plunder Dome trial — is now representing John Cicilline.)
Mollis, on the other hand, no doubt desired a quiet transition to his new post as secretary of state. During last year’s campaign, the then-mayor of North Providence faced questions about having solicited campaign donations from city employees (after news reports, he said he would return the donations), and about attending the funeral of, and having accepted campaign donations from, a reputed mob associate (he called the man, Robert A. Barbato, a longtime friend). While many people would hold Mollis blameless for his stepson’s action, more unflattering publicity is the last thing that he needs.
Overlooked in all this is how Cicilline, with his relatively liberal profile, surprised some people last year by solidly backing Mollis, rather than his more liberal Democratic primary challenger, Guillaume de Ramel of Newport.
While political embarrassments involving family members come and go, Cicilline’s support stemmed from something more practical — loyalty — since Mollis had been an important source of support during Cicilline’s first mayoral campaign.