Will the novelty wear off?
So much for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s oft-quoted observation about how there are no second acts in American lives. Depending on you count it, Cianci could be said to be beginning his third, fourth, fifth, six, seventh, eighth . . . you get the story.
Cianci, who is legally precluded from running for public office until the end of his probation (in time, theoretically, for the 2014 mayoral election), offered an interesting response when TV reporters asked him about a return to politics. “That was something way back when,” he responded, “but you never can tell.”
While one TV reporter curiously interpreted this as a denial of renewed political interest, it had an echo of what Buddy, a keen and self-referential student of his own history, said in 1974 when then-Mayor Joseph Doorley chided him as a likely rival, during an encounter at the Old Canteen: “Mayor, you never know. There’s always that possibility.” (The scene is described in Stanton’s book.)
For now, at least in the short term, it remains clear that no one can strip Buddy’s status as a media icon.
In the days, weeks, and months to come, reporters will watch the ball — following such predictable stories as Cianci’s destination in radio, his first day on the job, his relative level of criticism of Cicilline, his ratings, his impact, and so on.
Where he winds up is bound to have a big impact on Rhode Island’s talk-radio landscape. WHJJ (920 AM), where Buddy excelled as a talk-show host in the ’80s, following his departure from City Hall after he pleaded no contest to assaulting his separated wife’s alleged lover, has diminished its local presence over the last year. Rival station WPRO (630 AM), meanwhile, is now home to John DePetro, who was a Cianci critic during DePetro’s previous tenure at WHJJ, and Dan Yorke, who offered a more sympathetic view of Buddy during the former mayor’s trial.
Given his intelligence, glibness, and political insight, Cianci certainly has what it takes to remake himself as a successful talk-show host. There is talk also of television work and a book.
Still, it’s fair to wonder if Buddy will be able to maintain his appeal after the novelty of his return has abated.
WJAR-TV investigative reporter Jim Taricani, a longtime Cianci-watcher, tells me, “You’re not going to be able to forget this guy.” Yet Taricani, during Channel 10’s Citizen Cianci special, used a lighthearted segment to touch on the question of Buddy’s relevance, saying, “No doubt he’ll be on radio, but will he be big? He’s got talent and smarts and can be quite funny, but it remains to be seen how many people still love Buddy.”
In fact, the most interesting stories that might emerge from Cianci’s return have yet to be told: How was he impacted by more than four years in prison? How does he view the dramatic peaks and valleys of his own life? And what does he hope to accomplish with the rest of his years?
The man with the most insight into these questions has had a long time to think about the answers — and just when and how he might want to make them known.
Ian Donnis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his politics + media blog atwww.thephoenix.com/notfornothing.