'Buddy' Cianci, controversial ex-mayor of Providence, dies at 74

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Former Mayor Buddy Cianci, the wisecracking political rogue who presided over the revitalization of Providence during two stints in office cut short by criminal charges and a prison sentence for corruption, died Thursday.

See Full Article

He was 74.

Cianci's employer, WLNE-TV, and a friend, Artin Coloian, confirmed his death. Coloian said he died Thursday morning. He did not release the cause. WLNE said he was taping his weekly TV show, "On the Record with Buddy Cianci," Wednesday evening when he had severe stomach pains and was taken by ambulance to Miriam Hospital.

Cianci was elected to six terms as mayor, a period that coincided with the resurrection of Providence from a decaying, Industrial-age relic to a 21st-century city with gondolas plying newly uncovered rivers. His bare-fisted style of politics made Cianci larger than life even in a tiny state known for the outsized personalities of its public figures.

"He's the most talented politician that New England has produced since John Kennedy," former University of Rhode Island political scientist Marc Genest said in a 2002 interview.

The charismatic mayor became ensnared in an FBI investigation into City Hall corruption, code-named "Operation Plunder Dome." In 2001, he was indicted charges he orchestrated bribes for jobs, contracts and contributions to his campaign fund.

Cianci vehemently proclaimed his innocence: "I have said to you before, there are no stains on this jacket, and I assure you there still are no stains on this jacket," he said after the indictment.

The case went to trial in 2002. In a circus-like trial that lasted seven weeks and featured a local who's who list of wise guys and mob wannabes, a jury found Cianci guilty of one count of racketeering conspiracy. He was sentenced to five years, four months in a federal prison.

He was released from prison in 2007. He would later call his prison term a "bump in the road."

After prison, he resumed his career as a radio talk show host and TV commentator, but the pull back to politics was strong.

"All the things that they celebrate in this city are the things that I did," Cianci said in 2014 as he contemplated a comeback bid for mayor.

Despite being diagnosed with cancer the same year, he chose to jump in, running as an independent. Faced with the possibility of a Cianci return to office, several Democratic candidates dropped out to consolidate support behind political newcomer Jorge Elorza. The idea of a new Cianci administration was so objectionable that even the Republican candidate donated $1,000 to Elorza and then voted for him.

Cianci lost, but still pulled in 45 per cent of the vote.

Ironically, Cianci began his public career as a state prosecutor on the attorney general's anti-corruption task force. For six years, he made a name for himself going after members of the powerful mob families.

In 1974, at 32, he capitalized on a rift in the dominant Democratic Party to win the mayoral post as a Republican. His first three terms were marred by scandal. Twenty-two city workers and contractors were convicted of corruption charges, including Cianci's chief of staff and city solicitor. But the mayor was never charged.

"I knew so little," he said later. "I learned and grew in the job."

In 1980, he ran for governor. But he was soundly defeated by Democratic incumbent Joseph Garrahy. He returned as mayor in a subsequent election.

Personal problems sidetracked Cianci's career in 1984.

He pleaded no contest to attacking his estranged wife's alleged lover with an ashtray, lit cigarette, and a fireplace log. As a condition of his plea deal, he was forced to resign.

Cianci took a job as a talk-radio host on a local station and regained the mayor's office in 1990. The second coming of Cianci coincided with "Providence renaissance."

Rivers that had run through underground culverts were reclaimed. Ornate walkways and bridges graced the rivers. Providence landed the largest mall in the region. People flocked to a downtown that just decades ago had been a dangerous, seamy zone. The hugely popular WaterFire display lighted up the rivers with floating braziers of crackling, burning cedar.

Cianci soaked up the notoriety. He marketed his own line of pasta sauce and became a fixture on the national "Imus in the Morning" radio show.

But beneath the glitter, the city was rotting. Buddy's Providence was a town for sale, federal prosecutors said, where even routine dealings with City Hall -- such as applying for jobs or bidding on contracts -- meant greasing a few palms.

"I used my public power for personal reasons. I admit it," Cianci wrote in a 2011 memoir. "It probably wasn't the right thing to do, but it certainly felt good."

Cianci maintained his innocence, and appealed his conviction while incarcerated. His appeals failed.

"I love this city. It's a very, very saddening thought to be separated from it," he told The Associated Press the morning he left for prison. "My whole life, personally and professionally, has revolved around it. How do you walk away from that? I'm not sure you do. ... Providence is a part of me."



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Police chief renews calls for mass casualty plan in wake of Broncos bus crash

    Canada News CTV News
    REGINA -- A retired police chief wants the coroner's office in Saskatchewan to develop a plan for responding to mass casualties. Former Saskatoon police chief Clive Weighill says the office was tasked with creating such a plan 13 years ago but none exists. Source
  • Ex-NAACP chief who posed as black pleads not guilty to fraud

    World News CTV News
    SPOKANE, Wash. -- A former NAACP leader in Washington state whose life unraveled after she was exposed as a white woman pretending to be black pleaded not guilty to welfare fraud on Wednesday. Nkechi Diallo, formerly known as Rachel Dolezal, made a brief appearance in Spokane County Superior Court. Source
  • 150 years in prison for Quebec mosque shooter would deprive him of hope: defence

    Canada News CTV News
    QUEBEC -- All Canadians have rights, including murderers like Quebec mosque shooter Alexandre Bissonnette, and they also have the capacity to be rehabilitated, the convicted killer's lawyer argued Wednesday. The Crown wants Bissonnette to serve a 150-year prison term but his defence team says he should be eligible for parole after 25 years. Source
  • Winnipeg educational assistant sentenced to 3.5 years for sex with student

    Canada News CTV News
    WINNIPEG -- A former educational assistant who gave a student money, food and drugs as their relationship intensified has been sentenced to 3 1/2 years behind bars for sexual exploitation. Sheryl Dyck, who was 42 at the time, was arrested in 2015 after seven months of having oral sex that progressed to intercourse with the 16-year-old boy. Source
  • Rob Ford's widow gets suspended sentence, 3 years probation in impaired driving case

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- The widow of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford has been given a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to impaired driving. A judge ordered three years of probation and 100 hours of community service for Renata Ford, and also issued a two-year driving ban and a $1,100 fine for the 2016 incident. Source
  • Former Mountie with PTSD sues Ottawa after multiple northern postings

    Canada News CTV News
    HALIFAX -- A former Mountie suffering from PTSD after multiple postings in isolated, high risk communities has filed a lawsuit against the federal government. In a statement of claim filed in Federal Court in Halifax, a lawyer says John Christopher Bewsher was exposed to "psychologically traumatic events" in Labrador and Nunavut and received no psychological evaluation, support or counselling. Source
  • More documents from Panama Papers law firm leak out, exposing its panic

    World News CBC News
    More private documents from the Panamanian law firm at the centre of one of the biggest-ever leaks of financial records have been exposed, showing how enraged its clients were, global media outlets are revealing today. Mossack Fonseca saw 11.5 million of its client files anonymously leaked to journalists in 2016 in what became known as the Panama Papers. Source
  • World expresses outrage at Trump policy on separating migrant families

    World News CBC News
    Outrage continued to grow around the world Wednesday over the Trump administration's policy of separating migrant parents from children, including infants, at the U.S. southern border. Here is a partial list of the institutions and individuals speaking out against it. Source
  • Drivers began drag race in front of unmarked police car: OPP

    Canada News CTV News
    GODERICH, Ont. -- Provincial police say two young drivers have been charged after allegedly beginning a drag race right in front of an unmarked police car in Goderich, Ont. They say the incident happened last Tuesday at about 10:30 p.m. Source
  • Another honour for Viola Desmond: 'She would be humbled and overjoyed'

    Canada News CTV News
    HALIFAX -- After decades of being overlooked, human rights trailblazer Viola Desmond is receiving yet another posthumous honour. Desmond, who was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame in Toronto last year, will be honoured June 29 with a star in her hometown of Halifax. Source