Cianci Redux?

Feb 15, 2013

F. Scott Fitzgerald said famously that there are no second acts in American life. The Jazz Age novelist never met Vincent A. ``Buddy’’ Cianci Jr.

Cianci, believe it or not, is said to be seriously thinking of making one last run for mayor of Providence, the office he left in disgrace in 2002. According to sources familiar with Cianci’s thinking, he would only run, obviously, if he thought he had a chance at regaining City Hall.

This would take a confluence of political events. First, incumbent Mayor Angel Taveras would have to be out of the way, probably running for governor. There is no chance Cianci could defeat Taveras for a mayoral reelection and scant chance anyone else could defeat Taveras, given his popularity his record of keeping Providence from bankruptcy.

There is scant likelihood that Cianci could win anything other than a multi-candidate race. He reportedly hopes that there would be a five or six way Democratic primary that he could win with 28 to 35 percent of the vote.

Before you start laughing, look at the current field. There is no obvious heir apparent to Taveras. City Council President Michael Solomon is the inside institutional favorite, but he has never won a citywide election. Solomon has political knowledge, street smarts and understands the fund-raising and polling imperatives. But he is not a polished speaker and his media skills need work. (He is aware of this and is working on it). Solomon has never won anything bigger than a neighborhood council election and is not all that well known in the vote-rich East Side neighborhoods that have been crucial in recent mayoral contests but could be helped by his closeness and alliances with Taveras, an East Side darling.

There are others in the business and political community who would like to run for mayor. Former City Council President John Lombardi, who was interim mayor after Cianci corruption-fueled abdication, is often mentioned. But his lack of fund-raising prowess and poor showing against Taveras in the 2010 Democratic primary doesn’t augur well for a successful rebound.

Former Mayor Joseph R. Paolino Jr., is also often mentioned. But he told RIPR that he has no interest whatsoever. Paolino has a busy real estate development business and is till coping with the death of his father, real estate wunderkind Joseph R. Paolino Sr.

All the Cianci swirl could be little more than a lot of tavern talk, sound and fury signifying nothing. The Buddy Cianci we all know loves few things more than being the center of attention and speculation, a character whose mere mention drives conversation and sends shivers down the spines of  Rhode Islanders who consider themselves the better sort. Nobody spreads rumors like Buddy, a pol who shoots from the lip, especially when liquid.

From his perch in WPRO’s drive-time talk show slot, Cianci makes a lot of money for not a whole lot of work. He enjoys being Rhode Island’s top chops buster. Yet, for all his political experience and campaign smarts, he is largely irrelevant to our state’s 21st Century politics.

All of the candidates Cianci has hyped and flacked for in the past two election cycles have gone down to crushing defeat. Especially nettlesome must be the success of David Cicilline, a Cianci bête noire. And who can forget the absurd, even laughable, talk show bully pulpit campaign Cianci waged against Jack Reed during Reed’s last Senate reelection in 2008.

A pathetic Cianci, reportedly upset that Reed didn’t go to bat for him to get sent to the jail of his choice after his federal corruption conviction, begged listeners to vote against Reed to keep his margin under 70 percent. Reed got 73 percent. At the Providence Biltmore on election night, Reed confidants were grinning when the Democrat shattered the Cianci-set vote ceiling. (Reed Cos Neil Campbell could barely contain himself).

Providence has changed much since Cianci left office. The public employee unions, long a Cianci base, have far less voter clout. The end of residency requirements for police, teachers and firefighters has diluted the voting strength of the unions; when just 13 percent of city firefighters live in the city, how much of an impact can they have on mayoral elections? The unions, of course, are still a formidable source of campaign cash.

The demographics of the city have changed too. The organized gay community arguably has more voter juice than the municipal unions. Another Cianci base,  Italian-American voters, have largely moved out of the city or have scant impact. You Are more likely to hear Spanish spoken on Pocasset Avenue these days than Italian (or maybe English).

But the speculation will continue, probably until we get closer to the June, 2014 filing deadline. The reasons for this are many and simple. First, as Paolino says, ``there will always be speculation about Cianci because everyone knows him and he has never lost an election for mayor of Providence.’’

That is true enough. But Cianci’s 1990 comeback was a multi-candidate scrum during which he received only about 34 percent of the vote running against Democrat Andrew Annaldo and independent Fred Lippitt. The only election Cianci ever lost when in 1980, when he was still a Republican and got crushed by Democrat J. Joseph Garrahy for the governorship.

Those who know Cianci say he seeks vindication. He has never made peace with his conviction. Egged on by his Amen chorus of  after-hours companions, Cianci believes he didn’t get a fair trial and believes a win in the ultimate politicians’ court, that of public opinion, would validate him.

Now, is there really anybody who can make a case for allowing Buddy Cianci anywhere near a public payroll at any time? He twice violated his trust to Providence voters. Electing him again would make the city the ultimate laughingstock of  New England, and maybe even the country.

Cianci has no interest in dousing speculation about yet another comeback, even if it sounds ludicrous to many sane Rhode Islanders. Speculation and idle political palaver are the coin of the realm of talk radio. All this talk does nothing but fuel his ratings. But political insiders say Cianci and a handfull of allies are quietly prospecting for campaign money, which he would need less of due to his soaring name recognition and notoriety.

For his part, Cianci has not returned our request for comment.  We really didn't expect him to. He is probably still reeling from the firing of Ron St. Pierre, his long-time radio sidekick by WPRO management.r

``It would be a big change in his life and he has to make that decision,’’ says Paolino. ``Frankly I don’t think he knows yet whether he is going to run.’’

If he does, we had better order up the tents, the elephants, the Ringling Brothers and all three rings.