House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello says he considers Buddy Cianci "a great guy," but the speaker isn't taking sides in the debate about whether Cianci's latest comeback attempt is good or bad for Rhode Island's reputation.
"I'll leave that to the citizens of the City of Providence to make that determination," Mattiello said during a Statehouse interview Tuesday afternoon.
Mattiello, who became speaker following Gordon Fox's resignation amid a state-federal probe that became public March 21, says he's met with Cianci since then "just informally in restaurants and so forth, and I like Buddy. I think he's a great guy, and a gentleman, and [someone] I enjoy having conversation with."
In speaking last weekend during the annual meeting of the RI Taxpayers group, Mattiello cited improving Rhode Island's reputation as one of his goals.
Andrew Morse has excerpts from Mattiello's remarks: “I started off by saying the we have to improve jobs and the economy, and that’s been my primary goal. Everything I do, whether it’s right or wrong, is designed to move us in that positive direction. I’m very concerned about the reputation of this state. You know, I often say, almost tongue-in-cheek, that if you go to Texas, and you go to a bar in Texas and you make fun of Texas, you’re going to leave that place on a stretcher. You go to a bar in Rhode Island and you make fun of Rhode Island, and twelve people are going to buy you a beer. That’s got to change. Rhode Island is the best state in the union."
Cianci's supporters are touting his seventh run for mayor as a way to move Providence past a period marked by the recession and the unanticipated financial problems that landed on Angel Taveras' desk following his inauguration in January 2011.
Cianci's critics and rivals describe his latest comeback, after he was twice forced to leave City Hall, as an embarrassment for Rhode Island and a detriment for the state's reputation.
Other highlights from my interview with Mattiello, which will air Monday morning on Rhode Island Public Radio:
-- The speaker says he remains undecided about which Democrat he'll vote for as governor. "I have not made a final decision on that," Mattiello says. His decision will be based on "who will be the best leader for the state of Rhode island. Who will help work collaboratively to grow our economy, concentrate on jobs,and help me complete the work that I've started promoting the state."
-- With the state's structural deficit projected to grow to hundreds of millions of dollars within a few years, Mattiello is counting on growing state revenue to enable the House to avoid painful cuts. "What we did in this budget [for the fiscal year that started Tuesday] is we made the economy and job growth the priority," he says, "and I think the investments we've made, the tax-cutting that we were able to accomplish, is going to help the economy long-term. A vibrant economy will churn out a lot of revenue and we'll deal with the structural deficit problems. But [without] a better economy, we're going to really have to take out the scalpel and do a lot of cutting, and it's going to be cutting that the citizens of Rhode Island really don't like. My plan for the structural deficit is to create a vibrant economy, to grow the economy, and to grow revenues."
-- Unlike his mentor, former speaker William Murphy (who later changed course), Mattiello isn't specifying how long he hopes to remain in what is commonly called the state's most powerful position. "All speakers have a life cycle," Mattiello says. "I plan on staying as long as I'm effective in the job."
-- On his priorities for the 2015 session, Mattiello says, "We're going to stick with jobs and the economy."
This post has been updated.