Raymond DeLeo, central figure in notorious 1983 Cianci incident, dead at 89

Feb 12, 2013

Raymond S. DeLeo, a central figure in a 1983 incident that became a storied part of Rhode Island's political history and that led to Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci Jr.'s first departure from City Hall, has died at age 89.

The Providence Journal reported DeLeo's death through an obit today that makes no mention of the 1983 episode. That's likely a reflection of how the ProJo shifted in 2004 to paid obits whose content is determined by family members, not reporters. (Update: The ProJo got up to speed with a news story published on its Web site early Tuesday afternoon.)

Cianci's 1983 assault on DeLeo, a Bristol contractor active in Republican politics, has become the stuff of political legend in Rhode Island and far beyond. The New York Times offered this account in 2003 while reviewing ProJo reporter Mike Stanton's Cianci book, The Prince of Providence:

Convinced that his estranged wife was having an affair with a local contractor, Raymond DeLeo, Cianci summoned the man to his house. It was irrelevant that DeLeo denied the accusation, or that Cianci was himself a notorious philanderer. As Stanton tells it, the mayor slapped DeLeo around, tried to snuff out a cigarette in his eye, threatened to clobber him with a fireplace log, threw an ashtray at him -- all while demanding half a million dollars.

Even for freewheeling Providence that was too much. Cianci went into exile, a feathered one to be sure; he even had his own radio show. But the allure of City Hall did not fade. In 1990 he engineered a comeback, calculating correctly that in a three-way race, his core of admirers was solid enough for him to win a narrow victory.

A 1985 ProJo story looked back at the major players in the episode one year after Cianci was forced out of office, after pleading no contest to charges of assaulting DeLeo. The paper said Cianci received a five-year suspended sentence.

Cianci was accused of attacking DeLeo on March 20, 1983, with a fireplace log, an ashtray, and a lighted cigarette while Ptlm. James K. Hassett allegedly restrainted DeLeo. Also present was Cianci's divorce lawyer William J. McGair and Public Works Director Joseph C. DiSanto. Another friend of both men, former Atty. Gen. Herbert F. DeSimone, stopped the attack.

The night Cianci left office, City Hall was besieged with police who were guarding records wanted in dozens of probes. The investigations led to the indictment of a score of Cianci-era officials on more than a hundred corruption charges.

Cianci used his own book, Politics and Pasta, to deny hitting DeLeo with an ashtray or a fireplace log, although he acknowledged threatening him and throwing an ashtray across a room.

By the one year anniversary of Cianci's exit as mayor, the ProJo reported, DeLeo, then 61, suffered a major heart attack in Florida before Cianci had been sentenced. DeLeo recovered and resumed the running of his company, Raymond Construction. Cianci, the paper said, was hosting a two-hour afternoon talk show on WHJJ, driving a Mercedes, and still residing in the carriage house on Power Street, on the East Side, where the assault took place.

By 1989, the ProJo reported that Cianci and DeLeo encountered each other the previous holiday season as Cianci was sitting in a parked car.

"I rolled down the window and said Merry Christmas," Cianci said.

"He said Merry Christmas back."

Cianci staged a political comeback, retaking the mayor's office -- for the start of what became known as Buddy II -- in 1990. He served until resigning in 2002 while facing charges in a federal corruption probe. He was convicted of one count of racketeering conspiracy and served five years in federal prison.

Cianci was released in 2007 and now hosts an afternoon talk show on WPRO. He is the subject of persistent rumors about a possible Providence mayoral run in 2014, should Angel Taveras run for governor.