TGIF: 10 Things to Know Mostly About Buddy Cianci

Jun 27, 2014

Just another nice quiet week here in the Biggest Little, right? Thanks for stopping by and welcome back to my Friday column. Your tips and thoughts are always welcome via idonnis (at) ripr (dot) org, and you can follow me all week long on the twitters. Let's get to it.

1. Just like that, Buddy Cianci has walked back into the center of the conversation in Rhode Island, characteristically revealing his latest run on the radio, with minutes to spare before the 4 pm filing deadline Wednesday. This being the age of Twitter, the word was already out in the land of 140 characters before Cianci launched into his speech. To his supporters, from Joe Paolino to members of the Italian suburban diaspora who return to banter on a bench across from DiPasquale Square, Buddy is a man of action whose flare and motivation more than compensate for his two felony convictions. On the other hand, former Common Cause of RI head H. Philip West Jr. was shocked 24 years ago when Cianci won his 1990 comeback by 317 votes. "My concern now is that in a multi-candidate race, he has a chance to break through," West tells me, "and I think that he probably has hardcore support around 30 percent, maybe a little higher. So I think it’s incumbent on the rest of us who see the danger that he poses to work together to make sure that a better candidate is elected."

2. Although Lorne Adrain fired an anti-Cianci shot last week with a ProJo op-ed, and he gained time by switching from Democrat to independent, Brett Smiley has moved most aggressively to wrap himself in the anti-Buddy mantle. On the evening of Cianci's announcement, Smiley's campaign sent out an email subject-lined, "CRISIS: Twice-Convicted Felon Enters Mayor's Race." Smiley also challenged Cianci to debate on ethics and good government. For his part, Buddy is probably enjoying the thought of Smiley, Jorge Elorza, and Michael Solomon battering each other in the fight for the Democratic mayoral primary.

3. Looking to bone up on Buddy? Mike Stanton's The Prince of Providence is a must-read. Cianci's own ghost-written Politics & Pasta is worth reading to get Buddy's version of the truth, although the narrative is rather disjointed. Don't forget Cherry Arnold's Buddy documentary. You can also check back stories by yours truly on Cianci's 2001 indictment, the outlook for his trial, an interview with Stanton about his book, a series of brief essays on the man himself, and the reaction that ensued when he returned to RI (don't miss the nice pic of me, Tim White, Steve Klamkin, and former ProJo scribe Dan Barbarisi, among others, staking out an area near the Old Canteen).

4. Cianci has attempted to distance himself from his past problems. On Wednesday, for example, he told reporters, “If the people don’t want me, they don’t have to vote for me – and that’s not cocky. I realize I come with baggage, I understand that, but I think people have to take you for who you are. They know me from head to toe. They know my faults, they know my – although a lot of this stuff is myth. It’s perpetrated by a lot of people. But the fact is that they know who I am.” Yet when you run for public office with two felony convictions, you can't snap your fingers and make it go away. Questions on other important issues have already started, like the 1991 consent decree he signed that ushered in lucrative compounded COLAs for public employees.

5. Former Brown professor Darrell West, now VP at the Brookings Institution, on why we don't see more figures like Cianci: "In most states, someone who has spent time in federal prison would be disqualified from running for office. The public would not stand for that. There are good government groups that would protest. But Rhode Island is a state that has a very colorful history .... It just shows that Rhode Island seems to be a state that, I wouldn't say it accepts corruption, but it tolerates it. I don't think the Buddy Cianci act would play in other states."

6. I recall Buddy being reasonably polite and smoking profusely when I first met him while doing an audition story, on the Providence schools, for the Phoenix in 1998. We met for another interview after the FBI had lifted the lid over Plunder Dome in April 1999. Buddy insisted his assistant, Doreen, told him we were going to discuss only one topic (Providence Place), and I said two (the mall and the then-dysfunctional Providence police). He told me he was going to take Doreen's word over mine, and pounded his desk while shouting, "I'm the one who sets the rules here, not you!" We talked about the mall for 15 minutes, and he then asked what I wanted to know about the police. Buddy must have had a light schedule that day, because we wound up chatting for well over an hour, as he spun a series of yarns.

7. Kate Brock is leaving her post with the Chafee administration today and joining the staff of Service Employees International Union, Local 1199, starting July 8. "It has been a tremendous honor and privilege to work for Governor Chafee on energy, environmental and transportation policy," Brock says. "I am thrilled to be joining the staff at SEIU 1199 to advance policies that support working families." She formerly worked with the now-defunct Ocean State Action before going to the Statehouse.

8. The last two Republicans to serve as governor, Lincoln Almond and Don Carcieri, didn't win the state GOP imprimatur in 1994 or 2002, respectively, so Allan Fung's winning of the party backing this time isn't much of an indicator ..... Meanwhile, a hat trick of endorsements for Democratic Secretary of State candidate Guillaume de Ramel (Democratic Party, AFSCME's Council 94, RI AFL-CIO) suggest he's not the outsider in his race with rival Democrat Nellie Gorbea.

9. RI-PBS' A Lively Experiment was kind enough to invite me to join Jim Baron, Ed Fitzpatrick, and Ted Nesi to discuss Buddy and the end of the General Assembly session. Tune in this weekend!

10, TGIF is briefer than usual this week since I've been focused for the last two days on developing a Buddy story for national broadcast on NPR. Stay tuned for it next week.