Wednesday, January 13


Buddy Cianci was the mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, from 1974 to '84, just before I arrived for college. Mayor, that is, until the Providence Journal reported Cianci and the Chief of Police tortured a fellow for having an affair with Cianci's wife. Specifically, cigarettes were ground into the dude's back and genitalia. So imagine my surprise when Cianci ran for a second term in '91 and won in a landslide. His slogan: "I never stopped caring about Providence" and perhaps that was so: the city entered a renaissance uncovering the US's largest cement bridge exposing a .. beautiful river; redesigning the down-town train station and opening the city centre to green-space, wooing the Providence Bruins from Maine. New hotels, shopping malls, an ice skating rink.. Providence became an alternative to Boston and a whole lot better than Philadelphia. Artists moved in followed by the gays and then young families. Even tourists sniffed about looking for authenticity. And the zoo.

When I was at Brown I could see the city changing - and I should know since I painted most of College Hill (52 houses in the summer of '87). Cianci connected like nobody's business into Federal Hill, the Italian blue collar community which defined city life. My favorite - and first legitimate -Italian restaurant Raphael's on Vine Street. I took Michelle there for a date and felt like an adult; later my family celebrated my graduation here with then-girlfriend Elise and Roger... Federal Hill otherwise infamous for its mob, who had wired every hotel and building in the neighborhood for the penny rackets (Providence remains gambling free somehow). I was warned about the rough side during my college interview and Cianci made it true.

I knew Buddy from Olivers Bar, an off-campus dive popular with Brown students who were rarely carted (Rhode Island also enjoyed a "grandfather clause" which meant that we under-21s could still drink though drinking age bumped from 18 to 21. There was a time when this the only thing we talked about). So Buddy loved Olivers where he could hook an arm on the bar and surround himself with the Ivy League. And college girls. He also favored the wrong-side-of-the tracks Fox Point restaurant Cafe at Brooke's where I washed dishes when not painting or swimming the summer following Freshman year. Cafe at Brook's owned by three corrupt Jewish brothers Jake, Nate and Saul who also owned the house I lived in. They were scumbags and a lot of coke moved through their restaurant. They still owe me my security deposit, fuckers. Cafe at Brooke's hired super-fine waitresses who I flirted with shamelessly with Joe, the RISD Chef who had never cooked before the Cafe. It was by far the most fun I have ever enjoyed on the job. And again Buddy, who grunted his recognition whenever around me.

So no surprise when Cianci indicted in 2001 on federal criminal charges of racketeering, conspiracy, extortion, witness tampering, and mail fraud. It is in his blood - he wants to be a wise guy. The Judge said of the case: "Clearly, there is a feeling in city government in Providence that corruption is tolerated. In this mayor's two administrations, there has been more corruption in the City of Providence than in the history of this state." Because Cianci faced a jury of his peers, he was acquitted of 26 of 27 charges but found guilty of racketeering conspiracy which put him in the slammer for five years. Worse, it forced him, by law, to give up the mayorship.

And, now that his time served, guess who is back to politics? Our man Buddy. The elections coming, after all, and Providence whispering come to me, Buddy. Come.

Providence loves this guy. Providence is this guy. Cianci has a tomato sauce, "Mayor's Own Marina Sauce" whose proceeds go to public schools. He has a talk radio show; he has made numerous cameo and spoof television appearances. He is type-casting from America's favorite Italian family, the Sopranos, years before HBO. We have not seen the end of him yet, no sir.

"There's no retiring from this."
--Tony Soprano