He came out of nowhere in 1974 to become the first Republican mayor of the city Providence, R.I. in four decades. Before long he was hobnobbing with President Gerald Ford at the White House and was viewed by many political pundits as a rising star in the Republican Party. Yes, the sky appeared to be the limit for the savvy young man from Providence. He was bright, articulate, energetic, personable and a man of great vision. And he certainly had his work cut out for him. When 33 year old Vincent "Buddy" Cianci was sworn in as mayor in January 1975 the city of Providence was a pretty dreary place. Retail was dying and the biggest hotel in town was about to be shuttered. Furthermore, there was absolutely nothing going on after hours and if you dared to take a stroll on the deserted streets of the city at night there was a pretty good chance you would get mugged. The truth is that most of us had pretty much given up on the city but the brash young "Buddy" Cianci firmly believed that he was the man to turn it all around. In "Politics and Pasta: How I Prosecuted Mobsters, Rebuilt A Dying City, Dined With Sinatra, Spent Five Years In A Federal Funded Gated Community, and Lived To Tell The Tale" Vincent "Buddy" Cianci tells his remarkable life story in his own words. For those of us who have been following his rollercoaster career from the outset it is a compelling story indeed.
Now to understand what a breath of fresh air "Buddy" Cianci was around here you have to know a little bit about the history of the city. For decades Providence had been run by the entrenched Democratic political machine. Patronage was rampant and corruption abounded. This once great city was dying a slow and painful death and it seemed no one was doing anything to stop the bleeding. When "Buddy" took office he had to cope with a hostile city council populated by lots of entrenched Democratic pols who were bound and determined to stifle the young mayor at every turn. But Cianci was a quick study who rapidly figured out how to navigate the choppy waters he found himself in. In those tumultuous early days he was governing by the seat of his pants and was bound and determined to do things "his way". His style of governance was very inclusive and he invited numerous groups who had never had a voice in previous administrations to be a part of the process. From the very outset "Buddy" had a great interest in preserving historic buildings and this would prove to be one of the major cornerstones of the revitalization of Providence. Meanwhile, Buddy proved to be a very adept politician. He admits time and again in "Politics and Pasta" that he played hardball politics to get what he wanted. And he would bend the rules from time to time and use patronage to advance his agenda when he thought it was necessary. But throughout the book Mr. Cianci passionately maintains that he never took a dime in his 21 years as mayor and was certainly not guilty of running Providence city government as a criminal enterprise.
In his 21 years as Mayor of Providence Vincent "Buddy" Cianci managed to completely transform the city. Today Providence is a incredibly vibrant place where you can dine in world class restaurants, see a Broadway show at the Providence Performing Arts Center, and partake of the wildly popular Waterfire which on summer evenings draws anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000 people into the city. Thirty years ago this would have been unthinkable. In "Politics and Pasta" the former mayor tells the amazing story on how all of this came to be. Although "Buddy" truly was the leader of the band the truth is that the transformation of Providence could never have taken place without the commitment of powerful political leaders at all levels of government, determined civil servants, a tireless and engaged elite who truly loved their city and entrepreneurs who became convinced that investing in Providence at that moment was the wise thing to do. Through the efforts of all of these folks Providence became a city we can all be proud of. But despite all of the postive qualities and energy he brought to the office Mayor Cianci proved to be a flawed individual who was guilty at times of using very poor judgement. He would be the first to admit this. But was he corrupt? In my view, "Buddy" proved to be that rarest of politicians who possessed great vision. He knew what he wanted to accomplish and had the political acumen to make it all happen. We will probably never see the likes of him again around here.
Sadly, both "Buddy" Cianci and his administration were the subject of an FBI investigation in the late 1990's that lasted several years. Some thought it a witch hunt while others truly believed that "Buddy" had created an environment that encouraged a climate of corruption. Several members of his administration were ultimately indicted and a few were convicted of corruption charges. Meanwhile Mayor Cianci was also indicted and charged with a total of 27 counts. He was acquitted of all but one of these charges. In essence the jury did not convict him of a single specific criminal act but found him responsible for the actions of everyone else in his administration. It was a somewhat controversial verdict and as a result Vincent "Buddy" Cianci was forced to resign from office in 2002 and was sentenced to five years in prison. The mayor stoically accepted his fate but steadfastly maintains his innocence to this day.
Since I am from the area "Politics and Pasta: How I Prosecuted Mobsters, Rebuilt A Dying City, Dined With Sinatra, Spent Five Years In A Federal Funded Gated Community, and Lived To Tell The Tale" brought back a flood of memories. There are prominent names in the book that I have not heard in 25 years. I would compare this book quite favorably to Kenneth D. Ackerman's fine book "Boss Tweed: The Rise and Fall of the Corrupt Pol Who Conceived The Soul Of Modern New York" which I read several years ago. In both of these books you discover how big-city politics in America actually works. It can be a real eye-opener. These days Vincent "Buddy" Cianci is back in the spotlight as host of a highly-rated afternoon radio talk show on WPRO in Providence and as a political analyst for the local ABC television affiliate. He also appears as an occasional contributor on "Hannity" on the FOX News Channel as part of "The Great American Panel". He remains an extremely popular figure around here and some folks contend that he might even be a candidate for mayor again a few years down the road. "Politics and Pasta" would be a great choice for both students of political science and general readers as well. Highly recommended!
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