POLITICS AND PASTA: HOW I PROSECUTED MOBSTERS, REBUILT A DYING CITY, DINED WITH SINATRA, SPENT FIVE YEARS IN A FEDERALLY FUNDED GATED COMMUNITY, AND LIVED TO TELL THE TALE
By Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, Jr., with David Fisher
Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press, $25.99, 357 pages
When it suits his purposes, whether political or literary, Vincent “Buddy” Cianci Jr. plays the goombah card, and plays it well - pasta, Sinatra, his management style: “When you spend your weekends kissing elderly women with mustaches, you can make the decisions.”
As for dinner with Sinatra, who cooked “Brazilian chicken” at his Palm Springs home, it takes a page and adds little beyond providing food for a couple of good anecdotes and a reason to buy the book. (This writer also sat with Sinatra in his Palm Springs home, drinking Jack Daniels, talking about politics and his days with the Dorseys. That’s another story, for another time.)
But just beneath the neo-rat pack surface, and the rolling stream of anecdotes that floods the book and makes it move, there’s a deeply serious man who believes he was wronged. As he puts it, “I was convicted of the crime of being mayor of a large city.”
“I was elected mayor of Providence six times and served a total of almost twenty-two years before leaving unexpectedly - and unfairly - for a five-year all-expenses-paid vacation in a gated community at Fort Dix, New Jersey, where my neighbor was a Mafia killer.” (A killer, convicted of dissolving victims in a vat of acid, who “spoke with his mom every day.”)
Although acquitted of 11 charges of public corruption, Mr. Cianci was convicted in 2002 on one RICO charge (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations). “According to this charge, I was running the city government as a criminal enterprise. In other words, I was responsible for crimes committed by other people about which I had no knowledge.”
At the time of his conviction, Mr. Cianci was the longest-serving mayor of Providence and one of the country’s longest-serving big-city mayors ever, any one of whom could probably have been found guilty of misdeeds under RICO. (Given RICO’s combination of vagueness and reach, so could Mother Teresa.)
Until 2002, Mr. Cianci’s progress was steady. A doctor of jurisprudence degree from Marquette, lieutenant in the Army’s Military Police Corps, assistant attorney general, prosecutor for Rhode Island’s Anti-Corruption Task Force, and in 1974 mayor of Providence, its first Republican mayor since the Great Depression.
At 33, in Republican circles, he was considered a wunderkind - especially in 1974, when a Watergate-drenched party was desperate for new blood. “Where I got lucky was being a Republican in 1974. It’s very possible that I’m the only person who can make that statement,” he writes.
In his second month in office he was invited to Washington to meet with President Ford, and was later asked by Bob Dole to address the 1976 convention. Had Ford won, he believes he would have been in line for a Cabinet post (some of his best Washington anecdotes may require a grain of salt). He tried to talk John Chafee out of running so he could replace him in the Senate, and in his final fling as a rising Republican, he ran for governor in 1980 and lost.
In 1984, Mr. Cianci was forced to resign as mayor after pleading guilty to assaulting a contractor with a lit cigarette, an ashtray and a fireplace log, not necessarily in that order. He accused the contractor of having an affair with his wife. The contractor denied it.
In 1990, he ran again, won and led a transformation of Providence, considered decaying and unlivable, into its “Renaissance City” phase, during which numerous national surveys named it one of the best places to live in America. In 1998, he ran again and was re-elected. Had he been able to, he would have run unopposed for a seventh term in 2002.
Since 2007, Mr. Cianci has been working as a radio/TV commentator and analyst in Providence, where he is very popular.
He will be eligible to run for mayor again in 2012.
John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of “Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement” (Wiley, 2007).
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