- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 2, 2002

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) For decades, this city's politics have been the personal fiefdom of one man: Mayor Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci Jr.
The lovable rogue resurrected Providence from a decaying industrial relic to a 21st-century boomtown. Cianci was a survivor, outlasting a felony assault conviction, his political rivals and for a while at least scrutiny by the FBI.
But in one extraordinary three-day period last week, it all came to an end.
On June 24, a federal court jury found Cianci guilty of racketeering conspiracy. Then, after 48 hours of soul-searching, Cianci announced he wouldn't seek re-election.
Even if a federal judge overturns his conviction this week, the reign of the city's longest-serving mayor, one of the most durable and controversial careers in contemporary American politics, is nearing an end.
"He's the most talented politician that New England has produced since John Kennedy," said University of Rhode Island political scientist Marc Genest. "If he'd stayed away from corruption, he could have been anything."
Cianci, 61, the son of a prominent doctor, grew up on Providence's gentrified East Side. But his political base has long been Federal Hill and working-class neighborhoods.
Fresh out of Marquette University Law School in the mid-1960s, Cianci clerked at the law firm of Anthony DePetrillo, a friend of the mayor's late father.
"It was easy to like him," said Mr. DePetrillo. "No matter where Buddy goes, people are drawn to him. Up on Federal Hill, he's almost like a god."
Cianci landed a job as a state prosecutor on an anti-corruption task force and made a name for himself going after the mob.
In 1974, a rift in the Democratic Party allowed him to win the mayor's race as a relatively unknown Republican.
In 1977, he fended off his first personal scandal when a woman claimed he had raped her at Marquette. He denied the accusation, but paid the woman $3,000 after she dropped her complaint.
After a failed run for governor, Cianci was elected to a third term in 1982, running as an independent. But personal problems sidetracked his career in 1984.
He pleaded no contest to attacking his ex-wife's lover, after which he got a suspended sentence.
Cianci took a job as a talk-radio host and stayed in the spotlight.
Staging a comeback in 1990, he defeated the Democrat who had succeeded him as mayor.
Rivers were reclaimed, parks were built along their banks, a new mall was constructed and the city made $300 million in transportation improvements. Gondolas from Venice now ply the city's waterways.
"If you compare Providence to what it was 15 years ago, it really is extraordinary how much it's improved," Mr. Genest said. "In my opinion, it's the best small city in the U.S."
But federal prosecutors say corruption took root when Cianci returned to office. Cianci's Providence was a city for sale, they said, where even routine dealings with City Hall meant greasing palms.
"With all the talent that this man had, why did he throw it all away for petty thievery?" Mr. Genest asked. "It's a mystery."
The FBI raided City Hall in 1999, going public with its investigation code-named Operation Plunder Dome. Cianci was charged in a 30-count federal indictment that included charges of racketeering, bribery, extortion, mail fraud and witness tampering.
After seven weeks of testimony, a jury convicted Cianci of racketeering conspiracy, but acquitted him of 11 other charges.


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